Masters of Jazz Photography — Francis Wolff

January 6th, 2015

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Miles Davis
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, 1953

Photo by Francis Wolff

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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.#

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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: Francis Wolff

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Francis (Frank) Wolff met Alfred Lion in 1924, when both were teenagers in Berlin with a passion for jazz. Lion moved to New York in 1928, while Wolff remained in Germany to study photography. When Lion created Blue Note Records in 1939, he sent for Wolff. Their early recordings were of traditionalists such as Sidney Bechet and Frankie Newton. The early 1940s saw the advent of bebop and significant changes in jazz. Ike Quebec, Blue Note’s star tenor sax performer, introduced them to the new music. A year later the label was releasing beautifully crafted modern records, including the debuts of Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, and Art Blakey. Wolff photographed at the studios, documenting two decades of historic recording sessions. His images became the signature look of the Blue Note packaging. When Lion retired in 1967, Wolff became producer, until his death in 1971. Wolff’s prints have been exhibited in galleries and published in several books on Blue Note. His photographic archive is owned by Mosaic Records; prints are available at www.mosaicrecords.com.




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John Coltrane and Lee Morgan during the Blue Train recording session; Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, 1957

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Herbie Hancock during Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil session; Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1964

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Dexter Gordon during the Go! recording session; Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs NJ, 1962

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Lee Morgan at the Volume II session; Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, 1956

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Miles Davis; Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, 1954

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Clifford Brown; Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1953




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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.


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# Text from the publisher

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Prints of these photos, and more, are available at www.mosaicrecords.com

Read our interview with Lee Tanner

Remembering Lee Tanner

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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.

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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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