Masters of Jazz Photography — Charles Peterson

A jam featuring Rosetta Tharpe, Duke Ellington, Rex Stewart, Cab Calloway, (unidentified guest), and Ivie Anderson

New York, 1939 

by Charles Peterson


The great improvisational American jazz musicians of the mid-20th century inspired a generation of photographers to develop a looser, moodier style of visual expression. That evocative approach is on striking display in The Jazz Image: Masters of Jazz Photography. Covering six decades of performers — from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to John Coltrane and Miles Davis — this unique collection is as much a comprehensive catalogue of jazz greats as it is a salute to the photographers who captured them.

Lee Tanner was a leading authority on jazz photography. He selected works — by such noted jazz photographers as Herman Leonard, Bob Willoughby, Milt Hinton, and Bill Claxton —that are iconic, candid, explosive, and intimate. They provide a simultaneous look at jazz, photography, and America from 1935 into the 1990s.#


In honor of the late Mr. Tanner, Jerry Jazz Musician presents a number of editions of “Master of Jazz Photography,” featuring a work by one of the photographers featured in The Jazz Image.

This edition: Charles Peterson




Photographer Charles Peterson enjoying lunch — and a joint — with Zutty Singleton and Louis Armstrong (pinching a roach) 

February 1942


     Charles Peterson was born at the turn of the century to Swedish immigrants in northern Minnesota.  In high school he bought a banjo, and during his college years he played in local dance halls and resort hotels.  In 1926 he headed for New York, where he played regularly at Brooklyn’s Rosemont Ballroom with people such as trumpeter Wingy Manone.  In 1928 he joined the Rudy Vallee Orchestra for four years.  He quit the road and attended New York’s Clarence White School to study photography.  He followed a typical career in the 1930s, including ad agency work and entertainment coverage for various magazines.  Peterson took rooms above the Onyx club on 52nd Street and made nightly forays into all the clubs.  He was perhaps the first dedicated photographer of the New York jazz scene in the mid-1930s.  By 1939 he had photographed the classic Commodore and Decca recording sessions and had several spreads in Life magazine.  After a tour in the Coast Guard during World War II, Peterson changed course again, becoming an industrial photographer and writer in Pennsylvania.  On occasion, he would return to New York to photograph the music scene.  Peterson died in 1976.  His son, Don, compiled his work in the book Swing Era New York.

Willie “The Lion” Smith and Fats Waller
New York, 1937


 The Commodore Records “Strange Fruit” recording session

  Billie Holiday and guitarist Jimmy McLain
  April, 1939


Pee Wee Russell


Lucky Millinder, Rosetta Tharpe, manager Moe Gale

Decca Records recording session


Sidney Bechet and Hot Lips Page

Jimmy Ryan’s
New York, 1942


Eddie Condon, Lou McGarity, Gene Krupa and Wild Bill Davison

New York, 1945



Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus and Red Norvo

The Embers
New York, 1951


About the Author

Lee Tanner photographed jazz musicians for nearly half a century. His photographs have appeared in Down Beat, Jazz Times, American Photo, and Popular Photography, on the covers of many record albums, and in several books.


# Text from the publisher