I remember sitting in my basement with Paul Hoeffler, not with jazz in the background, but the annoying sound of my scanner, as we were working our way through stacks of photographs of Billie Holiday. Bowmore 12 was the poison of choice. The stories flowed, as did the single malt. We were scanning images of Billie Holiday for the now legendary Burns series Jazz.
We scanned many photographs of the legendary singer, but what I find most interesting in hindsight was maybe the contact sheets. I have reproduced 1 below. The sheet was not the greatest, in terms of quality, but you have to admire the degree of access. Don’t forget, this is while Billie Holiday is on stage, singing. She is a Superstar, with a capital ‘S’ in Jazz terms, yet she is no more than a couple of feet in front of Paul’s lens, maybe less. I might even forgive her for forgetting a line, when you have a camera in your face like that! You can read Paul’s recollection here:
“ ‘Lady Day’ as she was known, died the summer
of 1959. She was in a NYC hospital –
arrested for drug possession – two detectives stationed at the door. Billie Holiday was 44 years old. She has been described as a ‘simple woman
with a gift’.
These photographs were taken
during her week-long engagement at the Ridge Crest Inn, Rochester, New
York. I was in Rochester studying at
R.I.T., and covering the music and musicians.
These images represent a fraction of those taken; the contact sheets show
a radiant Billie, then the next frame displays a troubled and confused singer
having forgotten the words.
Twice, or three times, I drove Billie, her husband and Alice Vrbsky back to their hotel. Alice was Billie’s close friend, seen here putting on her coat and wearing glasses. Alice tried to keep Billie in a responsible state. Peppi, Billies little white dog, was always along. Peppi was the substitute for the child she never had.
What I saw was a very troubled woman, angry at social injustices, burdened by alcohol and drugs, and not able to steer clear of the bad actors – the men, the lovers.
Billie Holiday had a strong presence. She was vulgar, basic, with a natural ability to make music, which touched many, many people. It still continues to reach out today.”
I don’t think anyone, other than maybe Paul himself has seen the contact sheet below. I scanned it for him, as we were working our way through the stack of prints that would be scanned and forwarded to Ken Burns. I have been hesitating to show it, but I think it is a reminder of what Paul always talked about; the good old days before the goons, or should I say security guards, the publicists, the official photographers, and the hoards of long lens paparazzi.
And finally, below, something that Paul did, but was much less known for. A colour image from the same set. Yes, he could do that too.
One of the stories that Paul told was of an evening at a Rochester roller-skating rink. Paul was at a performance by Erskine Hawkins and his minimalist Tuxedo Junction band. I have selected a few photographs from that evening below, but first, a word or two from Paul:
“The economics of touring with a 16-piece band forced
Erskine Hawkins to bring only 6 musicians, including himself on trumpet and
Gloria Lynne, vocalist, to play a dance in Rochester, NY. The performance was held at a converted
Mr. Hawkins and the players were in good spirits, and
supportive of my photographing the event.
The tenor player, Julian Dash, strongly suggested I stay with him on the
bandstand, when a ‘friendly shooting’ took place. A girl was most unhappy that her boyfriend
had brought another girl to the dance and brought a gun and fired a couple of
rounds – nobody was hurt.
This was a typical evening at this all-black function. At many of these events, I was one of the
few, maybe the only white person there.
There was no hostility, and many people were interested in what I was
photographing. This is a time that no
longer exists. Like Atget’s images of
Paris at the turn of the century, these images are a time capsule, a record of
a period in our history and in our culture, which we cannot return to.”
What I particularly admire about this photography event is the lack of photographs of the band. I find it infinitely intriguing that Paul spent most of his time on stage shooting the other way. Out, out onto the dance floor. It looks cold, along the walls, people are wearing overcoats. Must have been freezing. Those that worked the dance floor look a little more comfortable, for a time. Gloria Lynne pulling a cigarette from a package, surrounded by paper cups of coffee, perhaps spiked with a bit of whisky to keep warm. There is a wonderful mood in these photographs, a mood that is almost dreamy. Paul would often refer to these photographs as the Dream Dancing series. I got the impression that of all his work, these images rose to the top of his list. He was proud of these images. This was not Herman Leonard, or William Claxton. No cigarette smoke to set the mood. This was something entirely different. More real, more escapist perhaps, and definitely dreamy…..
