Archive for September, 2010

Daniel Kramer: Bob Dylan and W. Eugene Smith

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Photograph by Daniel Kramer

Our previous blog entry yielded a great deal of feedback, much of it courtesy of the essential Dylan site Expecting Rain.  We are grateful.  We’re told the camera in question belonged to Daniel Kramer, who made the cover photograph of “Highway 61 Revisited” and who, lo and behold, will be visiting us at the Center for Documentary Studies in two weeks.  Ostensibly, Dan’s visit is so he can hear himself on Smith’s loft tapes talking with Smith about Dylan and photography in 1965. While in town he’s agreed to take part in a brown bag lunch event at CDS on Wednesday October 13 at noon.  More details about this event are below.

-Sam Stephenson

JAZZ LOFT BROWN BAG / Wednesday, October 13, Noon

Daniel Kramer: “Bob Dylan and W. Eugene Smith”

Moderated by Sam Stephenson, Jazz Loft Project Director

Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

DIRECTIONS: http://cds.aas.duke.edu/about/here.html

Daniel Kramer, a New York–based photographer and film director, has long been recognized for his portraits and picture stories in national and international magazines and books. Kramer’s photographs have been exhibited or collected by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the International Center of Photography, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the Experience Music Project, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and numerous other national and international galleries.

Kramer’s 1967 book, Bob Dylan, the first major work about the performer-songwriter, was recently reprinted as Bob Dylan: A Portrait of the Artist’s Early Years (2001). His Dylan photographs were also used on the album covers for Highway 61 Revisited (1965), Biograph (1985) and Bringing It All Back Home (1965). Many of Kramer’s photographs of Dylan can also be seen in Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.

In August 1964, after months of phone calls and letters to Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, Kramer was given the opportunity to arrange a portrait sitting in Woodstock, New York, with the 23-year-old performer who was by then in the process of becoming an international star. The two men quickly developed a warm and trusting professional relationship that allowed for many extraordinary photographic sessions.

W. Eugene Smith consulted with Kramer about these photographs and recorded their conversations in Smith’s loft at 821 Sixth Avenue, in New York City, the focus of the extensive Jazz Loft Project based at the Center for Documentary Studies. (Read more: www.jazzloftproject.org)

The brown bag presentation will focus on Kramer’s work as an early Bob Dylan documentary photographer and on Kramer’s friendship and stories regarding Dylan and W. Eugene Smith. Kramer will show his photographs, and the presentation will feature recordings from the loft at 821 Sixth Avenue in 1965, with conversation about Dylan by Kramer and Smith.

Moderator Sam Stephenson, director of the Jazz Loft Project at CDS, has researched the life and work of photographer W. Eugene Smith since 1997 and has authored three books: Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project (W. W. Norton, 2001), W. Eugene Smith 55 (Phaidon Press, 2001), and The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue (Knopf, November 2009). His biography of Smith, Picture Paradise, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

NOTE: Bob Dylan’s current tour brings him to North Carolina during the week of this event. He will appear in Charlotte on October 14 and in Winston-Salem on October 16. See details: http://www.bobdylan.com/#/tour

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Whose Nikon SP is that on the Cover of Highway 61 Revisited?

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That’s the question posed by the wonderful photographer Edward Grazda in a comment yesterday on my post Which Direction Home, Pt. 1. In a follow-up email Ed told me that in Scorsese’s documentary, No Direction Home, Dylan could be spotted coming off a plane shooting with what looks like a Nikon SP.  Wouldn’t it be funny if that was the camera stolen from Smith’s loft?  Thus, the cover of the album is an inside joke between Dylan and Smith.

But I believe the camera is probably not Smith’s.

Does anybody know the story behind the “Highway 61 Revisited” cover and that camera?

(Which Direction Home, Pt. 2 here).

Thanks,

-Sam Stephenson

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Jason Moran wins MacArthur Fellowship

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Longtime JLP collaborator and friend Jason Moran has deservedly won a MacArthur Fellowship, the one-of-a-kind “genius” award that provides several hundred thousand dollars and establishes icons in American culture today.

