Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jazz in Glorious Black & White

The distinctive look of Francis Wolff’s jazz photography has made Blue Note LPs prized collectors items, defining the label for generations of fans. Wolff co-founded the label with Alfred Lion, and his photos documented sessions by many of the important artists they recorded, including Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Clifford Brown. Producer Michael Cuscuna, expert in all things Blue Note, presented a brief lecture on Wolff’s photography as part of an in-store at the Apple showroom on Spring Street.

Wolff’s images are instantly recognizable for their use of light and shadow. The musicians captured by his lens seem to radiate a glow appropriate for iconography. Many of his photos were taken at the Van Gelder studio, where one might expect to find it perennially midnight, lit by flickering gaslights. One photo included in Cuscuna’s presentation showed the natural lighting of Van Gelder studio—a surprisingly well lit space.

Following Cuscuna, BN artist Jacky Terrasson performed an impressive solo set, starting with standards like “Caravan” and moving on to originals, and ending with a little barrelhouse. Terrasson has a sly wit at the keys and is an engaging performer. Evidently, Terrasson has a solo album coming in the summer, and his set was an effective preview. It was the first in-store I have attended that ended with a plug to download the artist’s albums (in this case from i-tunes, of course).

After Terrasson’s performance, those in attendance were invited to see some prints of Wolff’s photos at the Morrison Hotel, the gallery across the street co-sponsoring the event and currently exhibiting Wolff’s work. One particularly striking print is the dramatically composed shot of Andrew Hill used for Judgment, seen here without the colored tint added by BN’s longtime designer Reid Miles. From the John Coltrane of Blue Train to the Sonny Rollins of Volume 2, Wolff has produced many of the lasting images of jazz, so it is satisfying to see his images in a proper fine art context.