Book review

David Harvey – ‘The Look of Jazz’

David Harvey – The Look of Jazz
(Peterborough: Upfront Publishing. Photobook review by Jane Mann)

Musician and photographer David Harvey has used the lockdown to assemble a collection of his photographs of jazz musicians, many of which he had exhibited in two separate exhibitions at The Junction in Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, under the titles In the Moment… and One More Time. He also decided to interview a number of the musicians pictured, and this photobook of ninety portraits and his accompanying text, with a preface by Helen Mayhew, form a sort of post hoc exhibition catalogue.

Harvey chooses to work in black and white, like his photographer heroes Americans Yousef Karsh and Herman Leonard, and British ones Dave Redfern and Val Wilmer. He uses available light which can be quite a challenge in some of the dimly-lit jazz joints he frequents. His choice of subject is unusual – this is not another collection of photos of international jazz superstars, though quite a few do slip in. These are the chaps (and they are mainly chaps pictured here) who play in your local venues, clubs and pubs, or who run your evening classes. Some are key players on the London jazz scene, others are young players still finding their feet. There will be lots of familiar names and faces for readers of LondonJazz News. Most of the photos were taken in and around London, some at a summer school in France, and a few at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

Winston Clifford . The Bulls Head, 2018. Photo © David Harvey

They are mainly from the last few years, in those heady days when there were gigs seven nights a week, and before even lauded professional musicians had to take Hermes van delivery jobs to keep the wolf from the door.

There are 24 short interviews, in which Harvey asked each of his subjects to explain “how they started, what motivates and inspires them as players.” He also wants to know “what variously drives them to run venues, big bands, listing services, workshops, courses, jam sessions and other activities that make live jazz possible”, and they were forthcoming.

Steve Buckley with Kirk Lightsey, The Vortex, 2019. Photo © David Harvey

From these revelations I discovered some interesting things. I now know: that Dave Gelly’s clarinet teacher was Simon Purcell’s grandfather Paddy Purcell, so inspiring music teaching may be in the blood; and that Gelly is working on a project involving Barbara Thompson’s recordings for the BBC. I look forward to that. I learned that saxophonist Derek Nash has a degree in acoustics, and his first band as a teenager included Jack Parnell on drums. I read that drummer Tristan Mailliot, at the time of publication was working on a project on the music of Chick Corea, which is poignant now. I am reminded that pianist Simon Purcell, drummer Winston Clifford and bassist Steve Watts seem between them to have played with almost everyone else around, including legendary American Paris-based pianist Kirk Lightsey who is included here in photo and interview.

Steve Watts, The Vortex, 2019.Photo © David Harvey

There are brief profiles of another 25 of the musicians portrayed with more helpful information. I was delighted to discover that not only had I heard Steve Buckley play with Loose Tubes but also that, unbeknownst to me at the time, some of my best nights out in the 80s and 90s, spent in rooms under and over pubs, dancing to the likes of Taxi Pata Pata and the fabulous Roberto Pla Latin Jazz Ensemble, also featured Buckley who played in both these groups, and more. Thanks Steve!

Flipping through these photos and reading about the musicians reminded me how important jazz music educators are to the continuation of jazz as the performance art it is. There are photos here of inspirational staff from the conservatoires, of summer school teachers, of some of those brilliant people who spend their time enthusing would be jazz players at weekend schemes, in schools, and adult education colleges. Such individuals are stars, whatever their recording profile and performance histories, and it is nice to see them documented here doing what they love – playing jazz.

 

The most successful portraits, in my opinion, are those which show players transported, lost in the moment, or grinning with pleasure. I particularly enjoyed the portrait of drummer Buster Birch, which Harvey has chosen for the front cover (above), one of bass player Alan Gibson, his fingers blurred in movement, and a striking diagonal pose from pianist Michael Graves.

I have one small quibble – occasionally artists captured in group shots are not named, which is a shame.

The Junction Stage – as mentioned below. Photo © David Harvey

The most haunting image for me comes right at the beginning of the book, next to the acknowledgements (above). It shows an empty corner of the stage at The Junction. There’s a straight-backed chair, a drumkit and a few bits and pieces – microphone stands, a music stand, some leads snaking across the floor and a glimpse of curtain. It could be seen as an allegory: The Absence of Live Music. It serves to illustrate this hiatus we find ourselves in, this extended pause between sets.

So, while we wait…some of the photographs are to be found on David Harvey’s website HERE

LINK: David Harvey’s The Look of Jazz can be ordered online (UK and overseas)

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