Our work with Jason dates back to early 2006 when Times writer Ben Ratliff, while interviewing Jason on stage at the Museum of Modern Art, told him about the Jazz Loft Project and ideas began swirling in his head, after several visits to the Center for Documentary Studies, to use Smith’s materials to pay homage to Monk and create a new work of art, which became IN MY MIND.  Duke Performances’ director Aaron Greenwald deserves credit for orchestrating the original commission of IN MY MIND in 2007 and producing the 2009 Town Hall concerts which included IN MY MIND, which CDS filmmakers Gary Hawkins and Emily LaDue beautifully documented.

HERE is a longer blog entry I wrote in July describing all the steps in this long, fruitful collaboration.

No doubt, part of the reason JLP won the “Innovative Use of Archives Award” from the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York is because of our collaboration with Jason.  In fact, he was the first person we asked to present this award to us (on October 20 at Columbia University).  We are proud to have played some role in his career and I believe Gene Smith would have been proud, too.

-Sam Stephenson

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Which Direction Home, Pt. 2

Bob Dylan, probably June 1965, photo by Gene Smith

Bob Dylan, probably June 1965, photo by Gene Smith

I scanned the above photograph from my ragged copy of Smith’s 1969 Aperture monograph.  Smith and his longtime girlfriend and loft mate Carole Thomas designed the book with no page numbers, which is something I bet Smith long wanted to do.  The photograph comes from the section of the monograph that Smith called “The Loft from the Inside In,” including photos of Jimmy Stevenson at the piano, David Young, Carole, his daughter Shana in the stairwell, Thelonious Monk, and this photograph of Dylan.  From some research over the weeked I’ve come to the conclusion (again) that this photograph was made in June 1965 in the studios of Columbia Records on 30th Street, just a few blocks away from 821 Sixth Avenue.  I believe it was the same day Smith made the image that is on the cover of Sean Wilentz’s new book, Bob Dylan in America.  These sessions were for what became Dylan’s album Highway 61 Revisited. The mystery of Smith inserting this image into his loft section of the Aperture book requires more research, or more speculation.

After I wrote Which Direction Home, Pt. 1 here a few weeks ago, Dylan announced October tour dates in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, N.C. with a day off in between.  I immediately bought tickets for those shows and I’ll use the dates as an impetus and framework to finish the long piece I began last year on Dylan, the Piedmont blues, musical migration patterns, and other topics, including a few anecdotes from 821 Sixth Avenue.

The landscape in between and around Charlotte and Winston-Salem includes the home of John Coltrane’s childhood and youth in High Point, N.C.  Coltrane’s uncle worked a railroad line from High Point to Goldsboro, N.C., hence one of Coltrane’s early compositions, “Goldsboro Express.”  Perhaps more pertinent to Dylan, the home of the late great guitarist, Etta Baker, is not far away in Morganton.  Also nearby is Deep Gap, NC, where Doc Watson was born and still lives today and Boone, NC, where the Carolina Chocolate Drops (Justin Robinson, Dom Flemons, and Rhiannon Giddens) met while attending the annual Black Banjo Gathering there a few years ago.

This past Saturday night in Durham, Aaron Greenwald and Duke Performances presented a double bill including the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Joe Henry, who produced the Drops’ recent album for Nonesuch.  Henry performed an extraordinary opening set, playing acoustic guitar or piano and singing while accompanied only by the upright bass player David Piltch.  One of Henry’s closing tunes was the stunning, “Our Song,” which opens with an image of Willie Mays shopping in a Home Depot in Scottsdale, Arizona, a barren desert land turned vapid suburban theme park.  “The greatest center-fielder of all time/Stooped by the burden of endless dreams/His and Yours and Mine,” sang Henry.  Then, after an intermission, the Drops came onstage and played their vital, foot-stomping brand of old-time traditional string music – modern minstrel music, to borrow the term Sean Wilentz uses to describe Dylan, bringing the mostly white audience to its feet.

