Lee Friedlander’s and Milt Hilton’s Jazz Photography

By Sarah Hanson::

An excellent photography exhibit is now on view at Yale University Art Gallery, showcasing some of the best early jazz photographs of the New Orleans and New York scenes. Jazz Lives: The Photographs of Lee Friedlander and Milt Hinton provides an intimate view into the world of jazz from two distinct perspectives: that of Lee Friedlander, a preeminent American photographer with an affinity for this uniquely American musical form, and that of Milt Hinton, a celebrated bassist who captured many jazz greats—including Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billie Holliday—with his camera.

YaleUnivArtGallery_02_Hinton_CabCallowayThe photographs reveal jazz as it was, and still is, lived—through its performances, people, and places. Lee Friedlander’s photographs, which date from 1957 to 1982, show jazz in New Orleans, where music is inseparable from the moments of everyday life. Milt Hinton’s photographs, taken from 1938 to 1981, offer an insider’s look at the changing jazz scene in New York City. Organized by Yale University students, the exhibition runs until September 7 at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Live performances in the galleries by student, faculty, and community musicians animate the art.

If you can’t make it to Yale to see the Jazz Lives, you can still enjoy Lee Friedlander‘s portraits of the New Orleans jazz scene (late 50s to early 70s) in Playing for the Benefit of the Band, a revised and expanded edition of his 1992 monograph The Jazz People of New Orleans.

Lee Friedlander, Playing for the Benefit of the Band

An aficionado of jazz, Friedlander first visited New Orleans in 1958, the same year that William Russell and Richard Allen, two jazz historians, established Tulane University’s Archive of New Orleans Jazz, a collection of oral histories, field recordings, and artifacts that serve as a record of the city’s evolving music scene and its musicians. Accompanying Russell and Allen on their visits to local musicians, Friedlander made a visual document of their subjects. Friedlander became so enthralled by New Orleans, its music, and its people that he made repeated visits to the city over the next several decades, to both photograph and enjoy the rich musical culture of the birthplace of jazz.

Ben Jaffe, Creative Director of Preservation Hall and member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band says,

“Lee documented a period of New Orleans music that would [otherwise] have disappeared, and he did it in a way that honored it. He had an outsider’s perspective, not being from New Orleans, but his photographs have a jazz swagger to them. There’s something very improvisational about it, there’s a spontaneity to it, there’s something about being there in the moment with the band and understanding the way that a band moves. You have to understand the rhythm of life to document life.”

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