In 1939, Francis Wolff caught the last unrestricted boat out of Germany, escaping his fate as a Jewish man living under the rule of Adolf Hitler. Before leaving, Wolff diligently studied photography in Berlin, working to master this art form. By the time he left, he was known in Germany as an accomplished photographer.
When the hardworking photographer left Nazi Germany and moved to New York, he found solace in his lifelong passions of photography and jazz music. By day, Wolff worked in a photographic studio and, by night, he ran a record company with his boyhood friend Alfred Lion.
Since Lion took care of the music and Wolff ran the business side of Blue Note Records, Wolff was free at recording sessions to photograph the musicians. In each snapshot that he captured, Wolff not only preserved a candid, musical moment, he also displayed the intensity, passion, and zeal that is at the heart of jazz music. From dimly-lit sound studios, the enthusiastic photographer made use of additional lighting to properly showcase the talented musicians and the soulful masterpieces that were being recorded.
When Wolff first started photographing jazz musicians, there was no need for his work, since records did not yet include artwork. But, during the mid-fifties, his work became a key part of Blue Note’s album covers, making him known as a gifted, master photographer.
The images that the jazz-enthusiast compiled not only paint an energetic picture, they also reveal the evolution of jazz music. These photographs tell a story, from beginning to end, about the music that provided hope and joy to a countless number of audiences. ”Francis Wolff’s images of musicians at work are so relaxed and intimate that they capture the spirit not just of the moment but also the era,” states Herbie Hancock, world-renowned jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer.
Above: John Coltrane
Grant Green, jazz guitarist and composer.
Dexter Gordon, jazz tenor saxophonist.
Billy Higgins, jazz drummer.
Don Cherry, jazz trumpeter & Henry Grimes, jazz double bassist, violinist, and poet.
John Coltrane, saxophonist and composer & Lee Morgan, hard bop trumpeter.
Max Roach, jazz percussionist, drummer, and composer.
Herbie Hancock, jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer.
John Coltrane, saxophonist and composer.
Clifford Brown, jazz trumpeter.
Thad Jones, jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader.