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.