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Posted in on July 02, 2010 by
In the 1970s Downtown Sound shared a building with the American Air Conditioner Company. The guys who worked for that company had a locker room in the basement. I rarely visited the basement but I had a key just in case there was an emergency. The longest I ever spent in that dusty room was one Sunday evening when I set up my Deardorf and took a photograph of the row of lockers. It was quite a scene.
There were five lockers, decorated with a dozen Playboy playmate centerfolds. One of the lockers, however, had a named scribbled at the top. The name was “Andy.” There was a voluptuous girl in a bathtub on Andy’s locker, but directly beneath his name was a photograph of Andy Warhol, dressed like a hipster in a zoot suit. Maybe Andy the air conditioner guy went both ways.
Andy Warhol never had much of a presence at Downtown Sound except for the time when Bert Stern was in residence and the much longer time all his stuff was in residence. One of the items rescued from his soon to be padlocked townhouse was a Warhol silkscreen, four purplish and pink flowers on a field of green. I didn’t pay much attention to it until one day when Jim Jacobs came by to visit Liza Condon, who was in full time residence in those days.
Jim looked at the silkscreen and asked, “Where did you get that?” I said it wasn’t mine, that Maggie Condon and I had rescued it from Bert Stern’s townhouse and I was simply holding it for him. He went over and examined it. He looked up and said, “It’s real.” I asked, “How can you tell?” He said, “I worked on these things. We always used the cheapest material available, cheap stretchers, cheap canvas. I might have even made this one.”
The picture had just been lying against a wall in the front studio room. If it was a real Andy it had to be protected. I lugged the tallest ladder into the front studio, got a hammer and some nails, climbed to the top and hung the picture one inch below the fifteen-foot high ceiling. It remained there, safe, untouched and largely unnoticed, until Bert decided to sell it. The nails are probably still in the wall.
I always thought Warhol was a very lucky guy, except when the nutball Valerie Solanas shot him in 1968 and then when the he ran into gall bladder difficulties at New York Hospital in 1987. He had a remarkable run except for the one bump and the final crash.
I didn’t pay too much attention to Warhol when I first began to become interested in art in my early twenties. I thought the soup cans were silly but I had no idea how silly were all things Warhol until sometime in 1965 when I saw one of his movies. At the time there was a theater in Washington D.C. that ran “underground” films on Saturday at midnight. The DuPont Theater was located a couple of blocks south of DuPont Circle and every Saturday evening there would be a line for the once a week event. I saw my first films by Cocteau, Bunuel and even things like Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising at this theater.
One day a young lady suggested she’d really like to see a movie the underground series at the DuPont. It was by a cool new artist named Warhol and was called Empire, so about 11:30 we joined the line on Connecticut Avenue to see an offering from the Brillo Box boy. We made our way inside having no idea what to expect. buy cialis professional online started and went on and on. A picture of the Empire State Building at night filled the screen. I leaned over and said, “What do you call a movie when it doesn’t move?” She had no good answer. We lasted a few more minutes and got out of the theater as fast as we could and found something far better to do for the next seven hours. We were sorry we’d wasted the hour. This was when I began to become suspicious of Andy. Even when I was twenty-four I understood that conceptual nonsense is just silliness supported by academics, some museum directors, critics, dealers and, most importantly, people of all sorts who’d been bamboozled by those whose opinions they’d trusted.
Twenty years later, on January 14, 1985, I found myself in Andy’s studio at 22 East 23rd Street in New York. I was there because Jerry Aronson was making a documentary that would eventually be released as buy cialis professional online in 2005. I don’t know why I was asked to take still photographs; maybe everyone else was busy that day because I was not well known as a photographer at the time.
It was a 1:00PM hit and Jerry had his camera ready to roll at the appointed hour. Andy didn’t arrive promptly so I wandered around and looked at this and that, he finally appeared, sat down in a straight-backed chair and the interview began. He was wearing a black turtleneck sweater, a silver wig with tufts of dark hair creeping out from under it, and a red and blue baseball cap. He was not particularly communicative, didn’t give very interesting answers, and was as emotionally stingy as anyone I’ve ever seen on camera. I took a total of fifteen pictures and I don’t think he liked it much. His expression changes imperceptibly from frame to frame; it wasn’t me, his expression barely changes in the three-minute interview clip in the documentary film.
