Posts Tagged ‘digital photography’
Trumpeter Percy and Clarinetist Willie Humphrey
On Tour and At Home
Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product
Photographs by William Carter 1973-1985
In a long caption in my book, Preservation Hall (W.W. Norton, 1991), I told the story, quoted below, of the Humphreys’ long lives and distinguished lineage. I never met their trombonist brother, Earl, who died relatively young. Their father, Willie Humphrey Sr., was a clarinetist who spent much of his life on road tours; in a surviving publicity shot he looks just like Willie Jr. The pioneering grandfather’s story says something about the rich artistic and cultural complexities underpinning the birth of what has been called “America’s classical music”:
“The work of the front-line Humphrey triumvirate stemmed from the teaching of their grandfather, James Brown Humphrey, who played a unique role in the earliest years of jazz. That “fair-skinned Negro with red hair,” as the authors Berry, Foose and Jones told it, in Up from the Cradle of Jazz (1986), “starting about 1887, boarded the train each week, wearing a swallow-tailed coat and carrying a cornet case and music sheets in a satchel. The professor had many New Orleans pupils who entered the ranks of early jazz; he is also said to have taught whites. Most students on his weekly tour of the plantation belt — 25 miles either way from the city — were illiterate workers who lived in shacks behind the sugar and cotton fields along the river…Humphrey by 1890 was a rare commodity, a black man who lived off his talents as an artist. He played all instruments, directed bands and orchestras, and became a catalyst sending rural blacks into urban jazz ensembles.”
The essence of classic New Orleans jazz is the ensemble. The essence of that essence is a tough, growling, cut-down, loose-limbed, abbreviated lead trumpet or cornet — allowing the other horns lots of space. Trumpeter Percy Humphrey gives us a fiery taste of his lead in the excerpts below.”Running Wild” and “Panama” were recorded in Oxford, Ohio by the great George Lewis Ragtime Band of 1952.
Click below to listen to segments of “Runnin’ Wild” and “Panama.”
In the following solo on “St. Louis Blues,” clarinetist Willie Humphrey demonstrates two cardinal components of the New Orleans style.
Rhythmically, the horns and piano never cease to play off of, and around, the beat as strictly laid down by the rhythm section. Attacking microseconds before or after what would be correct in a more European or “white” reading, this constant off-beatness serves to trip up the listener. “What’s your music for? Mine’s for dancing!” exulted a classic player. Making people move their bodies out on the streets and in the dance halls is the musicians’ fundamental assignment — which extends to foot tapping in concert halls. Syncopation is key.
Structurally, Willie gradually, logically builds his variations from lower to higher pitches and intensities. Employing St. Louis Blues-derived themes and a faux-stumbling manner that helps release micro-rhythms, he gradually weaves a baroque edifice soaring above the underlying foundation.
Click below to listen to “St. Louis Blues.”
70 Brilliant Years
How great it was — while it lasted, until 2012 — something like 70 years.
It still lasts archivally: those chromes retain their slightly salmon, yet accurate, saturated colors while so many others have long since faded. The film of choice for top magazines, many folks’ travel slides, and countless other applications. This post features some of my Kodachrome slides of the western U.S. from the 1960s on. (We hope to present a few international Kodachromes later; then eventually a selection from that fine new medium — digital color.)
We are fortunate to be living through a major transition in the history of photography. Five centuries ago, Western art was revolutionized by the invention of oil painting. Artists old enough to have been trained in older techniques like tempera, but young enough to master oil — Venetians like Titian, for instance — combined both skills in highly creative ways. (See my earlier post, “Tone in Art — and in Life.”) So I’m always pleased to hear of today’s art schools continuing to teach the older “wet darkroom” alongside the newer digital technologies.
See also “Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943,” Kodachromes by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, property of the Library of Congress.
All Kodachromes © William Carter
by William Carter
Is there still such a thing as “national character” — in a world becoming ever more homogenized? Or is there, even, “regional character” — in a nation ever more urbanized?
Famous photographs of earlier generations played on these themes – think of Cartier-Bresson’s famous image of the little Parisian boy carrying the huge bottle of wine, or of countless early images of America’s Old West, or of the collection of great documentary images seeded by the U.S. Farm Security Administration in the 1930s and early ’40s. (In the last couple of years a subset of the latter — amazing color images shot on brilliant, sparkling early Kodachrome – have been released for our delectation by the Library of Congress. Click here to view some pristine examples courtesy of the Denver Post.)
Yes, Virginia, there is still an American character. It may no longer be as obvious (to us) as Mount Rushmore or the Marlboro man or Babe Ruth or Marilyn Monroe, but it’s there, lingering below the surface. It derives from our unique history. My earlier books delved into three regional subsets — in Far West, the Middle West, and New Orleans jazz.
My most recent book, Causes and Spirits: Photographs from Five Decades (available signed or not signed) was a wider ranging retrospective, spanning the world in fifty years. What surprised me, in 2012, was that on seeing the book, photography curators at major museums — two in the U.S. and one in Germany — selected mainly my “Americana” images to access into their collections.
These are not your media-made icons, but out-of-the-way people in out-of-the-way places. Our character seems to survive in the unnoticed interstices of our lives.
When I was fooling around with my first digital camera several years ago, I tried auto focusing on my hand, then snapped the picture. The photo somehow refused to go away, and kept popping up in my files. Unlike others in the book I was preparing in 2009, it would not fit in that sequence, but like an unruly child still demanded attention, until I hit on using as a soft pattern across both “end papers” – the sheets just inside the hard covers. What could be more implicit in ones destiny?
“The Palm of My Hand,” photograph © William Carter 2001-2010, as used in Causes and Spirits, 2011