Picks and Pans Review: Chuck Stewart's Jazz Files

UPDATED 12/16/1985 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/16/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

by Charles Stewart and Paul Carter Harrison

Accustomed to being slighted or exploited even by those who profess to admire them, jazz musicians are an unusually touchy lot. As photographer Stewart observes (in an opening interview with playwright Harrison), "They might argue among themselves like raging man and wife, but if an outsider intrudes, they close ranks. A common adversary like a promoter might be lucky to get away with his life." Part of what has enabled Stewart to assemble his expressive photographic portraits of the jazz elite over the last three decades is that he is family. Growing up in Arizona in the '30s, he would visit his grandmother in Bon-ham, Texas in the summer and sit on the church lawn listening to Charlie Christian—a childhood friend of his mother's—play guitar. In his hometown of Tucson traveling bands-including those of Ellington, Basie and Lunceford—would finish their concerts and be feted at lively "house parties." Stewart recalls, "Me and my little partners would scurry over to the party to gawk at Duke while he held court." Despite eight years of piano lessons, even Chopsticks eluded him. "Since I could not be a great musician," he says, "I became a photographer." And a good one. Stewart, 58, combines a strong sense of form and graphic vitality with an unerring eye for gesture and expression. The spontaneity of his concert and recording studio candids is at least equaled by the intimacy of his formal portraiture. Clearly his subjects—from Billie Holliday to Wynton Marsalis—trusted him completely, and he never violated that trust. For years jazz fans have been seeing Stewart's work on album covers and in magazines. Here his pictures are granted the kind of size and reproduction they deserve. (New York Graphic Society, paper, $16.95)

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