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British Journal of Photography

Jim Marshall’s Photos of 60s Jazz Festivals Capture the Many Greats of

the ‘First Uniquely American art form’.


A new release celebrates the work of Grammy-award winning ‘father of music photography’, Jim Marshall as he documented American jazz festivals during the 1960s. Featuring icons such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone, the collection includes a variety of previously unseen images in a dynamic exploration of these revolutionary and unique musical happenings.

Jim Marshall managed to get the kind of access most photographers can only dream about. He was present at The Beatles’ final paid live show at Candlestick Park, for Jimi Hendrix’s flaming guitar antics in Monterey and – perhaps most difficult of all – on site for the live recording of Johnny Cash at San Quentin Prison.

A professional of finely-tuned opportunism and singular ambition, Rolling Stone’s obituary in 2010 quoted him as saying ‘I have no kids […] My photographs are my children.’

A new book compiled by Graham Marsh focuses on Marshall’s work at Newport (Rhode Island), and Monterey (California) jazz festivals between 1960-66, with an astounding array of musical luminaries featuring alongside stars of stage and screen. The collection is the first in a series of volumes from Marshall’s archive, and demonstrates the photographer’s rare talent for handling composition, exposure and depth of field.

This is a collection which exhaustively documents the prominent jazz musicians of the era. Alongside Miles Davis & Dizzy Gillespie there are previously unseen images of Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane – who Marshall had first met in a chance encounter in 1960.

Said Marshall in a 2004 interview: ‘He asked me for directions to a club […] I told him I’d pick him up and take him there if he’d let me take his picture.’

The collection follows Marshall’s lens through the stages, bars and green rooms of the festivals, capturing the foundation-shaking performances alongside private, unguarded moments by artistes and audience members alike. It demonstrates his intuitive approach to the craft – especially concerning performance portraits.

Commenting in his 1997 retrospective, ‘Not Fade Away’, Marshall said:

‘When I’m photographing people, I don’t like to give any direction. There are no hair people fussing around, no makeup artists. I’m like a reporter, only with a camera; I react to my subject in their environment, and if it’s going well, I get so immersed in it that I become one with the camera’.

As such, Jazz Festival acts an insight into decidedly rare cultural miscegenation for the time period – captured with a lightness of touch at odds with the photographer’s reputation for bullishness.

Indeed, whilst the Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Rights movement campaigned amidst daily newspaper spreads of interracial violence, the impression here is one of natural tolerance – albeit with a focus on sartorial distinction.

Says Graham Marsh: ‘When it came to jazz, style was part of the equation in both clothes and attitude. At Monterey and Newport black culture was openly embraced and integrated audiences were the norm. Nobody cared – as long as you looked sharp and dug the music – anything else was just jiving, there was strictly no room for squares.

‘At both festivals, on any given day it was a sea of Bass Weejun loafers, natural shouldered seersucker jackets, essential Lacoste tennis shirts and Clarks desert boots. Definitely on the money were also button-down shirts, chinos and 501 Levi’s. […] It was dressing fine, making time and moreover, a visual feast for Ray-Ban and Persol shaded eyes.’

The jazz historian Nat Hentoff, who wrote the introduction to the book, comments more starkly on the role of jazz in driving integration:

‘After World War II, US soldiers who fought fascism abroad returned to an apartheid nation at home. Blacks and whites could be found in the same towns and cities throughout America but they existed in different worlds.

‘[…] In the North, where segregation laws never took root, social norms made it difficult for blacks and whites to socialize together in public. One notable exception was the bars and music venues where they gathered to listen to jazz, the first uniquely American art form.’

06 Sep, 2016 Jacob Brookman