Band playing Jazz at Penn’s Skimmer Weekend – 1955
Just when I thought I’d finally compiled all of Bill Ray’s pictures of his visit to Watts in 1966 for Life magazine, I stumbled over a load of unpublished ones. Thanks to the LIFE website who recently published these with added editorial and captions.
See them all here LIFE magazine
“William Solomon (right, in his home in Watts) commands a big Watts street gang, which he openly admits took an active part in the riot. A champion hurdler in high school, he has no job but does have a police record and is on probation for assault. With two followers shown with him, he helps now at Westminster [Neighborhood Association], uses his influence to keep order there and, by his interest, gives its program a certain prestige in the streets.”
The mid-50’s was a time when the Ivy marketing machine kicked in with full aplomb, sports companies like McGregor started to claim the ‘campus look’ for themselves, and began to produce styles most Ivy traditionalists would turn their noses up at nowadays. Forget Jazz being the major influence on the popularism of Ivy, the real trend setter, like it is today in many ways, was in fact sport.
When people say about Ivy as a marketing term, as well as a tailoring style, they are pretty much correct on both accounts. Brooks Brothers was the look that was feasted upon, and whether you like it or not, the button-down collar would always be linked to an affluent lifestyle by means of it’s polo playing associations, but these outsider brands that gathered at gates, brought their own ideas to the table, and everyman Ivy was born from a cocktail of modern American sports/leisurewear, and traditional conservative Ivy tailoring. Which ironically was late 19th century sportswear.
So what then is Ivy? And is this cross-over why Ivy is such a broad church, not just limited to the apparent conservatism of Brooks?
From the cross fertilisation of popular American mid-century styles many oddities were born, an awkward transgression from companies probably used to producing plain and loop collar shirts, that were now attempting to create button down collars to appease the new market.
Even Reyn Spooner had capatilsed on the Ivy look by cutting their shirts to Gant’s classic popover style, which appealed to the higher end of the market back in their native Hawaii. Everyone wanted a bit of Ivy League marketing magic it seemed.
Gant of course are company that has always been marketed ”Traditional American Sportwear” since their creation in the late 40’s. They introduced the locker loop on the back of their shirts clearly stamping out a market for themselves with the sporty Ivy Leaguers, it didn’t take a 1950’s marketing genius to determine that sport was the way into the hearts of most young and old American men whether they attend college or not, and the Ivy League of course had a long tradition of competitive sports to capitalise on. The succes of their marketing can be observed in the fact by the 60’s they were creating a special line of shirts for the Yale Co-op.
Gant was an expensive brand back in the 50’s, that looked to get a foothold in the most prestigious stores, but not too long after the companies success more affordable brands began to take on the campus style and make it available to all, through popular mid-range department stores like Sears.
To put all this into context then it is best to look at the most famous face of the zeitgeist, JFK. The Kennedy’s were savvy with traditional Brooks Brothers style, and seemed to be keen to align themselves with this emerging, young, sporty, and dare I say Preppy look. It seemed like the perfect match of youth and optimism and it wasn’t long until this take on Ivy began to shape (and shake) things up back at Brooks, with a narrowed down Number 2 sack suit introduced and slim-line shirts being marketed.
Many people dispute that JFK wore this style too often, by saying the suits he wore were far squarer in the shoulder than classic Brooks, well the fact is the number 2 suit was square in the shoulder, with a broader chest and deeper arm-hole to allow for what Brooks deemed as suiting the fitter younger sportier man. Even though this is an advert for the 1964 redesign of the number 2, it still covers the key adaptations made with the original number 2 suit introduced 3 years earlier.
So there we have the evidence of the tail wagging the dog, and how 50’s sportswear companies (originally influenced by traditional tailoring), went on to dictate back to traditionalist. A play back and forth that now allows us to describe a broad range of clothing as being Ivy, even though it’s history didn’t start on the campus. This also goes some way to suggest why pinning down true ‘Ivy’ is not as easy as saying traditional American tailoring.
Thanks to The Weejun, The Ivy League Look, and Talk Ivy members for the information and photos.
