By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Posts Tagged ‘music

Jazz Emerges Part 3

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Spirit Matters

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product


CLICK THE ARROW ABOVE to listen to The old Eureka Band, led from the 1930s by Percy Humphrey., Tops in the city, as late as the 1950s its joyous processions were marked by a dignity and decorum since overtaken by the wild and garish. Photos by Tom Sharpsteen, compiled with sound by Clint Baker and Katie Cavera, used here with permission.

Years ago, the French Quarter streets were amazingly quiet.  Especially in the mornings, before the few tourists were out and about, this historic section – located near the river, yet built on high ground for good reason – retained its residential feel. New Orleans’ slow-going, personal style, out of the national mainstream, had much to do with how it cradled classic jazz for most of a century.

But other than a couple of sleazy joints on Bourbon Street, it was hard for a musician to feed his family, or for a visitor to hear the real deal. Still, the city’s close-knit neighborhoods proclaimed their musical birthright at pop-up parties, funky dance halls, street events, church memorials. “Let the good times roll,” translated from the French, was always there, highlighted by everyone’s anticipation of the Mardi Gras Carnival, which they prepare for all year long.

The past has always loomed large in this survival culture where one never knew what tragedies the future might hold. Generations of musicians have long been linked by family ties, spiritual traditions, personal musical tutelage, people caring for neighbors. By the 1970s I had met and played with musicians in several cities of the world, but only in New Orleans did you learn so quickly where they lived — on which block of which street, in which ward, near which landmark.  And no other city has ever spawned so many tunes named for beloved streets, from Basin to Canal to Bourbon to Burgundy to…

Within weeks of arriving, I knew I had arrived when I was invited to jam on the sidewalk to celebrate the birthday of an old lady named Miss Carrie. Then on ten minutes notice I donned a parade hat to go play a gig at Antoine’s fancy restaurant. Then I joined a procession of Japanese visitors marching to the graveside of clarinet great George Lewis. There were plenty of weeks of no action at all. But one thing was sure: in New Orleans nobody ever needs to be asked to “play with feeling.”

Preservation Hall, St. Peter Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, early morning, after the streets have been freshly washed and workers are filtering back to their jobs in the tourist industry. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Preservation Hall, St. Peter Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, early morning, after the streets have been freshly washed and workers are filtering back to their jobs in the tourist industry.
Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Serenading a friend of the musicians, Miss Carrie, at her home typified the informality of French Quarter musical culture. Left to right: Miss Carrie; bass drummer Booker T. Glass; student Jennifer Hamilton wearing band hat; washboard player Allan Jaffe. Photograph by William Carter, 1974

Serenading a friend of the musicians, Miss Carrie, at her home typified the informality of French Quarter musical culture. Left to right: Miss Carrie; bass drummer Booker T. Glass; student Jennifer Hamilton wearing band hat; washboard player Allan Jaffe. Photograph by William Carter, 1974

Left to right: trumpeter De De Pierce; tubaist Allan Jaffe; clarinetist Willie Humphrey with Preservation Hall Jazz Band on tour in California. Under Jaffe's tough but caring marketing expertise, the down-home sincerity of the players was welcomed as part and parcel of their music by adoring fans in major concert venues worldwide. Photograph by William Carter, c. 1970

Left to right: trumpeter De De Pierce; tubaist Allan Jaffe; clarinetist Willie Humphrey with Preservation Hall Jazz Band on tour in California. Under Jaffe’s marketing expertise the warm sincerity of the players was welcomed as part and parcel of their music by adoring fans in major concert venues worldwide.
Photograph by William Carter, c. 1970

Pianist-vocalist Sing Miller at concert; "You gotta have soul to do this work," he told a photographer. Photograph by William Carter, 1975

Pianist-vocalist Sing Miller at concert; “You gotta have soul to do this work,” he told a photographer. Photograph by William Carter, 1975

Trombonist Louis Nelson at a private party in the French Quarter. For many years Nelson was featured in the bands of Barry Martyn and others on countless European tours, as well as with trumpeter Kid Thomas and others across the U.S. under the Preservation Hall banner. The watchword of such brass players was a simple, honest sound derived from decades of experience processioning through the streets of the city by day and working down-home dance halls by night. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Trombonist Louis Nelson at a private party in the French Quarter. For many years Nelson was
featured in the bands of Barry Martyn and others on countless European tours, as well as with trumpeter Kid Thomas and others across the U.S. under the Preservation Hall banner. The watchword of such brass players was a simple, honest sound derived from decades of experience processioning through the streets of the city by day and working down-home dance halls by night. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Drummer Paul Barbarin's manuscript of his song, "The Second Line" © circa 1960: the term "second line" refers to the enthusiasts who walk and dance along with the brass bands during the New Orleans street parades. Collection of William Carter

Drummer Paul Barbarin’s manuscript of his song, “The Second Line” © circa 1960: the term “second line” refers to the enthusiasts who walk and dance and exult beside the brass bands along the routes of the street parades. Collection of William Carter

Clarinetist Paul "Polo" Barnes' manuscript of his tune "My Josephine," New Orleans, prior to 1960. Polo was remembered by jazz buffs for his tours and recordings with Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver around 1930. He was remembered by his neighbors for playing sweet songs by himself on summer evenings in his back yard. Collection of William Carter

Clarinetist Paul “Polo” Barnes’ manuscript of his tune “My Josephine,” New Orleans, prior to 1960. Polo was remembered by jazz buffs for his tours and recordings with Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver around 1930. He was remembered by his neighbors for playing sweet songs by himself on summer evenings in his back yard. Collection of William Carter

Entertainers in a Bourbon Street nightclub: some clowning is traditional among New Orleans musicians, but in the commercial joints they often faced degrading conditions. Bassist at right is jazzman James Prevost. Prior to 1960. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Entertainers in a Bourbon Street nightclub: some clowning is traditional among New Orleans musicians, but in the commercial joints they often faced degrading conditions. Bassist at right is jazzman James Prevost. Prior to 1960. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Sister Gertrude Morgan at Associated Artists gallery, New Orleans. Photograph by Dan Leyrer, before 1960.

Sister Gertrude Morgan at Associated Artists gallery, New Orleans. Photograph by Dan Leyrer, before 1960.

Revival service, Church of God in Christ, New Orleans. Photograph by Ralston Crawford, 1950s. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Revival service, Church of God in Christ, New Orleans. Photograph by Ralston Crawford, 1950s. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Clarinetist George Lewis with his mother, Alice Zeno, New Orleans. An internationally influential jazz stylist, Lewis loved playing simple hymns. He said, "I consider myself as a beginner from the time I started till now." Photograph by Stanley Kubrick (?), c. 1950.

Clarinetist George Lewis with his mother, Alice Zeno, New Orleans. An internationally influential jazz stylist, Lewis loved playing simple hymns. He said, “I consider myself as a beginner from the time I started till now.” Photograph by Stanley Kubrick (?), c. 1950.

Reedmen Tom Sharpsteen & Ryoichi Kawai; banjoist Junichi Kawai and others pay homage at clarinetist George Lewis' grave, New Orleans. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Reedmen Tom Sharpsteen & Ryoichi Kawai; banjoist Junichi Kawai and others pay homage at clarinetist George Lewis’ grave, New Orleans. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Tubaist/entrepreneur Allan Jaffe paying his respects at a New Orleans memorial service for trombone star Jim Robinson. Photograph by Grauman Marks, 1976

Tubaist/entrepreneur Allan Jaffe paying his respects at a New Orleans memorial service for trombone star Jim Robinson. Photograph by Grauman Marks, 1976

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Jazz Emerges Part 2

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Billie sings and plays, De De plays

Billie sings and plays, De De plays.

De De sings.

