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Photostory8: Sammy Davis Jr.

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Photos of Sammy Davis Jr. in action have always grabbed me. The energy, the enthusiasm and the wham. Always the wham. Davis continues to be highly underrated as a jazz and pop singer, probably because he sadly recorded so much junk. But Davis' gems are priceless. Which is why Herb Snitzer's photo of Davis here knocks me out. When I asked Herb what was going on when he took this image, here's what he told me:

“Back in late 1959 I was the photo editor of Metronome magazine. The editor and I decided the magazine should do a story on Sammy Davis, Jr. We felt that Sammy, in addition to being a pop singer, was deep down a jazz vocalist.

“We decided to photograph Sammy during a New York recording session in January 1960 with Sy Oliver's Orchestra, which for the most part was Count Basie's band without Basie. Sy conducted, and it was Sammy's last Decca session. On the date, Eric Dolphy was quietly sitting in with the sax section. He had replaced Frank Wess for some reason.

“I was excited to meet Sammy, having known of him for years. When we met, I was taken aback by how slight he was and how small in stature. Sammy was immediately gracious and forthcoming. He told me he was a camera buff and that he didn't mind being photographed.

“We talked for a while about cameras and film. Sammy was an amateur photographer and was curious about my Nikon SP rangefinder--my basic camera for many years. Sammy's easy-going attitude and interest in photography helped me relax.

“When it was time to go to work, Sammy was confident and got down to business immediately. He had come into the studio in a sharp suit but took off his jacket when it was time to record.

“I made a number of images of Sammy that day but settled on the one above. I shot through the glass and into the isolation booth while he was singing No Greater Love. You can make out on the song's title reversed on the music sheet.

“I remember it was a fun afternoon. I'm not sure whether we ever ran a story or the image was ever published by the magazine. It was so many years ago. But I do recall Sammy being charming, funny and highly professional in his approach. Sadly, I never had an opportunity to see Sammy again. Precious moments that day in January 1960 to say the least."

Photo by Herb Snitzer. Herb Snitzer/all rights reserved. Photo used here with the artist's permission.

Herb tells me that a limited number of silver gelatin, museum finish prints of the Sammy Davis Jr. image are available for $1,000 each, plus $40 shipping/handling. For questions, please contact Herb directly at [email protected]

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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