The Sears shirt featured is available to buy at The Ivy League Shop on Etsy
Some of you may have already heard the Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble, their rare and self-released 1971 album ‘Hard Luck Soul‘ is a sax-heavy, drum-driven slab of early 70’s Latin tinged Hard-Bop. Probably one of the only albums I can think of where all the musicians were incarnated at the time of recording.
”Playing in bars is one thing, playing behind them is another, cover of the 1971 self-released album ‘Hard Luck Soul”.
”Have you seen these men? Gallery of rouges on the reverse of the LP cover.”
Listeners familiar with the earlier and less avant-garde side of Sun-Ra, or the Hard-bop sound of Art Blakey will probably take to this nicely.
Below is the press release from the re-issue on Jazzman Records, giving a detail history of the group.
”If musical accomplishment is anything to go by, the members of the Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble would immediately be given their pardon. Their privately-pressed LP from 1971 is a legend in obscurity, and a masterclass in what can be achieved in the most trying of circumstances.
The 511 Jazz Ensemble was made up entirely of serving prisoners in the Ohio State Penitentiary. It was founded in 1971 to give those prisoners with a musical aptitude an opportunity to be productive and creative.
Band leader Reynard Birtha was originally from North Carolina, where he played in a band called ‘The Outer Limits’ before getting into a scrape with the law and being incarcerated by the local Sheriff’s office. During a stint on a Southern style road gang he escaped and ended up in Cincinnati, and through a mutual passion for music he met fellow musician Logan Rollins, nephew of jazz legend Sonny Rollins. They became friends and jammed at local clubs before both ended up in the State penitentiary, for reasons not entirely clear. At the time it was customary for musicians to visit the prison and give concerts, especially during the Christmas period. Reynard remembers renowned musicians such as Art Blakey and Kai Winding giving recitals at the prison. These visits were not only a source of entertainment for the prisoners, but they were also a source of inspiration for musicians like Reynard. He and Logan formed the 511 Jazz Ensemble, incorporating the remnants of the prison Pit Band. Reynard recalls that “the number 511 was the PO box address of the prison, and we would perform in the yard during every holiday, while the prisoners marched around and got their food”.
Both Reynard and Logan had been to music conservatory and could read, write and arrange music as well as play in any musical key, unlike most of the rest of the band, which gave rise to difficulties in keeping the project going. However, with their enthusiasm and perseverance came success, when the visiting Ohio State University Band were so impressed after jamming with the inmates that they returned to make a record. Funding was put forward by a wealthy club owner and his conglomerates from Columbus, microphones and studio equipment were brought in from the outside and the recordings were made in the auditorium of the prison chapel. Unfortunately, as far as the business side of things was concerned, Reynard admits he was ‘green’ and didn’t receive any payment for his efforts. In fact to this day he has not even seen let alone owned a copy of the LP, the album which contains his sole recorded output, “All I knew what to do was how to read, write and play music.
The ‘Hard Luck Blues’ LP was the band’s only recording, and the group disbanded after the release of Logan and Rollins. The music on the album comprises of four long tracks, each allowing the soloists to express themselves without restriction. Free of chains at the time the music is made, the result is a unique, compelling insight into the freedom that jazz can afford, giving a sense of hope and liberty to free and incarcerated men alike.”
As you can imagine it’s quite difficult to get hold of the original album on vinyl or infact even on digital or CD, but Jazzman Records do have a LP reissue available here
Mantra Dance, is a good introduction into the groups sound, but my preferred cut, is Psych City, which is only available online at Spotify.
Photos of cover taken from here
Mr. Yuta Inoue has one hell of a shoe collection, English, American, Italian, Hungarian (Vass), a collection which he has lovingly and painstakingly documented in this online gallery.
Ivy shoe enthusiasts will be in heaven with Florsheims, Paraboots, Alden and Nettleton, as well as many others included, all shot beautifully, giving great clarity to the shoes’ details. Please visit his page for further examples of one man’s addiction to fine footwear.
