1976 - halonzo jennings photography

1976 THE MISSION BEGINS ***

Intro from THIS WAS JAZZ ***


I arrived back in the States in the summer of 1976 and settled in the Philadelphia area. To my absolute joy, Philadelphia was alive with the music. Jazz clubs abounded and major artists were in town every week. In addition to the clubs and concerts, there was free jazz in the parks and at the museums. In the middle of my elation I was saddened when, like in 1974, the year Ellington and many of his cohorts died, another group of older musicians passed on. It seemed to always happen in bunches. It was at this point that I began my photography Project, (though I did not see it as a project.) I carried my camera everywhere, photographing with a passion, trying to capture the moment. I had no grandiose schemes of making money or achieving fame. I just felt the need to preserve images of the musicians, especially the older ones before they too passed on. I began working seriously in the fall of 1976. Since then I have photographed more than 200 individual musicians, many of them the giants that emerged after 1942. Unfortunately, and for various reasons, I missed several major artists such as Ornette Coleman, Ella, Teddy Wilson, Mingus, Adderley and Freddie Hubbard, Bill and Gil Evans, James Moody and above all the great Thelonious Monk himself. My approach was not journalistic, intellectual or even artistic. I simply wanted to take pictures, to preserve for myself what I saw as the ending of an era, the transformation of a species from immortals to mortals. I wanted to catch the musicians in full flight, that sublime moment of joy and transcendence. I wanted them as unaware of me as possible. I usually sat in the middle or the back of the club, never used a flash, and always paid my own way. If there were other photographers, I would wait until they had finished before I started to shoot, especially if they were using a flash. My approach made my effort quite difficult because by not using a flash, shooting from great distances and in near dark meant pushing my equipment and my abilities to the limit and sometimes beyond. After the results of my first two or three sessions I soon realized that I was on to something special and I started to become more selective and more careful with each shoot. My equipment was a Nikon Nikormat EL and an Olympus Ml, both equipped with normal, telephoto and/or zoom lenses. I was often pushing my film, Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP 5, as high as 2000 asa. A telephoto and a zoom lens meant, while bringing the subject closer, even less light reached the film. Other problems were being turned away at the door with my camera, musicians not wanting to be photographed, and lighting that at times was so bad that I got little or nothing on the film. Then there was the night that I had five rolls of film stolen along with a Nikon 1.1 lens and an Olympus Zuiko zoom. The Film contained Red Garland, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Teddy Wilson, and Abby Lincoln. In the dark room I had to come up with new developing times for papers and film, plus experiment with endless types of papers and solutions. After months of trial and error, I arrived at a system that gave me the quality of image I wanted.

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