|GREATEST JAZZ PHOTO. Thelonious Monk on piano; Charles Mingus on stand up bass; Roy Haynes on drums and on saxophone Charlie Parker. Except for the 28 year old drummer, all men were in their early 30s on Sept. 13, 1953. Photo by Bob Parent.|
Editor’s note: Before you start reading this post find a Miles Davis version of “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” preferably from your vinyl collection the 1951 album “Conception.” Or, go to YouTube to find it. It’s there.
Judging from a rare image of photographer Bob Jordan you could say he was a geek. But in the epicenter of American Jazz (let’s say incomparable American Jazz) he was an icon, a documenter of the more black than white world of Midtown Manhattan Jazz. No one was better in capturing the mood of the Beat Generation through a camera lens.
Jazz is a medium of mood.
Black and white photography is intrinsically moody (in the right hands).
These two art forms came together one chilly Sunday evening, September 13, 1953 when then 30-year-old Bob Jordan took his camera to a dingy nightclub on West 3rd Street called the Open Door. He’d been tipped by a friend that something special was about to happen that night. On the bill that evening were established jazz names Thelonious Monk, Charley Mingus, and Roy Haynes (now in his 90s). For any jazz aficionado that should have been enough. But, as Bob Parent, a freelance magazine photographer would discover, the icing on the cake would be a last minute addition of the Birdman, Charley Parker.
Parent moved around the club with his improv camera (no flash) but he did have it rigged to offer enough subtle light to capture what is considered the Mona Lisa of black and white Jazz images. Don’t take my word. Peter Facini writing last March in the New York Times asked if the photo posted at the top of this blog was “the greatest photo in jazz history.
First of all, the image stands alone for its professional composition. It is championship fare even without the famous men captured. It would have been a great photo if the quartet were a round up of night movers with no caption.
But, Jordan didn’t take just one image.
In another image from that night’s shoot there’s a crowd shot inside the Open Door. Beat Generation followers (mainly amateurs) insist that Beat Generation chronicler Jack Kerouac is sitting in the audience (smoking) at one of the pricy front tables. Sorry, Jack it ain’t you, but it still makes a good story. The real story now and forever are the photos took that night in that smoky, moody jazz house.
Sadly, there was no recording of that evening’s jazz. Sad in the fact the foursome never made music together again. But, we do have Peter Facini’s terrific NYT article click here.
So, why did at the beginning of this blog were you asked to get in the mood by playing Miles Davis?
The connection again is Bob Parent. The photographer moonlighted as a graphic designer. He designed the album cover “Conception” for Miles label: Prestige using his photographs.
|Is that you, Jack?|
|Selfie of Bob Parent and his camera.|
Map of jazz clubs near the Open Door, now long gone.