Whilst browsing through Flickr the other day, I stumbled across a page I initially thought was a Jazz fan’s image dump. All the greats were accounted for, Miles, Trane, Byrd, the Adderly Brothers. Beautifully stark black and white images, as well as colourful abstract compositions. They instantly grabbed my attention, and it soon dawned on me as I was looking through the photos of musicians, magazine covers, and article clippings, it wasn’t a fan’s image dump, all the photos had been taken by one man, the publisher of the Flickr stream, and veteran photographer, Mr. Laird Scott.
I contacted Mr. Scott, and asked if any of his work was available to buy, or if any had been published? He replied be saying he had made prints in the past but now that people were able to download his images from the net and print them themselves, he had no need to make work available to purchase.
I thought is seemed terrible for his work to go unrecognised by fans like myself, especially with the broader renewed interested in Mid- 20th Century Jazz, I know there is an audience out there hungry for pictures like these, and it’s a shame they’re not being viewed by as many as they should.
I asked him if I could use the photos for the blog and all he requested was a name-check, and that I supply links to the photos on his Flickr page.
Many of the photos from Scott’s, ‘Jazz: Colour and Motion’ series were used in early 60’s issue of Down Beat Magazine, for whom he photographed. The images have some very unique qualities to them, unusual for a genre like Jazz photography which always seems to be caught up in a crystal clear like realism.
In his work you can literally see the light playing across the multiple, and long-exposure images, leaving trails of colour that scurry around on top of each other like notes in a jazz players frenzied solo.
Much of Scott’s Jazz photography was shot in the early 60’s at the Birdhouse in Chicago. I could find very little information about the club, apart from Art Farmer recorded the album ‘The Jazztet’ there in 1961, fortunately Scott has documented his thoughts on the small, unlicensed club, that didn’t even appear to have a barman according to one local Chicago resident.
Mr. Scott writes:
”When the Birdhouse first opened, it had no liquor license. For a mere $2.50 admission one could stay for the entire evening, usually for two sets. It was an undeclared “set-up joint” with soft drink vending machines. Musicians would meet the customers at the machines to chat with them during breaks. At the time, I had only a vague idea of just how world-famous some of these guys were.
The Birdhouse management was very accommodating. The second time I showed up with a camera, they gave me a free pass, which they let me keep. After I got my Downbeat Press Pass, they would admit me plus one guest without charge, and would seat us at a choice table in the front. During a Miles Davis gig, we were asked to vacate our table after the first set, to make room for paying customers. We were then given a choice location backstage with J.J. Johnson.
The music was always great, and I would often visit the Birdhouse just to listen for free. I regret not taking any photos of many fine musicians, such as Bunky Green and “Dizzy” Gillespie.”
Although his colour work really is something quite unique, I also like the immediacy of Scott’s black and white photography. Spot-lit images, from the club’s house lights, help cut and define the figures in the foreground as well swamping the backgrounds with thick shadows and silhouettes. I imagine these weren’t easy images to catch as musicians stepped in and out of the light as they played.
As well as having strong artistic qualities the photographs also serve as being wonderful documents of some of the world’s greatest Jazz musicians at the height of their careers. I’m very thankful for Mr. Scott for allowing me to use them, and being able to share them with you all.
There are many more great shots in his collection, all which can be visited at his Flickr page found here.
Mr. Scott also has some work being published in an upcoming book set for release in March 25, 2013, called, ‘Images of Aviation: Medway Airport‘ written by David E. Kent, and as I know many of you were Airfix enthusiasts in your earlier years, I imagine it’ll be a book many of you will most likely enjoy.
Probably the single biggest influence to me and I know a few others in the last year, since they came to my attention on The Weejun’s blog in December, 2011, have been a group of photos that appeared in the July 1966 copy of LIFE magazine with the cover story entitled, ‘Watts Still Seething.’
The 26 page article called, ‘There’s Still Hell To Pay in Watts‘ starts with an adaptation of Jerry Cohen and William S. Murphy’s prize winning book ‘Burn Baby, Burn‘. A retrospective of the riots, and the circumstances surrounding their beginnings.
The article soon centres on the Watts of 1966 though, a year on from the troubles, and questions the likelihood of the riots happening again. It looks at the continuing situation of jobless young men in the LA neighbourhoods, as well as highlighting the feelings of suspicion still felt by the community towards the police.
