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It must schwing

Blue Note - Photography by Francis Wolff and Jimmy Katz

Herbie Hancock, 24 December 1964, photographed by Francis Wolff
© Mosaic Images LLC

Many German-Jewish emigrants were able to gain a foothold in exile relatively quickly. The story of two Berliners, Alfred Lion (1908–1987) and Francis Wolff (1907–1971), reveals that they often also had a crucial impact on the culture that was once foreign to them. After their emigration from Germany, they founded the legendary jazz label Blue Note Records in New York City in 1939. For these two passionate jazz fans, jazz was not just music but an attitude towards life – as was Alfred Lion’s credo: "It must schwing."

The small, independent Blue Note label started with boogie-woogie recordings. In the 1940s it focused increasingly on bebop, and then had its heyday in the 1950s and 60s as the most prominent hard bop label in the world. They often worked with hitherto unknown artists, whom Lion and Wolff gave the freedom to develop their own ideas. They supported the artists by paying not just for recordings, but also for rehearsals.

Francis Wolff, previously trained as a photographer in Berlin, accompanied the recordings with his camera. This is how a unique portrait gallery of outstanding jazz musicians came into existence. These images became one of the most important design elements of Blue Note’s LP covers; they still continue to dominate the graphic character of the label. Today, Wolff’s expressive black-and-white images are among the classics of jazz photography.

The exhibition at the Eric F. Ross Gallery features portraits of John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith, and others. In addition to the photographs, the Blue Note LP covers they became are also on show. The more recent history of the label is documented through the work of Jimmy Katz (born 1957), who began work as a photographer for Blue Note in 1993.

Exhibition opens

9 October 2009, 7 pm


10 October 2009 – 7 February 2010


Libeskind Building, ground level, Eric F. Ross Gallery


with the permanent exhibition ticket (5 euros, reduced rate 2.50 euros)

The Jewish Museum Berlin would like to thank the Embassy of the United States of America for its generous support for this exhibition.

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