Blues Essential

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

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In the jazz genome, the blues is essential.

Louis Armstrong administered his blues while performing open heart surgery on the whole world.

Miles Davis wove his kind of blues-isms amid the dark arteries and shadowy intersections of postmodern life.

Billie and De De Pierce? I just came to their house; they came to mine. Their house is your house.

Billie Plays

Billie plays

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Billie at home

Billie at home

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De De before going home

De De before going home

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PHOTO CREDITS ABOVE: 1. unknown 2. Marty Kaelin 3. Charles Stroud
4-5. William Carter

.PHOTO CREDITS BELOW: by William Carter
Mance Lipscomb, Oakland, California c. 1960

Mance Lipscomb, Oakland, California c. 1960

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Unknown bluesman, Berkeley, California c. 1960

Unknown bluesman, Berkeley, California c. 1960

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Carol Leigh, San Francisco, c. 1960

Carol Leigh, San Francisco, c. 1960

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Mama Yancey

Mama Yancey, San Francisco, c. 1960

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Sonny Terry, San Francisco, c. 1960

Sonny Terry, San Francisco, c. 1960

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Jimmy Rushing, San Francisco, c. 1960

Jimmy Rushing, San Francisco, c. 1960

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Manny Sayles, New Orleans, c. 1986

Manny Sayles, New Orleans, c. 1986

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Louis Armstrong, Ithaca, New York, 1962

Louis Armstrong, Ithaca, New York, 1962

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Jazz Emerges, Part 1

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notPHnotWC005 New Orleans Brass Bands 1950-1990

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

A lifelong preoccupation with traditional New Orleans jazz inspired my book, Preservation Hall (W.W. Norton, 1991). While doing my own shooting, I uncovered a trove of historical photos I decided to mix with my own (sources available on request). Like the music itself, this project is a blend of old and new, personal and professional. Blogs, like recordings, add a fresh dimension to a traditional art.

In the 1970s and 80s I paid regular visits to New Orleans. I was invited to play with some of the brass bands. In the sweltering streets and shuttered funeral homes, I juggled a clarinet in one hand and a camera in the other – not easy to do, or forget.

Jazz was born in the 1890s when strutting brass men and parade drummers, performing street marches and wailing spiritual dirges, went indoors, or up onto park bandstands, for “sit down jobs.” There, the marches merged with country blues, parlor ragtime, and popular dance songs utilizing stringed instruments like the guitar and piano. By the early 20th century, in these cultural wetlands near the mouth of the Mississippi, a new music had been spawned: a spicy, varied gumbo of black, white, and Creole ingredients.

As jazz evolved worldwide, its earliest style was preserved in the city of its birth. Many first and second-generation players remained active into the 1960s and beyond. As younger devotees took over, the music changed subtly – some would argue for the worse – as the old decorum, dress codes, and refined musicianship gradually gave way, like the French Quarter, to a more touristic style. But that kind of regret for a faded past has always marked a city that remains unlike the rest of America.

For me, the photographs in this and succeeding posts evoke nostalgia for a host of friends – a whole subculture, really – now largely gone. Their music is part of me.

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Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Happy Accidents Part 1

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Bunnie Meade

Above: Bunnie Meade, subtitled “The Eminent Lady Clarinet Soloist,” turned up in the bin of a junk store in New Orleans. I could never learn any more about the winsome Madame Meade, so she never made it into my book on New Orleans jazz: “Preservation Hall” (W.W. Norton, 1991).

“If you break eggs – make an omelet.”

That old saying is good advice in life — being able to turn a negative into a positive is a creative response.

Similarly, a famous book by the cultural writer, Joseph Chilton Pearce, was called The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. Essences seep from seismic shifts.

