Jazz Festival: Jim Marshall Book ReviewedWritten by Andrew Vaughan
Marshall was born it Chicago in 1936 but grew up in San Francisco from where he took up photography. Legend has it that when John Coltrane was in San Francisco he spotted Marshall who was photographing him and asked him for directions to a club in Berkeley. Marshall offered to give him a lift in if he could in return take a roll of photographs of him. Coltrane agreed and a friendship between the two began; as did the burgeoning career of Marshall who went on to become one of the greats of rock and roll photography.
This book - published by Reel Art Press - concentrates on the jazz festival photography of Marshall that many believe represents his greatest work. Looking at the 300-plus pages of black and white photos - 95 % of which have never been seen before - in this beautiful book it would be hard to disagree.
The photos taken from the Monterey and Newport jazz festivals between 1960 and 1966 detail the stages, the journalists, the superstars and the audience and wow do they do that. This is the epitome of cool. When Ivy League clothing met Miles Davis and co to produce the most stylish and hippest people that have roamed this earth. As the book’s brilliant designer Graham Marsh says in his introduction, “It was dressing fine, making time and, moreover, a visual feast for Ray-Ban and Persol shaded eyes.”
Those shades are indeed required as you can feel the sun’s rays in all these photos. Marshall’s skill is such that he plonks you in that deckchair in the front row of the 1961 Monterey Festival listening to Dizzy blow his horn. You and all the other sharp hipsters and cool cats that were at the forefront of American and world history.
There had never before been such an multi-racial a crowd as at the festivals, as black culture was openly embraced and Marshall’s photos capture this. Whether it is Miles and Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, the journalist Ralph Gleason - who could back then have been the coolest, best-dressed man on the planet - or the row of girls looking more chic than Audrey Hepburn; the photos, the scene and this book is off the styleometer scale.
But of course these photos also capture the beautiful world of jazz music in all its forms. Whether that is candid backstage photos of exhausted performers, Gil Evans at his rehearsal piano or Nina Simone on stage these are treasured images gathered together in a wonderful work of art.
A work of art that harks back to the world on the cusp of change. As the veteran jazz writer Nat Hentoff says in his piece in the book, “Outside of the Newport and Monterey festivals, I had never seen such a large, integrated crowd coming together for a common purpose.
“As jazz reached deeply into more white Americans, America began to change.”
Reading that quote and longingly looking at the photographs within the book as the news of Donald Trump’s election comes through is very surreal and incredibly sad. Is it too much to just hope that we can all listen to jazz and dress so sharp that that the creases in our trousers cuts through the horrid year of 2016?
It probably is - but for now we can all buy the book and enjoy a chronicle of a wonderful age.
Jim Marshall died in 2010 and Reel Art Press have total access to the Jim Marshall archive and this is the first in a series.
Jazz Festival is published by Reel Art Press (£45). For more information and to order the book http://www.reelartpress.com/catalog/edition/90/jazz-festival-jim-marshall