When Smith decided to put the image of Dylan in the loft section of his monograph across the book’s spine from Thelonious Monk, I believe he was thinking of human ambiguities; weird, pointed juxtapositions.  That’s always how he created his lay-outs.  Dylan and Monk are the only two images in this spread.  When you close the book Monk’s cigarette bumps into Dylan’s hair.  The tobacco Monk is smoking almost certainly came from the Winston-Salem/Durham tobacco corridor.  Hell, it might have come from Rocky Mount where Monk was born or Farmville, N.C. where hundreds of Monk family members congregate each Labor Day weekend for family reunions to this day.

Or maybe Smith just wanted us to think, forty years later, that Dylan was in his loft.

-Sam Stephenson

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On the Trail of Gene Smith in Berkeley

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After leaving Monterey on Monday I drove up to meet with Professor Stanley Brandes in the Anthropology Department at Berkeley.  Later that night I went to the nearby home of ninety-two year-old photographer Wayne Miller.  I had been introduced to both men by the noted photographer Ken Light of Berkeley’s journalism and photography programs.

Brandes has done extensive research on Gene Smith’s classic “Spanish Village,” some of the work in tandem with Jesus M. de Miguel of Barcelona.  Their work points out discrepancies between Smith’s documentary work in Deleitosa in 1950 and the reality of the village at the time.  Brandes and de Miguel have painstakingly shown that Smith had something particular in his mind when he went to Spain – a traditional village under domination of Franco – and that’s what he intended to portray no matter what he found there.

Brandes told me, “Smith thought he could singlehandedly halt a loan from the United States to Franco’s regime by showing a backward Spanish village that had been stifled and abused by Franco.”

The work of Brandes and de Miguel is much more complex than I can state here.  Much of their work was published only in Spanish and I have not had time to translate it, yet.  Smith is Brandes’ favorite photographer, so this work isn’t about debunking Smith, per se.  It’s more complicated than that.

What Brandes had to say jibed with what Wayne Miller told me later that night.

Miller’s ninety-second birthday had been Sunday.  He first met Smith at a restaurant in Washington D.C. in 1942.  Miller was a stalwart in Steichen’s naval photography unit, which Smith was disallowed to join for physical reasons.  Instead, Smith landed journalistic assignments in the war from Ziff-Davis, LIFE, and others.

Miller’s wife Joan was with him that night at the restaurant in 1942 and here she was with Miller during my visit in Berkeley on Monday night.  They’ve been together for seven decades.  I hadn’t counted on this bonus, and that’s why you do this work in person, if you can, and not over the telephone.  Joan remembered that earlier that day in 1942 Smith had landed his first war assignments with Ziff-Davis and he was elated.  Joan said, “I clearly remember him saying, ‘I’m twenty-one and about to go off to war.’”  Smith was actually twenty-three at the time but to bend the truth slightly for impact would have been natural for him.

Wayne Miller, who like Smith went on to join Magnum, clearly relates to Smith fondly:  “We were great dreamers.  Photography was about what you felt rather than what you saw.  There was a sense of empathy.  You pursued a gut feeling.  Our work wasn’t for intellectuals.  We were participants in our photography emotionally and we weren’t embarrassed about it.  We wanted to scream out the importance of what we felt and how we reacted to what we saw.”

When Smith moved into 821 Sixth Avenue and left his family in Croton-on-Hudson, “He put himself into exile, damn it,” said Miller.  At roughly the same time Miller began photographing his family with profound connection and emotion – his wife giving birth, his kids from infancy through school ages.  It’s clear today that Miller is most proud of this work, more than, say, his acclaimed photojournalism from the streets of Chicago.  Miller stressed that he and Gene, after a certain point, took different paths.  The two men were born in 1918.  Smith died in 1978 of, by and large, self-destruction, and Miller is still alive and healthy today and so is Joan.

Meanwhile, 22 tons of Smith’s life’s work rest peacefully in his archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.  How do you measure this trade off?  It makes you wonder.  It makes me wonder.  I’ve generated a so-called career from Smith’s archive.

