This annual series of prints by photographers who are dedicated to capturing the jazz scene on film is in its fifth year. Once again there are several veterans of the “early days” of the art form. Katsuji Abé in Tokyo, Esmond Edwards in New York City, Ted Williams in Chicago and Bob Willoughby in Los Angeles all began photographing in the ’40s and ’50s when the cameras and films were first capable of recording images in low-lit conditions without auxiliary light sources. In addition, there is Dany Gignoux, who has been very active in Europe since the ’60s. The sixth contributor, Jimmy Katz, is a comparative newcomer who hit the New York scene in 1991. All are magnificent craftpersons…each with a unique view and style…and all sharing a deep passion for jazz.
Katsuji Abé was born in Tokyo before World War II. He recalls, “Back in the second grade, I begged my mother for a box-type camera. At the time it cost 0.35 yen, and I solely took pictures of objects. It was hard to take pictures of people because, you see, they move around and film sensitivity is too low. So I shot buildings and statues, parked airplanes and such.” When the war came and film was unavailable, Abé’s interests moved from photography to painting.
After the war ended, he played in a band in clubs for the American occupation forces. Upon hearing a record by guitarist Charlie Christian, he was determined to get into jazz and also return to photography; now he did both. “I hardly attended any classes in college,” he says. I was so busy touring with my band at the time. In fact, I didn’t even attend the graduation ceremony. I’m glad I experienced the life of a musician, even though I later left it for photography.”
After graduation from Waseda University, Abé worked as a radio DJ and a record album cover designer, while building a vast file of photographs of jazz musicians visiting Japan. Several years ago he put together a collection of pictures by several jazz photographers, as well as his own in a classic book entitled Jazz Giants (Billboard, New York, 1988). In the introduction, Nat Hentoff wrote, “…..the great [jazz] photographers are the ones with a close connection to the music, with experience. They know that music is intertwined with the photography. This means that the photographer is a part of music!” Abé’s latest book, 50 Jazz Greats (Shinko Music Publications, Tokyo, 1995) is a collection of his best work, including a famous profile of Duke Ellington that was used for a U. S. postage stamp, and is included here at right. Abé’s friend and colleage, photographer Bill Claxton, has said that Abé’s photographs, “….express the power behind the art of jazz, crossing all boundaries of culture and language to be understood by anyone in any country. Abé’s emotion and energy towards jazz shine in these photographs. Along with this immortal music, his creations will continue to show us the beauty of jazz.” —Lee Tanner
A native of Nassau, Bahamas, I was transplanted to New York City’s Harlem at the age of five. As a teenager I developed avid interests in both jazz and photography. In my neighborhood youngsters like Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Arthur Taylor were sharpening their jazz axes at numerous jam sessions, private club dances and summer evening boat cruises up the Hudson River; and I was on the scene, listening. However, my personal muse was photography. I learned from photography books and magazines, as well as by trial and error. My first camera was a black plastic Kodak Brownie that cost less than two dollars. By high school graduation my camera was an old, but more sophisticated bellows model that used cut film, and I had set up a darkroom in the basement of our home. In the summer, a battered electric fan that sounded like a lawn mower helped to make the climate in the basement barely tolerable. But, in winter, I spent many teeth-chattering nights struggling to keep myself and the processing chemicals at an optimum working temperature.
I was very serious about a career in photography, but my parents were not supportive of the idea. Instead, I took the more acceptable (“secure”) path and studied to become an x-ray technician. So, for several years I was taking pictures of my subject’s insides instead of their visages. However, in 1957, I decided to try to make it as a freelancer. At about the same time drummer Arthur Taylor took me to a Prestige recording session at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey. That is, I helped A. T. transport his drum kit since I was the one who owned a car. Naturally, I was prepared to shoot and was elated when producer Bob Weinstock bought a print for the album cover. This contact soon led to my taking a part-time office job at Prestige to make ends meet. The opportunity was really quite special because I always got to go to the recording sessions and to take the pictures used for the LP jackets. In addition, I made a point of carefully observing Weinstock’s methods of session supervision. This experience proved to be quite useful when Weinstock decided to devote all his time to running the business and he gave me the opportunity to be the A&R director. It was the best of times! What more could a jazz-loving photographer ask for? I got to sign and work with exciting new artists like Eric Dolphy and Oliver Nelson, as well as old favorites like Buck Clayton and Coleman Hawkins. I was supervising the recordings, shooting pictures during the rundowns and playbacks, and then hurrying home to process the film, and to print and design the album cover.
I was vice-president of Prestige when I left in 1962. I went on to A&R positions at several other labels, including Cadet, Verve and Impulse, but I concentrated most of my efforts on the music and administrative areas of the business. Space considerations forced me to sell my darkroom equipment when I moved to Chicago and, because I believed a photographer should do the whole process—that is, taking the shots and processing the film and prints—I cut back on my picture-taking. I still cling to those sentiments, but these days I have made the necessary accommodations to having photo labs process my work.