There’s no lack of Andy in print or audio and video recordings, but in truth, I don’t think he had very much to say and I’m puzzled why so many people continue to pay attention to what he said, or what he had to say while he was alive. I understand the artwork is just commerce and that the people who drive his prices higher and higher must believe what he says because it is the underpinning of millions and millions of dollars worth of artwork that is still bouncing around in thousands of museums, galleries, and private collections and so many millions will make people pay attention to almost anything. Just as there are people who believe Empire is conceptually significant, because movies like this and other like it are the underpinning of their own scholarship or reputations.
That’s why I considered him lucky. The critics and the academy bought the act early on, he quickly became above criticism and was able to continue repeating himself endlessly with countless multiples of celebrities and car crashes and silk screens and paintings of lesser figures and vain women that could afford his fee.
In the late 1990s I dug out the negatives from 1985 and decided to do an Andy of Andy. I printed up a bunch of three-inch square pictures, a hundred or so of them; painted them in primary colors and stuck them together. I thought it was funny and a few years later when Photoshop made things like that easier, I did it again and found the Epson inks were much more interesting than watercolors on photographic paper. The Epson version is very cheerful, even though Andy is a pickle puss in each of the 100 colored pictures. Even so, it still brightens a wall in the kitchen. More recently an auction house decided they wanted to try their hand with the double exposure photograph I created a few years ago. We’ll see if anyone cares. If they do, thanks Andy.
Andy Warhol, 21 East 23rd Street, New York City, January 14, 1985
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Posted in on July 01, 2010 by
Leonard Bernstein was the most important and versatile American musician of the 20th Century. In terms of breadth of accomplishment, his only serious rival is Duke Ellington and despite Ellington’s remarkable career as a leader, pianist and, most importantly, a composer, Bernstein’s was even more so and he excelled in far more disciplines.
I’m sure I first became marginally aware of Bernstein as a teenager. He was all over the television on Omnibus and his Young People’s Concerts, but I don’t remember any specific broadcasts. I’ve looked at old kinescopes of a few and they seem vaguely familiar but I’m fooling myself. The first Bernstein music I really remember is buy cialis professional online, which I saw at the Winter Garden on Broadway in the spring of 1958. I sat in the balcony, next to a man in clerical garb, who was none too pleased with some of the action and language and squirmed his way through the show. I can still see one of the dancers jumping over a chain-link fence that was part of one scene.
A couple of years later, when I was in college, I bought a Bernstein recording of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, his first recording of the work, an old mono, now well-played but not recently vinyl disc in a still serviceable cardboard sleeve with a terrific illustration by Gray Foy. Such was Bernstein’s fame that his name was in type face considerably larger than Stravinsky’s or the title of the piece and three or four times the size of the name of the orchestra. It was an exciting record and since I only had a handful of classical recordings in those days, I played it a lot and probably felt I knew it well enough that I could conduct it from memory and without a score if only I had an orchestra close at hand.
A few years after that I saw the man in person at Constitution Hall in Washington DC. He may have been leading the usually ordinary National Symphony or perhaps the New York Philharmonic was on tour. I wasn’t very sophisticated in 1964-5 and all I recall was that he was a very energetic conductor, but I knew that because that was part of his charm on television. He was eloquent, energetic and telegenic and this was a winning combination.
When I arrived in New York in 1967, he was still leading the big band at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and I managed to see a few concerts, but more importantly he was still making recordings for Columbia and I had access to all of them, old and new, courtesy of Bob Altshuler who ran promotion at the company. So I managed to grab all the Bernstein records I could carry and there were a lot of them, all the standards, but the Mahler and Ives and Shostakovich and Copland and all the others who weren’t Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. I had more Bernstein records than I could keep up with, more than by any other conductor and his recordings introduced me to many composers. That he also was fond of jazz helped matters.
Then, in 1975, I managed to meet the man and this is how it happened. A very good guy who produced and sometimes recorded concerts and even composed music now and again named Charles Schwartz came by Downtown Sound to undertake some long forgotten project. He liked what we did for him and noticed we not only had remote recording capability but I had a handful of cameras as well. Charles was producing a series of events at the Whitney Museum that he call Composer’s Showcase and wondered if we could record them and if I could take photographs of the rehearsals and performances and of course we could and did.
We did this for two or three years and I have a bunch of photographs to prove it, of people as diverse as Charles Mingus and Elliot Carter, George Crumb and Mary Lou Williams, Vanessa Redgrave and Clark Terry and Leonard Bernstein.