I remember sitting in Paul’s livingroom, or should I say office. Paul Hoeffler was a great photographer, who lived in a large, old Victorian house in Toronto. It was the biggest room in the house. Filled to the gills with files, photographs, reels of taped music… Jazz playing in the background. Softly. We were going through some boxes together and Paul was telling me stories. I liked to sit and listen, as he would hand me a print to look at. I would take in the circumstances that he was describing, while holding the resulting photograph. It added an extra layer to the conversation. Paul was a great storyteller. One story in particular, which he never actually dictated to me, so I will have to paraphrase, was about his photograph of Lee Morgan.
Paul described Lee Morgan as one of the very best trumpet
players he had ever heard. A promising
and rising star on the Jazz scene. I am
not a musician, so it is hard for me to recount all the superlatives and
capabilities as a musician that Paul described, but suffice it to say that he
was if not the second coming, at least destined for the stars.
Paul explained that he had been photographing a performance in 1958 of Lee Morgan playing in Rochester with Art Blakey. He had met him the year before in Newport. Paul took a great number of very good photographs of him that night. But the one that struck me, was an unusual photograph for Paul. Taken outside the venue, it is Lee Morgan after the concert. More portrait like, but also very atmospheric. He is holding his horn, as if about to play. His carrying case on the ground. Clearly Paul must have asked him to pull his trumpet out for the photograph. He never did quite explain how that came about. But, here is Lee Morgan in his overcoat, horn near his lips, fingers ready to go, his case on the ground in front of him, a little to his right. He is standing on what looks like wet pavement, with a scattering of leaves around his feet. But, what you immediately notice is the beaten up sign attached to the telephone pole. It reads: No Outlet. The photograph is from 1958.
This photograph Paul saw as a spooky premonition of what was
to come in 1972. He often singled out this
photograph when I was around and shook his head. Somehow feeling connected to a story that he
was not a witness to, nor had any part in, but which he somehow felt.
For those that don’t know, Lee Morgan got introduced to heroin by Art Blakey, during a time when he played with Art Blakey and his Messengers. The down spiral was hard and the heroin quickly took over. He met Helen Moore, who ran a kind of after hours gathering place for jazz musicians, doubling as a soup kitchen for down and out jazz musicians in NY. The story goes that she took pity on Morgan, got his horn back from the pawn shop, and helped him back from the edge.
They remained a couple for 5 years. Never got married. But might as well have been. Morgan came back with a vengeance and unfortunately, so did the bad behaviour; the booze and the womanizing, which Helen took badly, as the story goes.
Moore went to one of Lee’s concerts, at the same time as another woman that Morgan was seeing on the side, at the time. The two women got into a fight during intermission. Helen reportedly went home and picked up a gun and in a fit of anger shot Morgan in the chest during the second set. She was heard screaming: “Baby, what have I done!” as she ran towards the stage.
The joint was appropriately called: Slugs.
Lee Morgan was 33.
Note: I have previously written a blog entry about the great Jazz Photographer Paul Hoeffler. This is my second short entry about Paul.
Paul Hoeffler was my friend.
We spent many a night discussing great Jazz musicians and his
photographs over bottles of single malt whisky.
Always Jazz music playing in the background, softly, as often Claire,
his wife, would be giving piano lessons in the next room. Paul is virtually unknown outside a small
circle of committed admirers, yet, he deserves so much more…..
I think back on the man that didn’t take the obvious
photograph, but was more in tune than any other musician photographer, that I can
think of. Paul knew music. He knew Jazz.
His office and studio took up the
entire living room in his traditional red brick house in Toronto’s Roncesvalles
area. And unlike any other photographer
that I have visited, Paul’s place was equally full of records, discs, reel
tapes and recordings of every kind, and the boxes, and boxes of photographs and
negatives that made you careful where you sat and vigilant about where you put
down your whisky glass.
But first things first. I was introduced by my bank manager, who thought I knew something about marketing and perhaps could help one of his customers figure out what to do with a room full of prints and negatives. We met and I would say that had Paul been a sailor, I would have called him salty. He was in his early 60s when we met. Paul was born in 1937. And he was surrounded by a very large amount of stuff, which I think only he knew his way around. When we met, he had had a long career in places like Rochester, NY; New York City; Providence, RI, before moving to Toronto and settling down for keeps. I got the impression that he was sad at the state of the art of photography, in the sense that he felt that he no longer could get the access he needed to make the photographs that mattered. Too many managers, handlers, agents, security guards, fences and locked doors. He would often say things like: “those times are gone”, or “it is not like that anymore”. A little bitter perhaps. I don’t know, but a master of the highest order.
Paul studied photography at RIT, the famous Rochester Institute of Technology. Names like Minor White and passers by like Ansel Adams were the cast of characters that gave courses and instructed the young Hoeffler. RIT is of course located in the legendary city that spawned Kodak, and therefore seemed like a logical place to study photography. He started to shoot at virtually the same time as Tri-X film became the film of choice for consistent black and white photographs. As a young student one of his first assignments was a Jazz concert. And as they say, the rest is history.
Paul knew the music, almost as well as those playing it and
he therefore knew where to be and where to focus during a performance. I was fortunate to work endless nights with
Paul on a catalogue for an exhibition. A
humble 24 page booklet, yet, I heard and re-heard stories that eventually got
transcribed by me and became part of the catalogue.
I don’t think anyone will be able to find a copy of the
catalogue today, so I will take the liberty of recounting a couple of the
stories. Ones that have stuck with
Let me start with the 1955 meeting with Louis Armstrong. During a break in the concert at Rochester, Paul Hoeffler went back-stage and went into the dressing-room where Armstrong was holding court. I will leave the words to Paul, as I recorded them:
“Armstrong was there with a lot of fans and admirers. People would come up and say: ‘Louis, I am a little short, can you help out?’ He had his big roll of bills, and he would peel off a $5, a $10 or a $20. The place cleared out a bit and I was shooting some pictures. He had a bandanna around his head and he looked at me and said ’Oh, you might want to have a picture like this.’ He put his horn up to his lips and posed for me for several pictures. I had enough sense to shoot a few frames and stop and say: ‘Thank you, very much.’ I added; ‘Incidentally, in the movie last year, you played a tune called Otchi-Tchor-Ni-Ya. Would there be any chance of you doing that in the second half?’ Trummy Young the trombonist, was with him and Louis nudged to him and said: ‘Remember the movie we made about the white trombone player, Miller?’ Trummy smiled. ‘Remember the tune we played, Otchi-Tchor-Ni-Ya? Our friend here would like to hear that in the second half. Think we can do it?’ Trummy nodded. I thanked him very much and went out. For the second half of the program, I went into the pit right in font of the stage. The band came out. Armstrong played a tune and then spotted me. He nudged Trummy, looked at me and announced to the audience: ‘Last year we made a film about Glen Miller. And in that we played a tune called Otchi-Tchor-Ni-Ya. We have a special friend here tonight, who made a request to hear that tune, and right now we would like to play that and dedicate it to our friend.’ I was 17. I was floating.”
Paul was full of stories like this. He would tell me he was on stage with Erskine Hawkins and his band taking pictures, under the watchful eye of Julian Dash, the tenor sax player, who had suggested he stay close. He was the only white boy in the entire roller skating rink, and following a disgruntled girlfriend shooting a couple of rounds, apparently upset that her boyfriend had taken another girl to the dance, Paul understood and stayed close. Nobody was hurt. I don’t know if this explains how Paul had access, but he took photographs from under keyboards, behind drums…. That night, Paul shot the audience from the stage and produced what he often referred to as his Dream Dancing photographs. A little fuzzy, very moody, they show outlines of bodies moving around the dance floor. You can almost hear the music.
Finally, the one shot that I think says it all about how Paul worked. He was at a show with Count Basie and his Orchestra. He was, as usual in prime position, but he didn’t do the obvious, he photographed the wives and girlfriends waiting in the wings. Desperate for the show to end and their lives to begin again. It is a photograph with so much atmosphere and so much feeling, and at the same time an eye for what it was like being on the road, night after night putting on a great show.
I am often reminded of how Herman Leonard, or William
Claxton photographed Jazz, and while Paul was in contact with many other jazz photographers,
he was in my mind better. Unlike
Leonard, who seems to desperately cling to a steady supply of cigarette smoke emanating
from conveniently placed ashtrays, Paul didn’t need these tricks to make magic. He felt photographs.
I will probably write a couple more entries about Paul and his photographs. He passed away from cancer some years ago. Never a dull moment around Paul. He was full of stories, full of life and had a deep, very deep knowledge of the music and the musicians that he photographed. Paul Hoeffler, the Greatest Of All Time. I miss him.