The same can be true in the arts. “Accidental” has a particular, narrow meaning in music. Beyond that  are wider applications — especially in jazz. An improvising jazzman is bound to stumble now and then. Hitting a “clunker” means playing a wrong note outside the chord progression. Sometimes a quick-minded response can save the day: re-framing the phrase, or making the bad note part of a longer statement, or an accompanist quick-fixing the chord to suit, or recovering with good humor the way we sometimes do if we accidentally use the wrong word in everyday conversation.

Accidents can become a creative force in photography. One feature of my first three books (on Ghost Towns, the Middle West, and New Orleans Jazz) was to blend my own photos with historical ones. I loved researching old pictures in public archives. In the early 1970s I drove a camper across ten states, scouring the land looking for remnants of the early mining booms which had helped blast open the West. Here and there I would pause to comb local historical files. It was a kind of mining in itself. Spend a day, see maybe a thousand prints, feel great to find one that may make it into the book. There is a “happy accident” quality in this kind of research: staying open to the unexpected: the oddball treasure may not quite fit, but may inspire you to bend the narrative  to make room for it. Reproduced here are a couple of fun obscurities that I always wanted to print but had never found space for.

Indiana Bell Telephone

Fashionable employment in a town in rural America, 1920’s: I struggled to find a place for this shot in my book, “Middle West Country” (Houghton Mifflin, 1975), but never did.

Happy accidents are a breath of fresh air. But when you break eggs, how do you respond? That’s the key.

America’s Funniest Home Videos would be nothing if people didn’t spot and send in those homespun howlers. With only seconds to spare in the fading light, and only one exposure left in his camera, that ultimate plan-ahead craftsman, Ansel Adams, jammed on his car brakes, jumped out and grabbed his most famous photo, “Moonrise Over Hernandez.”

Fresh realms of re-interpretation have been opened by the transition from film to digital. My print, “Persepolis,” started life as a black-and-white negative. Following a trip through Iran in 1998, I had made a set of quick 4×6 proofs but neglected to properly “fix” them in the darkroom. Eleven years later, I was chagrined to find many had faded and/or acquired brownish streaks. One proof caught my eye. It had inadvertently become streaked with a haunting, 19th-century sort of patina. To preserve it, I scanned the little print. Then I blew it up. This “omelet” ended up in two states, in two sizes, now in limited editions, and the “state 1” image occupies a two-page spread in my new book, Causes and Spirits (Steidl, 2011). One of the larger sized State 1’s — 48 inches wide — now graces the wall of our dining room (see below).

Persepolis, Iran

Persepolis, Iran (State 1) Inkjet print 1998-2009

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Persepolis, Iran (State 2), Inkjet print, 1998-2009

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

October 28, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Jazz + Photography = Now (Part 1)

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Surprising similarities between two young art forms.

William Carter in Preservation Hall September 1973

William Carter, clarinet, at Preservation Hall, September 1973 with Kid Thomas, trumpet; Emanuel Paul, tenor saxophone; Emanuel Sayles, banjo; Charlie Hamilton, piano; Alonzo Stewart, drums; and Louis Nelson trombone. Photograph by Mona Mac Murray

In your lifetime, as in mine, both jazz and photography have gradually won acceptance as fine arts. Having been intimately involved with both, I see underlying similarities between these two “modern” forms.

The special energy of the fleeting moment is as crucial to photography as it is to jazz. Perhaps Zen painting or action painting should be included. But any jazzman,  photographer, or Zen master would add that preparing for that moment is crucial. Any advocate of the “cutting edge” wanting to tear down old establishment walls can proclaim the supremacy of the Now. Expressing that moment meaningfully — artistically — is something else.

The two upstart arts share another similarity: technology has been key to their histories.

Willie Humphrey Album Cover

Willie Humphrey album cover: photograph © William Carter 1974

After the invention of the camera in 1839, photography evolved rapidly. It continues to do so. From plates to films to sensors, its myriad processes and techniques have influenced, and been influenced by, history itself. From colonial times and the U.S. Civil War to today’s cell phone revolutions and satellite imagery, photography has been as intertwined with the history of science as with the historical events it was picturing.