It’s clear I’m not a natural photographer, because I sat there in Wayne and Joan’s home for a couple of hours and it never occurred to me to make a photograph of the two of them to document my visit.  My instinct is that of a writer; to get out a pad and pen, turn on an unobtrusive audio recorder, and be quiet, to talk only enough necessary to (I hope) express sincerity and gratitude and engagement.  That’s what I did.  But I’m kicking myself for not getting a photo of Wayne and Joan.

I did, however, snap a shot with my iPhone of a beautiful Live Oak next to their house.  Ken Light told me that Wayne planted this tree as a sapling when they moved into the house in 1951.

-Sam Stephenson

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Report from Monterey

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The Jazz Loft Project was a success at the 53rd annual Monterey Jazz Festival.  Many kudos and deep gratitude are due Tim Jackson, Mary Piazza, and Bill Wagner, among many others.  Mary approached us many months ago about having some kind of JLP exhibition in their Coffee House Gallery over the weekend.  We couldn’t use Smith’s prints for a number of reasons, most obviously because they were on loan to the Chicago Cultural Center as part of the JLP traveling exhibition at this time.  However, after many discussions and emails with Mary, Bill, and Tim we settled on a temporary exhibition of Smith’s audio, some duplicate video that we are using in the traditional exhibition, and projections of Smith’s images.

When I walked into the Coffee House Gallery this weekend I was amazed by what Bill and Mary had done (some iPhone snapshots of mine are above and below).  It was a powerful mini-exhibition, a testament to Bill and Mary’s ingenious and respectful presentation and to the flexibility of Smith’s profound original achievement.  The young lady who served as the security guard for the Coffee House Gallery all weekend told us today that one person walked in there and stayed for two and a half hours.  At least four others came up to me and said they were stunned by the gallery presentation and by the whole story of JLP.  They hadn’t heard about JLP until they saw this gallery show.

Today at 4pm was my JLP presentation on stage in Dizzy’s Den, a 700-seat venue.  I followed Roy Haynes, who was being interviewed live on-stage by a moderator, with audience Q&A.  I caught the last half of his appearance and was moved.  He ranks with Monk, Coltrane, and Zoot Sims in my handful of favorite musicians.  In 2002-03 I spent a lot of time with Roy, a week of gigs at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago and a day-trip with him to his gig at a festival in Saratoga, NY.  I wrote a story on him for Smithsonian magazine in 2003.  It was great to catch up today.  He hasn’t changed a bit.  This man is a marvel of a human being and one monster of a creative artist.  Last night at the festival he had a packed crowd on its feet screaming and shouting in glee.  At eight-five years old, how long can he keep going?

Roughly ninety-five percent of the audience in Dizzy’s Den left when Roy was done.  One of his last stories had been about traveling to San Francisco for gigs with Lester Young in the 1940s.  Can you imagine?  For festival-goers, after that, it’s no more talking; let’s go hear some music.  I had a small audience, but they were dedicated.  Several people kept asking questions, which I enjoyed.  Afterwards a few more people came up to me and said they’d never heard of JLP until they saw the Coffee House Gallery exhibition.  This surprises me.  There are times when I feel my own JLP fatigue.  I know my family probably thinks, by this point, somebody please make it stop.  So when I’m at the Monterey Jazz Festival and there are people in this audience who still haven’t heard of JLP, I’m awakened, refreshed.  I also feel grateful and fortunate.

There’s a reason why the Monterey Jazz Festival is in its 53rd consecutive year.  The operation is impressive.  People care – the staff, the volunteers, the audience, everybody.  The weather doesn’t hurt, either.  Highs of sixty-five degrees.  Back home in North Carolina, the 7-day forecast indicates temperatures will be in the upper nineties again this week.  We are shattering the previous local record for days over ninety degrees in one year.  We also haven’t had any significant rain in two months.

