Images of Jazz
Submitted on behalf of Janet Sommer
By Lee Tanner Foreward by Nat Hentoff Michael Friedman/Fairfax Publishing ISBN 1567993672
More than just a collection of Lee Tanner's best jazz photographs, which this is, "Images of Jazz" is also part memoir and part history lesson. The newest edition even comes with a CD of classic jazz favorites compiled by the author/photographer to set the mood as we page through this sumptuous volume. Replete with quotes throughout the sections from one musician regarding another, or from historians and critics about the people who grace these pages, "Images" is a love letter to the mystery and the history of Jazz music.
In the foreward by Nat Hentoff, he states that "There have been a number of compelling jazz photographers through the decades, but only a few have gone deeper than the decisive musical moment to the essence of the improvisor - his life off, as well as on the stand. Of these few, Lee Tanner is the most consistent in his ability to find the person at the core of the player." Hentoff also remarks that "Tanner's gift is knowing the moment at which the musician tells his own story - and not only in notes." In these few words Hentoff sums up the difference between Lee Tanner and most other photographers. In a photo of Jimmy Rushing and saxophonist Budd Johnson, Tanner captures Rushing not as he is singing, but as he stands off to the side with his hands clasped in front of him and his face beaming in the light as he listens rapturously to Budd.
In 1953, Lee Tanner shot his first jazz photographs at a bop jam held in an old ballroom in the West Fifties. No negatives remain from this first shoot, but one print of trombonist Bob Brookmeyer somehow survived and is shown in the introduction. We can see in that one image the seed of what was to come. There is, in some of these images, barely more than a sliver of light framing the musician's face and instrument. Alone against a sea of black the musician struggles to find that perfect communication in his music. Some seem to have reached their peace and stand in stillness, as in the image of Henry "Red" Allen gazing off into the room with the dignity of a man who knows exactly who he is, and is content with the answer. The timelessness of Tanner's photography is proven in a full page shot of Woody Herman silhouetted in light, a classic black and white image of a man lost in his music. Herman's song that day however, was not played out on the stage of a bar on 52nd St., or a Newport Jazz Festival, but rather on the stage at Paramus High School in New Jersey in 1977.
In photographs that speak as eloquently as poetry, Lee Tanner has given us visual memories that match the magic of the music we listen to. A brilliantly playful portrait of Ray Nance in the spotlight, the moment of anguish in Abbey Lincoln's voice, the pensiveness of a young Horace Silver (right) as he faces away from the piano in what feels like a late moment at Storyville. Tanner has captured the range of the sometimes exhausting emotions that sweep over us whenever we are fully engaged in either the making of, or the listening to the music. The humor, the tragedy and the joy that makes jazz so alive to us has never leapt from the page with so much vitality as in "Images of Jazz."
Includes a Bibliography with sections on books of photographs, as well as texts on Jazz, and a Discography, with full-length 70+ minute CD.
To view some of Lee Tanner's finest photographs, visit his Images of Jazz website.