First things first: I'm not into jazz, know virtually nothing of American jazz, yet I do know that jazz pianist and band leader Darius Brubeck, who contributed the foreword to this tome, is the son of legendary jazz icon Dave Brubeck. My interest is in photography, my musical preference has long been rock and pop, and I imagine that to photograph a rock band or a jazz combo isn't that different. Moreover, I'm fully aware that I cannot do justice to this work which is why I will concentrate on a few rather randomly chosen aspects that caught my attention. That being said, it is good to realise that a good jazz photo is not a happenstance.
"Taking pictures isn't as easy as it looks. In my experience it is rare indeed that all four members of my quartet are identifiable in a concert shot. From stage left, my back is to the camera; from our front, the cymbal is in front of the drummer's face; from stage right, the bass player is blocking me or I'm just too far away — and so on," Darius Brubeck describes good-humouredly his photo-frustrations.
Of course, Brubeck is joking. There is clearly more to the apparent chaos of the typical jazz photograph that is trying to catch, even to create, the atmosphere of a jazz performance or the aura of a jazz musician. Moreover, it goes without saying that different photographers will go differently about their challenges. Pointing his readers to two very different photos from the same period, the book's author Alan John Ainsworth comments: "What are we to make of the contrasts between these two almost contemporaneous photographs? In terms of generation, race, location, presentation, style, and repertoire, the players seem as far removed from each other as it is possible to be. It is hardly surprising that there is little agreement among jazz scholars about the definition of the jazz tradition; some even question whether there is such a tradition." Hardly surprising indeed. As in every other field of study, one feels like adding.
Photographers are as different as jazz musicians or politicians. So, what do photographers who take pictures of jazz musicians have in common? A common affinity with jazz, writes Ainsworth, an independent scholar based in Edinburgh, whose own affinity can be felt on every page. And, he adds, the same goes for the jazz audience for whom this book seems to be written: "Jazz photographs have always been important to fans, enthusiasts, and collectors." Sight Readings, in short, is a book for aficionados.
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