‘It’s the human side’ of jazz

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Herb Snitzer’s photography from a half-century ago shows that there’s more than one way to record a jazz musician.

Beyond the turntable or downloaded tracks, his black-and-white photographs capture for the eyes what music does for the ears, freezing moments to allow for replay later.

The self-described “white, Jewish guy” moved to New York City in 1957 after college and soon developed a reputation for his photography. Much of it focused on the black jazz stars of the day.

His camera caught both the on-stage electricity of live performances, such as singer Velma Middleton shaking it for all its worth, and the unguarded after-hours moments, like trumpeter Louis Armstrong having a smoke on a hot tour bus.

About 50 of Mr. Snitzer’s photos went on display last weekend at the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries in St. Louis. “Herb Snitzer: Photographs from the Last Years of Metronome, 1958-1962,” runs through Sept. 20.

Although Mr. Snitzer took photos for decades and worked for publications from Life to Look, the show focuses on his images for Metronome, then one of the country’s leading jazz magazines.

Mr. Snitzer, now 75, said several photographers who focused on jazz at the time were white, Jewish men. He thinks they shared an affinity with the black musicians whom they photographed, although he doesn’t know exactly why. Maybe something spoke to them in the wail of the music. Maybe it was because they understood trying to overcome tough histories, he mused.

For years, jazz magazines rarely featured black artists on their covers. But stars such as Coleman Hawkins and Miles Davis were featured on Metronome when Mr. Snitzer served as its photo editor, said the show’s curator, Benjamin Cawthra.

In one his best-known photographs, Mr. Snitzer captured a side of Mr. Armstrong that the public rarely saw — his shirt is open, showing a Star of David necklace, and he looks frankly at the camera. There is no trace of the beaming smile and the “Pops” persona fans were accustomed to seeing.

“It surprises people. There’s no question about that. It’s the human side to Pops,” Mr. Snitzer said of the photo. The Star of David necklace was worn in honor of a Russian Jewish family that befriended Mr. Armstrong when he was a boy in New Orleans.

Mr. Snitzer recalled photographing Dizzy Gillespie in Boston while the musician was on a publicity tour. At the last stop, Mr. Snitzer realized he’d left his car on the other side of the city.

“Take my limo,” Mr. Gillespie told him.

“I said: ‘I can’t take your limo. How are you going to get to the hotel?’ ”

Mr. Snitzer said Mr. Gillespie pretended to be pained, placed his hands over his heart in mock anguish and insisted the photographer take his ride.

“He said: ‘Herb, I’m Dizzy Gillespie. I’ll get to the hotel.’ ”

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