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Book Reviews

Blue Note Jazz Photography Of Francis Wolff

By Published: March 8, 2004
Thus, Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter and many others remain forever young on the pages of the book, even as their music remains fresh almost 40 years later. Musicians we knew all too briefly come alive in the recording sessions, allowing jazz enthusiasts to study their visage and surmise their personalities. Examples of short-lived musicians that Wolff photographed include Fats Navarro, Doug Watson, Lee Morgan, Wardell Gray, Eric Dolphy and Clifford Brown. Wolff shot mature musicians toward the ends of their careers such as Pops Foster, Baby Dodds and James P. Johnson. In a style unconcerned with age, Wolff shot young prodigies like Chick Corea and Al Foster, who were flush with excitement.

As color photography went mainstream, Wolff gradually converted from his favored Tri-X black-and-white film to Ektachrome with, naturally, astounding results. Shooting Don Cherry against the gray marble of what one assumes is an office building, Wolff contrasted the rainbow of colors in Cherry's thick and long scarf against the muted burgundy of his sweater and the tan of his slacks.

But those famous black-and-white photographs defined the image of Blue Note in its heyday as they were printed in dark blue or in duotones on the covers of the albums. A person could identify a record label from its cover, even upon entering the store. Ahead of their time, Wolff and Lion recognized the importance of packaging in selling a product and in creating an its image, even though their enthusiasm for the music was the actual stimulus for such extensive documentation of legendary performances.

As noted, words are inadequate for describing musical and visual media. How can a person describe Lee Morgan's pensiveness or Tal Farlow's concentration or Curtis Fuller's pensive amusement or Joe Henderson's cool or Clifford Brown's finger-snapping joy or Bunk Johnson's assured ease or Tadd Dameron's obvious moment of conceptual discovery? It's impossible.

That inexpressible conveyance of thought, motion and emotion establishes the value of visual art. It also creates the inestimable value of Blue Note Jazz Photography Of Francis Wolff.


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