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November 2007

Lee Tanner
The Jazz Image: Masters of Jazz Photography

Sometimes music isn’t enough by itself. We crave more information, more insights and more intimacy with the artists whose music we enjoy. It’s the same with all the arts; why else would we have celebrity media coverage, the E! Network or even the publication you’re holding now? The photographs in this coffee-table-size book are another way for jazz to connect and communicate with us. They bring us more information about the jazz musicians and singers we listen to, provide the music with a visual history.

Twenty-seven photographers are represented in four main sections roughly dividing the years 1935-1992, and with the exception of some too-small images included in the preface by compiler/editor Lee Tanner; all of the photos are reproduced in sizes generous enough to fully appreciate. They range in style from the glossy, high-contrast, artfully angled and framed shots of Life photographer Gjon Mili to bassist Milt Hinton’s documentary snapshots only a trusted insider could capture.

Although there are superb, iconic performance shots here (Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Cootie Williams, Sonny Rollins and many others), it is the sense of privileged intimacy we get from pictures of musicians in moments of repose, contemplation, rehearsal and relaxation that are most revelatory, and often most memorable. There are wonderful shots of musicians digging others performing (Bill Gottlieb’s Dizzy Gillespie in rapt admiration of a singing Ella Fitzgerald; Ole Brask’s Jon Faddis observing Dizzy in mid-solo, Herman Leonard’s Wallace Roney enraptured by Miles Davis), but it’s when the photographers go behind the scenes, backstage (indoors and out) and into recording studios that indelible moments are captured: moments like the MJQ greeting their first drummer, Kenny Clarke, courtesy of Guy Le Querrec’s lens; Louis Armstrong and his ever-present portable typewriter (what an e-mailer he would have been!) during a break at a recording studio (Brask again), and a camera-clad Dizzy sharing a laugh with Charles Mingus backstage at Newport, courtesy of Hinton’s you-are-there 35mm. There are scores more, and all these images offer particular insights and revelations that enrich our appreciation of jazz.

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