It seems quite superficial then to concentrate on the clothes of these young men. The social situation the people of Watts found themselves in the mid-60’s are still reflected now around the world. The economic model of then and now means that wealth for the few means a serf like existence for the many. And from this the young and and disenfranchised look to express themselves in the limited ways they have available, one of them being clothes and fashion.
I think what really appeals to me from these photographs is seeing Ivy staples such as OCBD’s, heavy knitwear and pegged trousers worn in a way that is far removed from the more conservative campus style. Like Weejun mentioned, it seems to be a street style that has taken great influence from the Jazz artists of the period, and a look I know was also popular in Chicago, and New York at the same time. Although by now you could argue such Ivy details were just reflecting the popular fashion of the times, and a person didn’t have to shop at a University Outfitters to get something resembling ‘the look’, how deliberately was this style Ivy?
What follows then is hopefully a definitive list of all the photos Bill Ray took as part of his work for LIFE magazine documenting the young men of Watts.
We begin at the Westminster Neighbourhood Association Building, South-Central LA, home to The Watts Writers Workshop, that Hollywood screen-writer Budd Schulberg had set up in the wake of the 1965 riots. Schulberg described it as being one of the few building left standing on the street.
A walk up the railroad tracks, leads to another noted venue for the shoot were The Watts Towers near the 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn Station, a LA land mark built by an Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato Rodia. Finished in 1954 and now listed National Historical Landmark.
Then what appears to be on a separate day, other members of the group meet up and take to a patch of local wasteland to hone their Molotov making and throwing skills.
Finally then we have last picture of the group, which hopefully completes this collection documenting all the photos available from Bill Ray‘s visit.
The LIFE article can be read in full here at Google Books, and also contains a few images I haven’t included due to the quality of the scans. If anyone knows of any other images I haven’t included I’d be very grateful to hear from you so I can include them in the post. Again thanks to The Weejun, and to Herb Lester for sending him the pictures and making them available to all of us.
Feel free to use the comments section to discuss the best and worst parts of the look these guys had, and what you think progresses well into the style many of us enjoy today.
Hunter is up against it in this interview from 1967, faced with a spokesman for The Hell’s Angel gang that he followed for a year and whose exploits he wrote a successful book about. In true go to hell style the gangs representative enters the studio on his motorbike, adding to the intimidation Hunter is clearly feeling.
Hunter appears to be visually nervous, when confronted by the spokesman, and quite submissive to what he has to say..
The gang appears to more upset about not getting their two kegs of beer Hunter promised as payement for being allowed to stay with them to research the book. But there appears to be good reason for his going back on the deal…
During his stay with the gang, Hunter was badly beaten after trying to stop one members of the gang from beating his wife. Quite quickly it is apparent that Hunter is not getting any sympathy from anyone, the crowd seem to be entertained by the story of the biker’s wife being beaten, and the interviewer is more than happy to put the boot in on the young author too.
Finally, Hunter finds the courage to confront the wave of ridicule, probably thinking his actions were more justified and the story of a wife being beaten probably isn’t a good basis for cheap jokes to appease a baying audience. And the frustration in Hunter clearly is beginning to build.
But before a a proper explanation can be given from Hunter the the interview is cut short and all we are left with is quite a pathetic spectacle of glamourising the beating of a woman, and the man trying to stop it.
Every week I will try and post up a few of my favourite items I’ve stumbled across on Etsy. It can be very easy to miss things on there, so hopefully this will bring things to your attention that may have otherwise passed you by. Again, I’m not the seller of any of these items, and don’t profit from them in any way.
Vintage 1950s summer-weight finely woven espresso brown fedora hat from mysweetiepiepie link to item
Marino Lillia Vintage 60’s Glass frames, available from GreenFlamingoVintage link to item
Raglan Sleeve 60’s Overcoat in Black, Blue and White Houndstooth Check available from StyleandSalvage 10% off discount code: HWIH10, Link to item
1960’s LEVI’S Deadstock Sta Prest, Slim Fit, Taper fit, peg leg jeans with a brass Talon Zipper, available from sidvintage, Link to item
Never-worn 1970s Wrangler chukka ankle boots available from WearAreTheyNow, link to item