Jazz Lives: Till We Shall Meet and Never Part Jaap van de Klomp and Scott Yanow Hardcover; 223 pages ISBN: 9789022993538 VIP Books 2008
Now and then a book comes along that defies all expectations. Jazz Lives, a collaboration between Dutch photographer Jaap van de Klomp and American jazz writer Scott Yanow, is just such a volume. Given its structureshort biographies of deceased jazz artists, combined with photos of their gravesitesyou might be expecting some morbid joke. This is hardly the case. Jazz Lives is a truly beautiful, compelling look at the men and women who shaped jazz as we know it.
To fulfill his vision for the book, van de Klomp traveled the globe, hunting down the final resting places of major jazz icons. In an introductory essay he details some of the trials and triumphs of this fascinating journey. The photos tell remarkable stories themselves, especially as compared with one another. They lead us to consider the different circumstances that tinged the musicians' lives: saxophonist Illinois Jacquet's laser-etched portrait on his pristine black-marble headstone contrasts deeply with the bare patch of grass that is pianist Bud Powell's unmarked grave. The photographer's vision shines brightly throughout.
Many of the markers carry musical notes, instruments, or quotes that resonate with their histories; the book's subtitle, Till We Shall Meet and Never Part, was taken from saxophonist Lester Young's monument. Aging photos mounted on guitarist Django Reinhardt's stone, a misspelling on singer Sarah Vaughan's, the stark modernity of pianist Andrew Hill's: many minute details keep leaping out at the reader. Other markers reveal unexpectedly little about the men and women that lie beneath. Wonderful archival images by Francis Wolff, William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard and other photographers are included in the chapter headings and each individual entry.
Scott Yanow's biographies are concise, but just as quietly respectful of these legacies as van de Klomp's photos. Yanow has done a fine job of distilling the musicians' lives and accomplishments into pristine half-page summaries. Bios are arranged by instrument instead of alphabetically, a good enough continuum to follow. Dan Morgenstern of Rutgers contributed the introduction, followed by an essay on the jazz life by bassist Bill Crow. Jazz Lives is a unique, profoundly interesting addition to the canon of volumes on the subject.