It’s been a tremendous weekend in Monterey.  More photos from the Coffee House Gallery exhibition:

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-Sam Stephenson

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JAZZ LOFT TRAVELS TO MONTEREY

2010 Monterey Jazz Festival Poster

An audiovisual exhibit with projected images
On view September 17-19, 2010
Coffeehouse Gallery at the Monterey Fairgrounds

Conversation with Jazz Loft Project Director Sam Stephenson
September 19, 4 p.m.
Dizzy’s Den at the Monterey Fairgrounds

www.montereyjazzfestival.org

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Branford Marsalis in Conversation with Sam Stephenson

A public conversation between saxophonist Branford Marsalis and JLP director Sam Stephenson has been confirmed for the evening of February 10, 2011 at Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, N.C. in association with the Center for Documentary Studies and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (the JLP show opens at Nasher on February 3).   As a starting point Marsalis and Stephenson will discuss “Jazz Then and Now,” the music and culture of jazz in the era of JLP circa 1960 and the differences and similarities today.  But the conversation promises to quickly venture beyond predicated, predictable topics.

The precise starting time of the event will be announced soon.  Check back here and/or the JLP site’s news section for details.

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Which Direction Home

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Yesterday around 5pm I walked out of the NYC subway at Christopher St. and couldn’t resist stopping in the nearby bookstore Three Lives and Company where I couldn’t resist buying a book just released yesterday, Bob Dylan in America by the outstanding historian and writer Sean Wilentz.  Only an hour earlier in a mid-town meeting I was promised that a review copy would be mailed to my home in North Carolina, but I couldn’t wait that long.  What I didn’t know until I was in the store is that the book’s cover (above) is graced with a mid-1960′s portrait of Dylan by Gene Smith from Columbia’s studios on 30th St.  I had to have it.  (I also like supporting Three Lives).  I went back to my room at the Washington Square Hotel and sent an email to let my associates know they could send the review copy to somebody else.

Dylan traverses Smith and 821 Sixth Avenue in nebulous ways.  On one of Smith’s loft tapes from January 1964 there is an argument between Smith and loft resident, bassist Jimmy Stevenson over security in the loft.  Smith is complaining that his equipment is often stolen and he doesn’t want keys to the sidewalk door passed out to random musicians.  Exasperated, Stevenson responds by pointing out that when he moved into 821 Sixth Avenue in 1961, four years after Smith moved in, the loft scene was “a dope fiend pack of rats” and there wasn’t even a door downstairs at all, Stevenson exclaimed, just a gaping entryway from the sidewalk into the stairwell.

During this conversation (transcribed on p. 185 of the JLP book), Smith says to Stevenson:

“I can give you the name of a reputable folksinger who, understand, who has a high reputation, et cetera et cetera, that, um, can also print somewhat and was working for me one weekend and who walked off with a camera.  And then he said, ‘Well, gee, I saw them all there and I didn’t have one and I just couldn’t resist.’”

This is an instance on the tapes in which we can hear Smith editing himself in live conversation, knowing the tape was rolling.  He didn’t want to indict the folksinger for posterity.  So we may never know who it was.  We have oral history evidence that folksingers were in the loft 1960-61, but nobody remembers their names.  On Smith’s tapes from that period the Israeli folk musician Nechama Hendel can be heard singing and playing her guitar.  But that’s all the hard evidence we have.

I always wondered if the folksinging thief was Dylan.  He was well known to walk off with people’s things – books and records, tunes and traditions; “Love and Theft,” as Dylan would name a great album four decades later.  In Smith’s 1969 Aperture monograph, laid out by him and his longtime loft mate Carole Thomas, there is an image of Dylan in the loft section.  The image is another one from Columbia’s studios, but I’m not sure Smith would have inserted the image into the loft section of his monograph, next to a portrait of Thelonious Monk, if Dylan hadn’t been in the loft at some point.  But maybe he would.  In 2005 I contacted Dylan through his righthand man Jeff Rosen and after a few days Jeff responded by saying, “Bob has no recollection of being in that loft.”  That doesn’t help much.