Jazz first appeared in the 1890’s — roughly the same time as sound recording. It was invented in New Orleans as a medium of locally styled dancing, parading, and other social functions.  Not until it migrated to Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles — where the recording studios were — did “America’s classical music,” as it has since been called, take off. The first jazz recordings were made in 1917, and the first by black musicians in 1922. These sparked the Jazz Age, positioning musicians and listeners for the worldwide boom, with its myriad stylistic developments, that continue to unfold.

Absent sound recordings, jazz could never have developed as an art form. The highly personal sounds of Louis Armstrong or Bix Beiderbecke or Benny Goodman or Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker or Bill Evans or George Lewis or Miles Davis, or hundreds of others, would have been lost, other than in the fading memories of the relative few who would remember hearing them live. Unlike music whose essence is preserved in written manuscripts, this music of the moment required recording to filter into that cumulative memory we call civilization. Absent recordings, jazz’ own inner development would have been stunted: generations of younger players, having had far less access to the sounds that preceded them, would not have been able to power the medium forward down the many new tracks it has taken.

Guitar Slim Album Cover

Guitar Slim album cover: photograph © William Carter 1959

An interesting, if comparatively minor, factor in the development of both photography and jazz has been the direct dialog between them. From the earliest days, jazz bands have needed publicity photos of themselves and their prominent individual members. Creative photographers have often responded to the special, sometimes romantic-seeming conditions and atmosphere of the jazz scene. For me, having my feet in both worlds has often been rewarding, both personally and professionally.

Among my earliest paid photo assignments, around 1960, were shooting album covers for an obscure blues label (see above, right and below). In the following decade I began accumulating the pictures and interviews that would come together in my book on early-style New Orleans jazzmen, Preservation Hall  (W.W. Norton, 1991). But my first real job of any kind had been in 1955, at age 20, when I toured the U.S. as a clarinetist, performing nightly nationwide and recording with Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band out of San Francisco. I would play professionally and semi-professionally ever since, and would come to know countless wonderful musicians.

Here’s a track featuring me on clarinet playing Sidney Bechet’s “Blue Horizon.”

Magnolia Jazz 5 album cover

Magnolia Jazz 5 album cover, 1985. Author in lower left.

Numero uno, however, was the night I met and photographed the great Satchmo (below).

As I said, happy accidents happen everywhere, all the time. But creating them, recognizing and treasuring them, preserving and framing them — that’s a special preoccupation shared by photographers and jazzmen. And creating those moments? That’s the most arcane, edgy aspect — and the mysterious heart of both activities. In practical terms, you can only create the conditions and hope something great happens — and you don’t miss it. Trying too hard—too consciously setting up the picture, or over-arranging the music—is opposite of the process I’m talking about.

The night I met Louis, he just happened to be positioned that hundredth of a second on that gym stage at Cornell University, under those stage lights, in a way that would work on film as later processed (with some difficulty) in my darkroom, and much later translated onto my computer. I just happened to be there holding that camera with that lens and film, ready to celebrate that moment, partly because I so loved the expansive human with whom I had just chatted backstage in his dressing room. I just happened to cut a slice out of infinite time with that particular shutter speed, and just happened to cut a slice out of infinite space with the bright line viewfinder in that particular Leica.

And Louis?

Louis Armstrong at Cornell

Louis Armstrong at Cornell.

Click here for a larger version. 

Louis just happened to be doing one-night stands across the U.S. at an age, and in a degree of uncertain health, when many others would have long since hung up that horn. Nearly half a century earlier, he had just happened to walk into a studio to record a few sides including “West End Blues” (click below),

and happened to improvise a solo intro lasting less than half a minute which happened to  change the course of American music. That intro has since been imitated, repeated, re-interpreted, re-arranged thousands of times — but never with that same elemental, accidental-sounding force of its first moment.

Another of my early idols, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, called his most influential book The Decisive Moment.

Which says it all.

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

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