There is no disputing the fact that the power of jazz lies within the music itself. Giants of the art like Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, Dizzy, Bird, Monk, Miles and Coltrane ushered us into this music with a display of genius so great that an entire lifetime isn’t ample space to fully absorb all their efforts.
Important accompaniment to the musical talent during the time of the LP was provided by the era’s great photographers. Who among us hasn’t been moved by the work of Claxton, Leonard, Gottlieb, and Wolff? The album’s essential ingredient was often the setting a photographer was able to evoke – at times it was the charisma of the performers, at others it was the culture at the music’s core.
I read with great sadness today photographer Lee Tanner’s obituary in the New York Times. Lee, who died in San Andres, California on September 7 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, was one of the most important photographers of the bebop era, and his work has for years been an integral part of these pages. With his generous permission, photos Lee took of timeless musical talent have helped tell the stories found in many Jerry Jazz Musician interviews.
I knew Lee to be genuine, energetic, and joyful. Whenever I spoke to him I could count on his wisdom and great laughter. He was an early supporter of Jerry Jazz Musician, and was the first to suggest that I had achieved relevance as a jazz publication, not only because of the way the site explored jazz history, but also due to the way it connected jazz with the politics of the civil rights era. Imagine hearing that from someone who was an integral player in chronicling the age.
While rereading the interview I was privileged to conduct with Lee in 2002, I was reminded that the great journalist Nat Hentoff wrote that Lee “is the most consistent photographer who has the ability to find the person at the core of the player.” I couldn’t help but think that his encouraging words to me over the years were the lens he used on me, helping me to understand and find my own core.
Samples of Tanner’s work: