Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A JAZZ MEMOIR: Through the Lens of Herb Snitzer

Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Count Basie are but are a few of the world-famous American musicians and Jazz legends that you'll see in The Breman Museum's newest exhibition, A JAZZ MEMOIR: Through the Lens of Herb Snitzer

Louis Armstrong | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer
Louis Armstrong | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer

A Jazz Memoir, on "view" now through Thursday, December 31, 2020, features Herb Snitzer’s photography documenting America’s jazz scene. It focuses on an early period, 1957–1964, of his more than sixty-year career. For most of that time, Herb was the photography editor for Metronome Magazine, the primary magazine devoted to jazz, and published until 1961.

As you peruse the exhibit online, you're "walking" through the gallery and can stop and view the photos, each of which has a circle next to the caption. First, hover over the citcle and you'll see a thumbnail of the photo with the caption. Then you can click on that thumbnail to see a larger version of the image. It's very well done, one of the best virtual experiences I've had of a photography exhibit. Be sure the click on the yellow circles in the gallery. Those are videos, including one featuring Herb Snitzer himself!

The above photo of Louis Armstrong was made while on a tour bus. The Star of David that Armstrong is wearing was a gift from the Karnovsky family when he was a child. That family cared for him, fed and clothed him. Herb said that Armstrong, even though not of the Jewish faith, wore that Star of David for his entire life, and that Armstrong was the least prejudiced musician he ever knew.

Nina Simone | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer
Nina Simone | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer

One of the things that I love most about this exhibit is that the placards are written in first-person. It's like having Herb standing next to you telling you stories about the people he's photographed and how meeting some of these international stars influenced his career and his life. 

For example, part of the Nina Simone placard reads, "...to photograph the talented, but difficult Nina Simone. Nina and I were the same age and we hit it off. In April 1986, she came to Boston where I was living and we re-connected which led to me photographing her two concerts in Bern, Switzerland in December of that year. ...She introduced me to Hans Zurbrugg, the producer of the Bern International Jazz Festival who hired me to photograph the festival for three years, 1987-89. This allowed me to reconnect with my Jazz friends from all over the world..."

I've loved jazz my whole life, but it's exhibits like this that get me super-excited about it again. A few years ago, the first show that I ever saw at Theatrical Outfit was "Simply Simone", a musical. Four actresses portrayed Nina at different times in her life and it was magnificent! The acting, the singing, the things that I learned about Nina's life were remarkable. 

Count Bassie | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer
Count Basie | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer

There's additional programming with the exhibition, including a Zoom Artist Talk with Herb Snitzer and exhibition curator Tony Casadonte on Thursday, October 1, when they'll discuss jazz, photography, and more! I had the pleasure of meeting Tony just as the finishing touches were being put on the exhibition. You're in for a treat! His passion for this exhibition is undeniable! 

"Jazz is more than wonderful music. It's a statement about people's desire and thirst for freedom, and with freedom, the sweetness of individuality and sense of self-worth.

- Herb Snitzer

Tony is with Lumière, an exhibition partner, here in Atlanta where you can see more of Snitzer's work and that of many other illustrious artists. Lumiere is a photography gallery, founded 15 years ago to enhance the appreciation of the photographic arts and to showcase many of the master photographers of the last century. 

Then on Thursday, October 15 at 7pm, there's "Jews and Jazz: A Discussion of the impact of Jews on the Jazz Scene" when Gary Motley and Dr. Gordon Vernick will discuss the significant roles that Jews have played in the Jazz scene as composers, performers, writers, and entrepreneurs. 

Both events are free but require registration!

Duke Ellington | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer
Duke Ellington | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer

"Presenting Herb Snitzer's marvelous camera work aligns with The Breman's commitment to the art of photography," says Breman Executive Director Leslie Gordon. "This exhibition is a great example of outstanding works by Jewish documentary photographers. In late 2019 and early 2020, we featured the highly popular Henri Dauman: Looking Up, an overview of the French-born Holocaust survivor's photographs that acknowledged him as one of the preeminent photojournalists of the twentieth century. We are proud to host the current exhibition, A Jazz Memoir, and thrilled to be sharing Snitzer's iconic images with a broad public."

In addition to Snitzer's jazz photography are other works that demonstrate both his desire to use photography to effect social change and his belief that "Injustice for one is injustice for all," acutely relevant given the current social climate. 

Herb has lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, (my birth city) since 1992 where he operates a gallery. HIs newest gallery, Herb Snitzer Fine Art Photography Gallery, opened in 2014.

A Jazz Memoir was initially scheduled to open in April to coincide with the Atlanta Jazz Festival, but those plans were interrupted by COVID-19. But, that didn't deter The Breman from bringing the exhibition to the public. While the museum remains closed due to the pandemic, A Jazz Memoir is now on "display" in an enhanced virtual experience—and they've done a magnificent job of it!

Thelonius Monk | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer
Thelonius Monk | The Breman Museum | Photo: Herb Snitzer

In a 1990s Los Angeles radio interview when asked what was the key takeaway he wanted people to get from his exhibition, he said, "A sense that African Americans have centrally contributed to the culture and spiritual life of the United States. Jazz is…a statement about a people's desire and thirst for freedom, and with freedom, the sweetness of individuality and sense of self-worth. … Jazz musicians have made a very important contribution to the United States. … We must salute Pops, Duke, Sarah, Miles and others as major American artists, not jazz artists—which they were—but American artists. Duke Ellington was the greatest American composer of the twentieth century, but you would never know it from the press. … Duke was the best … Martin Luther King was the best … W.E.B. Du Bois was the best, just as Sarah Vaughn's voice was the best. … I was expressing the injustice of it all."

The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum plans to make private, small-group tours available for members on a reservation basis, as conditions permit. In the meantime, A Jazz Memoir: Through the Lens of Herb Snitzer is free and available to the public online. See it now through Thursday, December 31, 2020!

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