Tag Archives: Jon Faddis

BOB WILLOUGHBY’S REMARKABLE PORTRAITS

Because they give themselves to what they are creating, jazz musicians make splendid photographic subjects.

Bob Willoughby, who died in 2009, wasn’t the first to capture their intensity, lack of self-consciousness, and energy on camera.  But his beautiful volume of photographs and recollections, JAZZ: BODY AND SOUL, shows on every page that his work is superbly moving.  (Evans Mitchell, 2012, 192 pages, hardbound.)

Since musicians — in the act of creation — aren’t standing still, some photographs begin to look like versions of poses we have already seen a thousand times before: the horn player, face distended, sweating, looking like a runner just before crossing the finish line; the intimate relationship between the singer and the vertical microphone; the drummer, moving so quickly that the sticks blur.  Other photographs entrance us because they are the only visual evidence we have that an otherwise obscure musician was ever seen.

Willoughby’s work goes well beyond these formulas, although some of his images have been reproduced so widely that they are now the way that we mentally identify the subject.  But even his most famous pictures have something to offer us, a half-century after they were created.

The book is divided into two sections: one of Wlloughby’s West Coast photographs from 1950 to — Billie Holiday, Wardell Gray, Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Ventura, Billy Eckstine, Louis Armstrong, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Peggy Lee.  Particularly absorbing is a series of dramatic photographs catching the emotional interplay between saxophonist Big Jay McNeely and a crowd in hysterical rapture.  Willoughby photographed Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Buck Clayton, Martha Tilton and friends during the recording sessions for the soundtrack of THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY.  An extended photo-essay on Frank Sinatra tells us more than any biography.

The second section of the book offers photographs Willoughby created in Germany in 1992 and 1994 — fascinating portraits of Lee Konitz, Marcus Roberts, Jon Faddis, Art Farmer, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, John Lewis, Mulligan much transformed by the years, and many others.

Having purchased many volumes of photographs of jazz musicians, I tend to look at the book with fascination immediately after their purchase . . . but not often after.  Willoughby’s book has proven itself an exception.  In tne month that I have had a copy, I have come back to it over and over, drawn by what his eye captured — tantalizing wordless dramas that open deeper each time I stare into the pages.

And the appeal of the book is wider than the allure of the musicians portrayed there.  Without being precious or coy, Willoughby created small paintings full of feeling, emotion coming through the lovely blacks, greys, and whites.  He was a master of seeing, of shaping line and angle, shape and focus.  I look at these portraits and I can feel Louis’ happiness, imagine the words passing between Bing and Frank on the set of CAN-CAN, hear Billie’s voice.  In addition, Willoughby’s photos are idiosyncratic master classes for photographers: what to emphasize, what to leave out. . . all the more remarkable because he captured his subjects in the moment.

Marc Myers, of JAZZ WAX, knew and spoke with Willoughby, and the essays Marc has created about the man and his work are rewarding (with photographs that will astonish): read more here and here.   The book’s website — with even more beautiful pictures — can be found here.  Willoughby’s photographs reward the eye.

May your happiness increase.

CELEBRATE THE ONLY MUSEUM THAT SWINGS! (December 6, 2011)

Who was Dorothy?

Jazz listeners, whether they acknowledge their indebtedness or voice their gratitudes aloud, celebrate Louis Armstrong in every bar of music they enjoy.  Louis lives on in his own music, whether one is tenderly playing a red-label OKeh 78 or savoring the Ambassador CDs as they pleasingly rattle one’s earbuds.  To think of Louis reverberating through the universe is one of the most pleasant thoughts I could ever have.

The tangible embodiment of the great man and his happy later life is, of course, the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, New York.  Quite simply, it is a down-home shrine: a sacred place full of music, domestic bliss, and contentment.  Parallel to it are the Archives housed in Queens College: the repository for all things Louis — a wonderful place, where one can hear and see treasures beyond my powers to describe.

Such enterprises need our loving support.  And while this is not a “they need money” solicitation, expecting the house and the archives to go on without bucks (or “brucks,” if you have “S.O.L. Blues” in your memory) would be at best unrealistic.

The LAHM has created its first-ever gala celebration — to honor Louis, of course, through the music of Jon Faddis and a stellar rhythm section — but also to pay homage to George Avakian, at 92 our patriarch and wonderful storyteller, and Dr. James Muyskens, the president of Queens College.   The gala will be held on Tuesday, December 6, 2011, at the 3 West Club: located at 3 West 51st street, New York, NY 10019.  My friends Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi will be there, too!

What began as a stack of 72 shipping cartons of “Satchmo’s stuff” has grown to become the world’s largest research archives for a jazz musician.  The Armstrong House is completely preserved, restored, and open to the public six days per week.  People from all over the world come to visit.

After providing services and programs for 25 years, LAHM will hold its first annual gala on Tuesday, December 6, 2011.  Every cent raised will go to fund operations; including the historic house tours, jazz performances, free children’s concerts, and making the archives accessible to the public at no charge. 

A who’s who of the jazz and cultural world is expected to attend.  The event will honor George Avakian, a legendary jazz record producer who recorded some of Armstrong’s greatest albums.  Jon Faddis, one of the world’s finest trumpeters past and present.  And Dr. James Muyskens, the ninth president of Queens College/CUNY, the parent organization of the Museum.  Under his dynamic leadership, the college has enjoyed a period of outstanding growth and achievement.   Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served at 6 pm followed by an awards ceremony and dinner. The evening will conclude with a performance by Jon Faddis, accompanied by David Hazeltine (piano), Todd Coolman (bass), and Dion Parson (drums). 

Tickets are going quickly!  To purchase Gala tickets and sponsorships contact Nayelli DiSpaltro at 718-997-3589 or by visiting www.louisarmstronghouse.org

If I may be so bold . . . .

I know many readers of JAZZ LIVES might be saying to themselves, “I adore Louis and admire his friends, but a Gala is beyond me.”  I understand.  But in the words of “Shoe Shine Boy” — one of my favorite Louis recordings — every nickel helps a lot.  If everyone reading this blogpost sent the LAHM one dollar, it would mean more than a lot.  Please consider this — with Louis, every day’s a holiday — at least if we remember to make it so.

Thanks to Chris Tyle for letting me know about this photograph.  Lucky Dorothy, I say.