OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of one Nat Singerman, but I have learned they were taken by his brother Harvey, as explained in the comments below.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Harvey photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Harvey’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!

6 responses to “HARVEY HAD GOOD TASTE AND A CAMERA, 1949-55

  1. I love all your posts, but some of these pictures floored me. O.P.! The Tal Farlow trio- man. Should I start referring to Mingus as “Chuck”?

  2. I think you would do so at your own peril. Mingus didn’t take well to undue informality, and I think his powers didn’t decrease when he moved to another neighborhood. Nice to know you are reading avidly! Thank you, Michael

  3. That’s Ben Webster in the photo with OP.

  4. Thank you! I’ve added that little bit of data and credited you. But I know I’ve seen other shots from that gig –the overhead banner is visible in some — so I wonder if it was a Ben quartet. And who’s the pianist?


  6. I am Harvey Singerman’s daughter-in-law. Since our marriage, and for many years afterward, Harvey and Elaine Pinzone operated the Character Arts Studio. They scheduled shoots, took the photographs, developed and printed them, and distributed them. Weddings, school pictures, model’s portfolios, their work ran the gamut. To my knowledge, during that time Nat Singerman never set foot in that studio, and I believe that was the case from the time the doors opened, though he did have an ownership position at some point. Harvey and Eenie operated the studio by themselves, with the occasional casual labor of their spouses and children, plus some neighborhood teenagers, serving as darkroom technicians and occasional photographers. None of these people has ever seen Nat with a camera in his hands. Although Nat liked to use those photos (as an owner, he had access to them) to ingratiate himself with celebrity musicians, restaurant owners and the like, he wasn’t the photographer. Harvey Singerman was an artist; his work is still being misattributed.

    Harvey was also a popular local jazz trumpet in Cleveland until the Depression and his growing family forced him to concentrate on his day job. He was acquainted with Louis Armstrong, and once took my husband Gary backstage to Satchmo’s dressing room. Louis helped Gary, an accomplished classical trumpet player, to perfect his lip smear. There’s a photo of Gary and Louis. Harvey took it.

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