Masters of Jazz Photography — Charles Peterson

June 27th, 2014

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

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In This Issue

This issue features a roundtable discussion about how the world of religion may have impacted the creative lives of Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; three new podcasts from Bob Hecht; new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently released jazz recordings, and lots more.

Short Fiction

"The Wailing Wall" -- a short story by Justin Short


Three prominent religious scholars -- Wallace Best, Tracy Fessenden and M. Cooper Harriss -- join us in a conversation about how the world of religion during the life and times of Langston Hughes (pictured), Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison helps us better comprehend the meaning of their work.


Nine poets contribute ten poems celebrating jazz in poems as unique as the music itself

Short Fiction

In celebration of our upcoming 50th Short Fiction Contest, previous contest winners (dating to 2002) reflect on their own winning story, and how their lives have since unfolded.

The Joys of Jazz

In this edition, award winning radio producer Bob Hecht tells three stories; 1) on Charlie Christian, the first superstar of jazz guitar; 2) the poet Langston Hughes’ love of jazz music, and 3) a profile of the song “Strange Fruit”

On the Turntable

25 recently released jazz tunes that are worth listening to…including Bobo Stenson; Medeski, Martin and Wood; Muriel Grossman and Rudy Royston


Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Randy Brecker and Tom Piazza are among those responding to our question, "What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940's?"


"Billie Holiday" -- a poem (with collage) by Steve Dalachinsky

Coming Soon

Thomas Brothers, Duke University professor of music and author of two essential biographies of Louis Armstrong, is interviewed about his new book, HELP! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration; also, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell, author of An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, in a conversation about the brilliant 20th Century artist

In the previous issue

This issue features an interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; a collection of poetry devoted to the World War II era; and a new edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in which the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s” is posed to Rickie Lee Jones, Chick Corea, Tom Piazza and others.

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