The Bernstein concert featured a concert version of buy cialis professional online, a short 1951 theater piece that was rarely performed. Its obscurity drew Bernstein out of the Dakota and into the Whitney and following a wonderful presentation, he stayed behind after the audience departed and chatted with the cast and the orchestra. I was astounded that he seemed to know the names of almost everyone, calling them by name, greeting them warmly and seeming genuinely glad to see them and be part of the musical experience.
I managed to take a number of photographs, a few of which came out pretty well, not only of Bernstein but of the performance and performers as well. I made a few prints and sent them to Charles and he sent them along to the Whitney. That’s when the trouble started. Some unknown flunky, but someone smart enough to con me, telephoned and said there was a great deal of enthusiasm for a few of the pictures I’d taken and they’d like to use one in an annual report or some kind of publication. They asked if it would be possible to borrow the negatives so they could make prints. I was naïve and, after all, this was the Whitney Museum. Of course they could, a messenger arrived and that was the end of the story. The negatives vanished; no one at the museum knew what could have happened to them, if they were used in an annual report I never saw a copy. I don’t know if they are in a file, behind a safe, were immediately consigned to a dumpster after they were used or misused. In short, I know nothing and the only record I have that I took the pictures are copies of copies that Charles gave me years ago and a couple of contact sheets. This is the only time anything like this happened to me and it is sad that such an otherwise reputable institution would do something like this. Or maybe it wasn’t as well organized as everyone thought.
At one of the other Composer’s Showcase concerts I was pressed into service as a picture mover, a chore I’m qualified to perform on a modest scale but unqualified and uninsured in a place like the Whitney. It was during the rehearsal for one of Charles’ concerts and a gallery was being cleared of paintings. There were some pretty big paintings that had to be taken down and moved to another gallery, there weren’t enough movers and time was short. I didn’t look busy because I wasn’t, my crew was setting up the recording gear and I was just standing around waiting to find something to photograph. As it turned out I set up the picture.
One of the movers asked if I could give him a hand and I agreed. He got on one end of a very large Tom Wesselmann and I was on the other. We carefully removed it from the wall and he guided me into another gallery where we leaned it against a wall. The painting featured a large mostly nude reclining female figure with big firm tits and stand up straight nipples, a subject Wesselmann explored for most of his career. There was another big painting that also had to be moved, a Frank Stella. It was bigger than the Wesselmann and was a typical Stella of the time with lots of loud colors and curves on a shaped canvas.
Once again, I was on one end and the Whitney guy was on the other, but this time I was in a position to guide where we put it. Mover man said we should lean it carefully against the Wesselmann and that’s just what we did but I steered it in such a way that a big Wesselman stand up straight tittie and perfect nipple seemed to be growing right out of the curve of the Stella. I did it that way because I thought it would make a funny picture and it did. I took a color picture, had an 8”x10” color print made and sent it to the Whitney anonymously. Maybe it wound up in the hands of the twit who lost my negatives. I’ll never know but I’ll bet they lost this picture pretty quick because guys like me shouldn’t have been moving pictures around. I still have this negative; maybe I should send it to them again, and ask them to look around for my Bernstein negatives.
Bernstein kept at it for fifteen more years, making hundreds of more recordings and videos, leading orchestras all over the world and touching hundreds of thousands of people with his musicianship and humanity. Sometime in late 1990 or early 1991, the Grammy Awards box arrived and it contained a copy of a recording of his Bernstein’s last concert from Tanglewood or anywhere else, in August 1990. It was with the Boston Symphony and featured Benjamin Britten’s buy cialis professional online and Beethoven’s buy cialis professional online. I imagined I could hear him trying to catch his breath in this live recording.
As I listened to the Britten I remembered the charming and gracious guy in the white suit at the Whitney. I also remembered that someone had told me that on the day he died at his apartment in the Dakota in October, he’d given a lesson to a young musician earlier in the day. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but based on how he interacted with the musicians at the Whitney that day fifteen years earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true.
Leonard Bernstein, Whitney Museum, New York City, 1975
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Posted in on June 30, 2010 by
The record Joan LaBarbara made for Chiaroscuro in the fall of 1977 is perhaps the most interesting and unusual production in the history of the label. In the first place, there is almost no jazz on the record; it is simply a recording of remarkable American music of the day. It features music by Joan and John Cage, two artists who are not easily confused with Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. Some of the music performed by Joan may be improvised but it is not a jazz record in any way, but it is a record that to me is almost perfect in every way. Joan’s performance is remarkable, John Cage’s liner “poem” was created especially for the album, and to me, the photograph used on the jacket is among most interesting I ever took for a Chiaroscuro release.
This is how the photograph came about: After the recording process was complete, Joan told me she wanted to call the album buy cialis professional online, which seemed to make perfect sense. I then began thinking about a concept for the album cover. I remembered my friend John Watts had recently told me about wanting to get rid of a dozen or more cases of 1/2 inch Agfa recording tape. He didn’t want to sell it; he just wanted someone to get it out of his studio and couldn’t bring himself to throw it away. I sent someone to John’s studio and I soon had a hundred plus reels of old, used one time too many tape.
My idea was to somehow cover Joan with this tape, but I had no easy way to get the tape into a manageable state. Then I had an idea. The studio in which I took photographs for album covers in those days was about twenty feet high, with a skylight that was even higher. I rigged up a system whereby I could suspend a roll of tape with a coat hanger, hang the tape from a pipe near the ceiling, and then release the adhesive that held the tape in place. As I expected, the tape spooled off the reel, fell untangled to the floor at a steady rate and the entire process took five or six minutes.
It took the better part of a day to spool off all the reels; the process was repeated a hundred times or so, and the end result was an enormous pile of tape, in front of the wall where I wanted to photograph Joan. I called her, said I had a pile of tape I wanted to shape on her to look as though it was a dress of some sort, and asked her to come by on the next sunny day. The sunny day arrived and so did Joan. I asked her to stand under the skylight and then lifted up the pile of tape and draped it over her body. I shaped it as best I could and exposed one roll of film with my Rolleiflex. This is the result and I still like it very much.
There’s a coda. In 2007, walking by The Strand Bookstore, a book in the window caught my eye. It was a book that had been released in conjunction with a series of European exhibitions in 2005 that dealt with record covers by noted artists. Joan’s LP was featured prominently on the dust jacket, along with LP covers by Andy Warhol, Roy Licthenstein and Jean Dubuffet. I was listed as Rollo Phlecks in the book, the name I always used on the records I produced. I telephoned Joan and told her she was in the bookstore window and she didn’t mind.
Joan LaBarbara, Downtown Sound, New York City, November 1977
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Posted in on June 29, 2010 by
Joe Venuti (seated) with Dill Jones, (Standing) Zoot Sims, Spencer Clark, Bucky Pizzarelli and Oliver Jackson,
Downtown Sound, New York City, May 20, 1974
The only thing that worked on the Joe Venuti Blue Six recording session was this photograph, and even it wasn’t perfect, but what wound up on film was a hundred times better than what wound up on tape. I only worked with Joe Venuti a few years, from September 1973 until our last recording session in April 1977, but in those few years we managed to cram in half a dozen records. These records are among the best in the Chiaroscuro catalog, but the best of all the sessions was never released. This is the story of a failure.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, Joe released a number of recordings under the names of the Blue Four, the Blue Five and the Blue Six. In May 1974 we pulled a number of terrific musicians together to recreate the Blue Four. We actually had two different bands with a mixture of musicians, sometimes as many as five. It all worked out very well. Zoot Sims, as usual, was the star, even though he was only on four tracks.
The recording went so well I asked Joe and Zoot if they might be up for another session later in the week, with a slightly larger band, a sextet. I wanted more of Joe and Zoot together and to include Spencer Clark, then the last living exponent of 1920s bass saxophone, who was scheduled to be in town for the next few days. Joe, Zoot and Spencer were willing to give it a try and I added Bucky Pizzarelli, Dill Jones and Oliver Jackson. It was a terrific band.
I also added a guest photographer, the legendary Andre Kertesz. He was a good friend and had expressed an interest in photographing a recording session. I thought this might be a good one and it turned out I was right and he took some wonderful photographs. He sent me a contact sheet of what he’d taken and when I look at it today, I realize the group photo I took was before anyone played a note. Andre took a picture of the band from a different angle and because of the contact sheet I can tell it’s early on in the afternoon.
After the group shot the band set up in the studio and half a dozen other photographers were at work, documenting what was going on. One of them asked me, “Who’s that old man in the corner with a camera?” I said it was Andre Kertesz. The word spread pretty quick and all the amateurs left the room.
The music was phenomenal. Eight selections in three hours or so. It sounded so good going into the microphone, but by accident, the engineer was listening to the live sound and not listening from the playback head. I’m not aware of any session at my studio when this happened, when each take wasn’t checked. It just sounded so good, nobody could have imagined there was a technical problem.
