Tag Archives: photography

GOOD ADVICE FROM MR. SMITH

Seen on eBay:

STUFF SMITH and the Boys

Wise words, even if your name isn’t Bill. Life isn’t easy, but you can attempt to choose how much of it you have to take in at a gulp.

May your happiness increase!

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WHAT DOES THE CAMERA SEE? LEE WILEY’S LOVE LIFE IN PHOTOGRAPHS

The endearing singer Lee Wiley was said to have legendary erotic energies, but they are not my subject.

Rather, I present to you two public photographs just encountered on eBay — each one oddly evocative, both presenting and concealing.

The first finds Miss Wiley with the composer Victor Young — a publicity shot from the early Thirties (circa 1934-6) for Al Jolson’s radio program SHELL CHATEAU:

LEE WILEY VICTOR YOUNG large

and the slip glued to the photograph’s back:

LEE WILEY VICTOR YOUNG large backThat photograph has an understandable stiffness: two musicians caught in the act of pretending to rehearse.  Everything is too neat: the “informal” clothing; the way that they are both looking at the camera while trying not to — not at each other.  I can hear the photographer: “Look like you’re singing, Lee.  Victor, don’t look down at the piano.  Look as if you’re accompanying her but don’t look at her.”

From this photograph, one wouldn’t know that Lee and Victor were “an item,” lovers for a long time.  There was a Mrs. Young, but the Wiley-Young affair was known among musicians.  The photograph of “Lee Wiley . . . and her old maestro” doesn’t even look as if they knew each other before this session. The truth of Lee and Victor — one of the possible truths — would not have been captured for the public eye.  Is it fitting that Lee and Victor made music together most frequently for records and radio broadcasts, where they would have been heard but never seen?

Slightly less than a decade later, another uncomfortable photograph freezes a present moment and accurately forecasts a less happy future:

LEE AND JESS 1943 largeGranted, wedding pictures do not always catch the moment in authentic ways, but the body language of this couple is less than ardent: their hands barely touch, their gazes are remote.  Even the text of the press release is more concerned with Lieut. Boettcher than with Jess Stacy, a great artist and a gentle man but hardly a “member of a wealthy Denver family.”  (Was this Charles Boettcher II, who had been kidnapped in 1933 and a $60,000 ransom paid?)

LEE AND JESS large back

The back of the picture tells its own story.  The marriage did not last five years.

These photographs come from the files of J. Walter Thompson.  Years later, an administrative assistant went through the files with a rubber stamp, noting the DECEASED — a job with certain melancholy overtones.  (I think of Bartelby in the Dead-Letter Office.)  Someone on eBay will buy these as cheerful nostalgic artifacts.

Music, Maestro, please?

CARELESS LOVE is from 1934 — Lee, with Victor directing.

SUGAR is from a 1944 Eddie Condon Town Hall concert / radio broadcast (Ernie Caceres, clarinet).

And — since I can’t see it too often — here is Joe Rushton’s home movie of Lee and Jess, newly married, walking down the street.  Is it the same day as the press photograph? Lee has on a different outfit; Jess wears what seems to be the same double-breasted suit.  Consider what this shows of their marriage.

Does the camera capture only a moment of staged reality or does it show more than we know at the time?

May your happiness increase!

ROLLIE and A CAMERA

Courtesy of eBay, of course, and courtesy of the seller “anystuffyouwant,” who says these items are from his personal collection of fifty years.

Rollie was a photographer presumably based in Colorado (where KLZ was a famous radio station) in the early Forties.  His photographs are impressive and he also made friends with his subjects. Here are a few of his photographs that turned up for sale. (Incidentally, I am assuming that Rollie was male — but impulsive online research turned up no leads to his / her identity except much on the younger woman photographer Rollie McKenna, who captured Dylan Thomas, so . . . )

Ella:

ELLA 1941

Tommy Reynolds:

TOMMY REYNOLDS 1940

Duke and bassist Junior Raglin (thanks to Jimmie Blanton scholar Matthias Heyman for confirming this) :

DUKE 1941

A close-up of George Wettling:

GEO W single

George as part of a larger band:

GEO W band

Mel Torme with three singing colleagues who presumably pre-date the Mel-Tones:

MEL TORME KLZ

Mel at his own drum set:


MEL AT THE DRUMSA few small mysteries.  Some readers may be able to identify the singers with Mel.  Drum fanciers will have something to say about Geo W’s set and Mel’s.  I can’t identify anyone in the band that Wettling is playing in, and find it odd that he should have a bass drum with a radio station logo and his own Geo W.  If someone could decipher the KLZ logo (is that a mountain peak?) and explain why there’s a clipper ship on the back wall, I wouldn’t mind, either.

