Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jazz and Photography

When you surround your life with things photographic and jazz music, it is a great and wonderful surprise when you stumble across a photobook that features both. This is what happened recently when I came across this outstanding book by Sam Stephenson on the work of W. Eugene Smith, The Jazz Loft Project.

This book is a collection Smith's photographs and tape recordings documenting a period of jazz history in a cold water loft located at 821 Sixth Ave. in New York City from 1957 to 1965. The people documented in this book is a who's who of jazz. The photographs are vintage Smith that only his eye could have captured. And only someone like Smith, who is the consummate documentarian would of had the insight to create audio recordings of these great musicians. "He had wires reaching like roots through walls and floors to microphones all over the place." He exposed 1,447 rolls of film (about 40,000 pictures) and made 4,000 hours of reel to reel recordings. Some of this material appears in the book, transcripts from the recordings are of conversations captured between Smith and the musicians or the musicians themselves. This volume is amazing as a slice of time during one of the greatest periods of jazz.

The photographs that are reproduced are of both musicians and life inside and outside the loft. Many of the images are from the fourth floor windows looking down onto the street life at dawn, when these musicians were leaving or just the dramas playing themselves out on the street. Life on the corner of W. 29th and Sixth Ave. is played out for Smith's camera in the rain, snow, during the day or night. There are numerous images of the musicians in stark black and white playing their instruments together or alone. This loft was a gathering place for them to practice and jam without any concern of bothering neighbors. And Smith was there to document it all. Zoot Sims, Thelonius Monk, Hall Overton, Lee Konitz, Don Cherry, Ronny Free are some of the greats captured in this book.

Author Stephenson did a tremendous job of culling through the mountains of material over a seven year period to create this book. His introduction and notes throughout are insightful and provide context for this period of jazz and photographic history. My many thanks to him for doing this work. I encourage anyone who loves jazz and appreciates great photography to buy a copy of this book for their library.

Learn more at the Web site: Watch the video and more, the Jazz Loft Project channel.