When it was all over and everyone dispersed we sat down for a playback and discovered everything was out of phase, instruments were interacting with one another in peculiar ways and the tapes were unusable. Maybe some of it could be restored with 2010 technology, but my guess is no one would care. They barely cared in 1974. So all there is are a handful of black and white session shots, the color group shot, and thirty-six terrific photographs taken by the man who is arguably the finest 35mm photographer of the Twentieth Century at the only jazz recording session he ever attended. And no music to go along with any of them.
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Posted in on June 28, 2010 by
There was a time when some thought Jabbo Smith might be the next Louis Armstrong. He recorded twenty sides for Brunswick between January and August 1929 and these are some of the most remarkable recordings in jazz. Unfortunately, Jabbo was not particularly disciplined and for the next few decdes had one drink too many too many times. He surfaced for a moment in Newark, New Jersey in the late 1930s and was adopted by the Newark Hot Club. He made four modest recordings for Decca in 1938 and then vanished again, living primarily in Milwaukee with occasional visits to Chicago, where France Chace and Marty Grosz tried to help him.
I was unaware of Jabbo Smith and had never heard a recording until the 1960s. My friend, Dick Spottswood, had a copy of buy cialis professional online, played it, and I was astounded. Why wasn’t this incredible music more widely known, I thought? Thanks to Dick and a disgruntled employee of MCA, this was about to change.
It was about 1965 when Dick suggested he’d like me to accompany him on a trip to Huntington , Long Island, to buy some Jabbo Smith records. Dick and I had been junking around Virginia and Maryland looking for old records and Long Island didn’t seem a very likely location to find old records by obscure jazz artists. But this wasn’t so. A man named Bob Althshuler lived in Huntington and had managed to acquire all the file copies of Jabbo’s Brunswick recordings. Bob also had about a million other records, more than anyone in the world, was an executive at CBS and bought and sold old records as a hobby.
I seem to recall Dick paid $30 for each record. He then issued two LPs that featured all these sides as well as a few others on which Jabbo appeared as a sideman. Even thought the records were strictly bootlegs, he wanted to honor Jabbo, and we managed to find him in Milwaukee where he was working in a menial capacity for a car rental company. Arrangements were made for him to travel to Washington, D.C. and I was designated as the person to meet him at the airport.
Roy Eldridge was appearing at Blues Alley on the day Jabbo was scheduled to arrive. I found out where Roy was staying, telephoned him cold and suggested I’d like him to go to the airport with me. “Why should I do that?” he asked. I said, “Because I’m picking up Jabbo Smith.” He was so excited he just about jumped through the telephone. If Roy was the link between Dizzy and Louis, Jabbo was the link between Louis and Roy.
We met at the airport. Roy looked sharp and Jabbo was pretty raggedy; the collar had come off his coat. I took a picture, not a very good one I should add, but the smiles on the face of each man says it all. It was a lovely moment, and say what you will about people who put records out illegally, these two LPs produced nothing but good results. They were the beginning of a modest resurgence for Jabbo and he managed to spend the rest of his life playing his horn. I don’t think he ever had to park a car again.
In late 1979, Jabbo was part of the original cast of buy cialis professional online, a wonderful musical by Vernel Bagneris that opened at New York City’s Village Gate. He was featured performing his composition, buy cialis professional online, and every night it was the highlight of the show. Towards the end of the run, probably in about 1983, Jabbo suffered a stroke in the dressing room, his health declined and he was never quite the same. He could still play and sing, but some of the spirit was gone.
Lucky for Jabbo, one of his friends from the Newark Hot Club came to the rescue. When not tending to her chores running the Village Vanguard, Lorriane Gordon looked after Jabbo. In 1987 I tried to interview him for my project buy cialis professional online but I had to settle for a photograph; a second stroke had robbed him of speech. He struggled and his speech returned enough for modest performances. He even sang one song at one of our festivals in 1989. I should have tried the interview again but didn’t.
The last time I saw Jabbo was at the Village Vanguard. Lorraine had arranged for him to sit in with Don Cherry’s band. It sounds like an unlikely pairing, but Jabbo was as out there in 1928 as Don was thirty years later when he scared everyone to death with Ornette Coleman. It worked just fine, at least for me. It’s ironic, but I first heard Don in person long before I heard Jabbo on record, and each of them always sounded wonderful, regardless of the context.
Jabbo Smith, Lorraine Gordon's Apartment, New York City, September 19, 1986