Even if those mysteries remain unsolved, it is cheering to know such artifacts of a vanished time exist so that we can see them.

May your happiness increase!

WITH THIS BOOK (AND A FUNCTIONING PEN) THE BAY AREA JAZZ FAN IS ALL READY FOR MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES

Photographer / jazz fan Jessica Levant has been enjoying her twin pleasures for years now — as she says, “idly” taking pictures of her jazz and blues heroes and heroines in the Bay Area (that’s the area in and around San Francisco, California).  She’s now collected those photographs — no posing, all taken in performance — into a charming book, SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA JAZZ & BLUSICIANS.

jabcover

The book is sweet testimony to the wide variety of musical styles and performers working in this area — women and men, youths and veterans, singers and instrumentalists, leaders and side-people. By offering these photographs in pure alphabetical order, Jessica has wisely avoided the question of categorizing or of valuing these musicians. I am pleased to see portraits and biographies of people I know and have heard: Clint Baker, Danny Brown, Waldo Carter, Mike Greensill, Jeff Hamilton, Paul Mehling, Si Perkoff, Rob Reich, Dave Ricketts, Mal Sharpe, John Wiitala . . . as well as people I know by reputation . . . and the larger group of people I look forward to hearing and meeting.  Jessica’s color portraits are informal and lively; no stiff poses against a studio backdrop here, and her biographies combine material provided by the artist and her own perceptions.

It’s an entertaining book, and I predict it could start a social trend. Jazz and blues fans like (we’re all fans at heart) to go home with an autograph from our favorite musician, and I can see Bay Area fans competing with one another to collect ALL the autographs in this book.  Better hurry: I’ve spotted Jessica at jazz clubs, busily photographing — I hear rumors of a second volume to come.

You can learn more about Jessica and her book here. And when you see a quietly enthusiastic woman with a camera (tactfully not getting in anyone’s way) I encourage you to approach her and ask, “Are you Jessica Levant?  May I have your autograph?”  I’m fairly sure she will oblige, graciously.

Thanks to Barb Hauser for making the connection, as she always does!

May your happiness increase!

“THAT TRUMPET WANTS TO PLAY JAZZ”

Randy Cole’s touching new film — starring trumpeter Kevin Dean and a lovely 1944 Martin Committee trumpet:

Even if you bristle slightly at the name of Miles Davis (as I do) don’t let that put you off.  Listen to Kevin’s beautiful solo rendition of EASY LIVING, admire the beautiful curves of the Martin, and then (if you care to) admire the film as film: Randy is a subtly brilliant artist who doesn’t spoil the mood with three hundred changes of scene in three minutes, but the merging of sound and image is an understated delight.

And one of my heroes, that Jon-Erik Kellso fellow, has and plays a Martin Committee model when the mood strikes him!  So modernism is alive and well in Soho, too, in the Year 2011.

THE PIED PIPER, 1940

Pee Wee Russell, in the center of a group of admiring children at the Little Red School House, New York City, 1940 — photographed by the ever-inventive Charles Peterson:

As is the case with any Peterson photograph, one not only reads the visual information on the surface but intuits a story of a moment or moments captured for those of us not even born in 1940. 

We don’t get to see enough of the children’s faces, but their expressions — ranging from exultant to puzzled — say a great deal about the sounds Charles Ellsworth Russell gave to his listeners. 

I don’t know what to say about the oddly industrial-looking ceiling, and I assume that horizontal stripes were the thing in children’s fashions in 1940.  Pee Wee (whisper it) needs a shave, although he’s wearing a neat striped suit, pocket handketchief properly aligned . . . so we can assume that a morning session with the young students was far too early for him. 

But his expression was exultant: if he was hungover, if he hadn’t been to bed, no matter: he was the Pied Piper leading this young band of boys and girls to jazz.

Thanks to Charles (Russell) and Charles (Peterson) and Don (Peterson) for this precious portrait.

PHOTO REALISM LIVES

I’ve started another blog, PHOTO REALISM LIVES.  Its alternate title might be IDLE HANDS ARE THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, though.  While the Beloved and I have been touring the UK (most happily) occasionally I find myself with camera in hand, its battery fully charged, with no Hot music in sight . . . but something odd in the viewfinder.  The site is an erratic compendium of my still photographs of various subjects — the extraordinarily beautiful gardens at Chatsworth (romantic) or people making faces while they are unaware of a cameraman in the area.  Then there’s Bertie from Exeter, neatly attired in white!

http://photorealismlives.wordpress.com/

I apologize in advance.  But it occurs to me that these two men should really have known all the lyrics to THE BOY IN THE BOAT . . . .