Dany Gignoux, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, was born in 1944. She is an inveterate traveler and photographer. As she says, “I have strolled and driven around the vast world: Scandinavia, Portugal, Spain, Africa, South and North America, Australia and on and on.” ….and always with her cameras. Dany is self-taught and, since 1968, has built a successful photojournalistic career. She has covered a wide range of subjects: from the nuclear power industry in Europe to funeral traditions in Singapore and Mexico to the cafes in Lisbon and Barcelona, etc. Along the way, Dany discovered that she has a deep passion for music and photographing its performance; in particular, she is quite drawn to jazz, as well as all variations of ethnic folk music. In 1987 she began to devote considerable time to photographing several jazz musicians and their bands on extended tours. These included Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Reviewing Dany’s work, one finds that she has a unique ability to capture powerful and intimate images of the musicians both on and off stage. The result has been a remarkable series of documentations of bands-on-the-road in these frenzied times of jet-plane and limousine travel. Some of her most striking photographs are to be found in her book entitled DG + DG (Nieswand Verlag, Kiel, Germany, 1993) that covers her trips with Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nation Orchestra in Europe and the U.S. from 1975-90. DG + DG is a glorious heartfelt celebration of John Birks Gillespie and his confreres in the last 15 years of his life. In complimenting Dany, Max Roach said, “What differentiates your pictorial essay from all others is that you have given the world an intimate glimpse of what it is like to be on tour with a genius.” —Lee Tanner
I was born in New York City. After graduating from Bowdoin College in 1980, I worked as an alpinist and extreme skier in the western United States, leading sponsored expeditions within the U.S., Russia, Peru, Bolivia and New Zealand.
At age sixteen I heard Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey at Carnegie Hall and became interested in jazz, collecting over four thousand jazz records and taking the music with me wherever I went. I remember a cold night in Peru, consoling myself at an altitude of 20,000 feet by listening to John Coltrane, hoping that this wouldn’t be the last music I’d hear before my climbing partner, my tent and I were blown off the mountain and down into the Amazon basin. During my mountaineering days, I developed my skills as a photographer doing magazine work and shooting ski posters.
In 1991 I left mountaineering and decided to pursue a career as a commercial photographer. After moving back to New York City, I started photographing jazz musicians. I have worked for most of the major record labels and my photographs have appeared in the leading jazz publications (including this one). They are also in a number of private collections. As a jazz lover, I have a deep respect for the musicians and the music they create. As a photographer, I only hope that my work reflects the passion I feel for this art form.
Born in Texas, I spent my early years in Kansas and Michigan before serving with the U.S. Coast Guard in the North Atlantic and Western Pacific during WWII. After briefly studying art and music (saxophone and clarinet), I attended the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Here I took classes with Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Buckminster Fuller and Art Siegel.
Using Chicago as home base, I took photo-journalism assignments all over the U.S., as well as Europe, Latin America and the Far East for many of the major magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Ebony and Look. I covered jazz for DownBeat, Playboy and Metronome. During this period, I photographed all phases of the civil rights movement and in 1966 I covered the war in Vietnam for Ebony magazine and the AP agency. From 1967-72 I lived and worked in Mexico City and during this time covered the ’68 Olympics for the Olympic Committee of Mexico and participated in a group exhibition at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City as part of the Cultural Olympics. I was also a partner and cinematographer at FORO 70, a small film production company specializing in educational and documentary films.
Since then I have settled in Los Angeles and work as a freelancer taking assignments from Ebony magazine, the Los Angeles Olympic Committee, and other media outlets. My recent exhibitions have been a one-man show in 1996 at Chicago’s South Shore Cultural Center, entitled Jazz: A Chicago Groove, and as participant in the group exhibit Images of Music: Classical Through Rock at the Soho Triad Fine Arts Gallery in New York City. As a closer, I can sum up my feelings about my career: I just have a deep love for the music, the people and photography…and I have loved every minute of it!
Born and raised in Hollywood, Bob Willoughby began his career apprenticing with several Los Angeles photographers. Because of his love of music, he also covered the early-’50s West Coast scene along with contemporaries Bill Claxton, Ray Avery and Bob Douglas. An exhibit of his jazz and dance prints caught the attention of the Globe picture agency, leading to steady assignments for the New York fashion magazine Harpers Bazaar. It also caught the attention of Edward Steichen, who included several of Bob’s jazz pictures in his landmark exhibition The Family of Man. The superb magazine assignments soon introduced him to the movie sets, and it was then that his career truly took off. He became one of a unique film industry breed: the Hollywood special photographer. Also working for the production companies, he was commissioned to capture the reality behind the illusion that was the film-making world. For the next two decades he produced a remarkable collection of art photography, creating marvelously vibrant picture stories that replaced the usual stiff and static “movie stills” that were the hallmark of movie promotion campaigns. He found an eager market ready for his exclusive images amongst the national and international magazines that were starved for real picture stories of the stars.
By the ’70s the charm and excitement of Hollywood waned and Bob decided to move his family to a new environment and a fresh start in Ireland. Here he knew his children could get a sane education away from the sun-drenched unreality of Southern California. Since then the Willoughbys have moved to the foothills of the Alpes-Maritimes in France.
In 1992 he got the chance to photograph jazz once again at a festival in Stuttgart, Germany. It was a delightful experience, particularly when he bumped into his old friend Gerry Mulligan, now white-haired and fully bearded, whom he had not seen since the ’50s in L. A. Pictures of those early days are collected in a spectacularly over-sized prize-winning book entitled Jazz in LA published by Nieswand Verlag (Germany, 1990). Several of these pictures, including a young, clean-shaven Mulligan, appear here. Willoughby’s other books cover his movieland photography, including volumes on Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Liz Taylor and Elvis Presley. Willoughby’s most recent exhibit, Persistence of Vision, was at the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York City this year. —Lee Tanner Originally Published