Benjamin Cawthra

Blue Notes in Black and White

Photography and Jazz

University of Chicago 2011

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Ben Cawthra‘s Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz (University of Chicago, 2011) discusses the way images of jazz and the musicians...

Ben Cawthra‘s Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz (University of Chicago, 2011) discusses the way images of jazz and the musicians who played it both reflected and influenced our racial perceptions during the period between the 1930s and 1960s. Cawthra reveals the complex interactions between socially conscious photographers, magazine editors, record producers, jazz critics and the musicians themselves. From swing to bebop to cool, to West Coast Jazz to hard bop, Cawthra’s book gives the reader fascinating photographic and biographical portraits of Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane among others. The photographers, too, including Charles Peterson, Gijon Mili, Francis Wolff, William Claxton, Herman Leonard, William Gottlieb, and Roy DeCarava had nuanced and unique photographic styles. Cawtha also gives insight as to how African-American jazz musicians such as Gillespie, Davis, and Rollins attempted to control their own economic and image destinies within the ever-changing political economy of the record industry. Cawthra also explains how Life Magazine, the development of the Long Playing Record (LP), and the concurrent milestones in civil rights all influenced the photographic culture of jazz – and there is a fascinating section on the very conscious marketing of “West Coast Jazz” to emerging white suburban markets in the 50s and 60s. The complex confluences of such a wide depth and breadth of social history is bound to stimulate much thinking and raise many additional questions. Rich, thought-provoking, and with images and insights that stay with you: read it, look at the photos and think long and hard…there’s no end to the combination and permutations of analyses….like jazz itself.

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