I read a hundred pages of Wilentz’s book in LaGuardia and on the plane home today.  It promises to be terrific and unusual.  One interesting point Wilentz makes early in the book is that the two hip, downtown New York scenes of the 1950s and early 1960s – the Beat scene and the folk revival scene – were quite distinct and there was tension between them sometimes.  The Beats wore dark suits and listened to Charlie Parker while the folkies dressed like hoboes and listened to lonesome rural blues, dust bowl and mountain music. Both were anti-establishment, though, and there was some overlap.  On p. 63, Wilentz describes the scene on MacDougal St. in the early 1960s, the folk mecca where jazz partly co-existed.  He writes, “Among the jazz musicians who played at the Fat Black Pussycat were the pianist Sonny Clark and the tenor saxophonist Lin Halliday.”  I can’t imagine that Wilentz got this note from anywhere other than the JLP book.  I’ve been studying Sonny Clark for almost a decade and I’ve never seen that mention made anywhere else.  I got it from conversations on Smith’s tapes.  There’s not a citation in Wilentz’s book, so I can’t be certain, but in any case I’m heartened to see Clark’s and Halliday’s names come up in significant context like this.  They deserve it.

Dylan has been a major part of my record collection for twenty-five years but I never aspired to write anything about him (what could I add?) until I noticed back-to-back tour dates on his summer 2009 calendar – Norfolk, VA and Durham, NC, the region of the vintage Piedmont blues.  The invaluable wizard John Cohen once told me that “the Piedmont was the sound of the blues in New York” before Robert Johnson and the starker Delta blues came along, with help from Zeppelin and Clapton and the Stones, and squashed it.  In my view the swinging, ragging Piedmont has a larger role in the history of jazz than is typically noted, as well.  I attended Dylan’s shows in Norfolk and Durham, both in AAA baseball parks.  There were two days in between and I drove around that haunted landscape connecting those two towns with a pack of relevant CD’s in my car.  The region includes Jamestown, the first colony, and the former Jerusalem, VA where Nat Turner was hung.  It includes Rocky Mount, NC where Monk was born and Scotland Neck, NC where Max Roach were born.  It includes Edenton, NC where Coltrane’s influential maternal grandfather was a minister, and Northampton County, NC where McCoy Tyner’s parents were from.  It’s also where John Cephas, Sonny Terry, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, Peg Leg Sam, and countless others played Piedmont blues.  I worked up about 7000 words invoking all this, including Dylan and the new Piedmont revivalists the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and a few stories from 821 Sixth Avenue.  I never finished the piece.  My working title was “Which Direction Home.”  Now I’m thinking about adapting it as a piece based on Wilentz’s important new book.

Which Direction Home, Pt. 2 click here.

-Sam Stephenson

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Summer JLP Media and Press Highlights

A selection of new and recent things from the summer, in case you missed them, if you are interested:

Sam Stephenson radio interview by Jim Sintetos in advance of the Monterey Jazz Festival.  KRML radio in Carmel, CA.  September 6, 2010.

Gary Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Jason Moran, the Jazz Loft Project, and IN MY MIND.  Chicago Examiner.  September 2, 2010.

JLP segment by Richard Steele on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s Eight Forty-Eight program.  September 2, 2010.

JLP Wins Award for Innovative Use of Archives from The Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York, Inc.  August 31, 2010.

Nicole Rudick on JLP in Aperture magazine.  Summer 2010.

JLP in Chicago.  (Chicago Reader. July 15, 2010).

JLP at the New Mexico Jazz FestivalSanta Fe New Mexican July 16, 2010 and the Weekly Alibi July 8-14, 2010.

Le Tresor Cache D’ Eugene Smith.”  From Paris, France, a promising new magazine, Polka. Summer 2010.

Bondo Wyszpolski on JLP in Easy Reader, the alt-weekly of Hermosa, Manhattan, and Redondo beaches, California.  July 14, 2010.

Gene Santoro on JLP in American History magazine.  June 2010 issue.

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