Masters of Jazz Photography — Francis Wolff

January 6th, 2015


Miles Davis
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, 1953

Photo by Francis Wolff


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: Francis Wolff




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

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



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


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


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



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


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


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



Prints of these photos, and more, are available at

Read our interview with Lee Tanner

Remembering Lee Tanner

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

In this issue, 25 noted critics, writers, musicians and artists answer the question, “What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”…Also, an interview with Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell; ”And so we left for Paris” a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht (one on Paul Desmond, the other on Art Farmer); 18 poets contribute 20 poems to our March poetry collection; new jazz listening recommendations; and lots more…

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Short Fiction

"And so we went to Paris," a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill


Eighteen poets contribute 20 poems in the March collection


Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

The Joys of Jazz

Two new podcasts from Bob Hecht -- on Paul Desmond, and Art Farmer


“King Louis en le toilette” — a poem (and collage) by Steven Dalachinsky

On the Turntable

Recommended listening…Check out these 18 recently released jazz recordings by Branford Marsalis, Anna Maria Jopek, Ralph Alessi, Larry Grenadier, Jon Cowherd, Stephane Galland, Mathias Eick and the Jimbo Tribe


“Thinking about Robert Johnson” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Great Encounters #54

In this edition, Joe Hagan, author of STICKY FINGERS: .The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, writes about how co-founders Wenner and legendary San Francisco music critic Ralph Gleason came upon the name for their revolutionary publication, Rolling Stone magazine.

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

An interview with Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon

In the previous issue

The February, 2019 issue features an interview with Thomas Brothers, author of Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration…Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; two new podcasts from Bob Hecht; a new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently release jazz recordings, and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive