Two new photo exhibits open at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Friday, showcasing jazz legends and poignant moments from the genre’s history.
“Jazz Greats: Classic Photographs from the Bank of America Collection” features key jazz figures and places as a whole, while its companion exhibit, “Detroit Jazz: The Legacy Continues,” focuses specifically on Detroit. The exhibition is presented in partnership with Bank of America, with “Jazz Greats” displaying photos from the bank’s private art collection.
“Even for people that don’t love jazz, there’s so much history around jazz music. It’s a really interesting topic in that so many things intersect into jazz, so much about American history and Black American history.”JENNIFER EVANS, EXHIBITIONS MANAGER FOR THE WRIGHT MUSEUM.
“Jazz Greats” features 31 images from 14 photographers from the 1920s-80s, capturing the genre’s definitive moments during an era of social, economic, industrial and political reckoning. It features portraits of iconic performers, including Miles Davis, John and Alice Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Eric Dolphy, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as highlighting the local communities and diverse audiences that followed them.
Featured photographers in the collection are Antony Armstrong-Jones, a British photographer known for his magazine portraits of notable personalities, and William Gottlieb, who created some of the most-recognized images of jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. It also includes Barbara Morgan, known for her work with modern dance pioneers Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, and Chuck Stewart, considered one of jazz’s most prolific photographers, who photographed hundreds of musicians with depictions of them performing live or recording, as well as formal portraits.
“Detroit Jazz,” curated by the Wright museum, highlights local musicians who made an impact on the international, national and local jazz scenes. It’s organized into five sections: “Sites” focuses on notable jazz locations in Detroit, including Baker’s Keyboard Lounge and Motown Records. “Freedom” shows depictions of how musicians found freedom from racial oppression through jazz music. “Education” highlights the ways in which Black musicians learned to play jazz, through formal training or jam sessions. “Innovation” showcases how jazz performers learned to improvise to keep the genre fresh. “Spirituality” displays jazz’s roots in spiritual and emotional connection and its relationship with gospel and blues music.