Žiga Koritnik’s Cloud Arrangers: Musical Photo Impressions



Cloud Arrangers: Musical Photo Impressions is Žiga Koritnik‘s book of music photography, mainly but not exclusively jazz and improvising musicians. He comes from Ljubljana, Slovenia, an ancient cross-roads of Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages, a small slice of it nested on the western shore of the Adriatic, and filled with a plentitude of mountains. Žiga Koritnik has been photographing professionally since 1990 and his music base is the Ljubljana Jazz Fesival, Europe’s oldest jazz festival clocking in at 50 years. 

The music that opened his sensory panorama was Frank Zappa’s. His musical tastes in music are universal with a special emphasis on the latter-day improvisers. He is well-known to the jazz scene in Europe, less so in North America except to the musicians and journalists who regularly attend its exceptionally curated festivals. The art-book called Cloud Arrangers encompasses such a wide range of performers and photographic vistas that it provoked me to examine how this thing called jazz photography came about and how its photographers tackle sight and sound. 

The essay is divided into two parts, the past of jazz photography, and what Žiga Koritnik has accomplished as part of its latter day continuum. Žiga Koritnik’s imprint Cloud Arrangers: Musical Photo Impressions is an imagine the sound break-through, the imagery breath-taking, the photos care-fully selected, laid-out, and beautifully printed: one for the ages.

The Jazz Photographer

Jazz photography is the act of an improviser, the prestissimo response to improvising musicians. The jazz photographer is something of an interloper in the unfolding of the music; at the same time he is a visual archivist of the sound, a self-contradictory concept. While the audience is concentrated on hearing and watching the music, the photographer has to skillfully find in an advantageous place to take the photos but not be obtrusive.

In the beginning, there was no art of jazz photography. The concert photographer was simply the press guy (the English language is poverty-stricken with regard to the gender of the personal pronoun) s limited to the ‘first three tunes.’ To exercise their craft, they stood in front of the audience, used a huge 4×5 Speed Graphic camera preset at f/16 at 1/200 second, and made themselves further obnoxious by the use of flash bulbs. A Speed Graphic was a beautiful instrument for its time when discretion was not even considered in the mania of a jazz club.

That “three-song” formula still used today by some antiquated concert venue managers and road manager types actually comes from the  pre-digital days when the photographer had to get back to the lab to chemically process the negatives, select the best shot of the lot, make a print and hang it to dry in time for the morning edition of the newspaper’s written review. The newspaper photographers were “get the shot” kind of guys. Even if they loved the music, they were on a press deadline, and only got to hear the beginning of the concert. They did whatever it took to exercise their craft and get something publishable, all within three tunes. If they were really fast, they might even make it back to the club for the last set. But their work set a tone: those photographers generally got a bad rap from musicians and audience.

The First Three Tunes, A True Story 

Miles Davis was on stage  in 1988 for the first Vancouver International Jazz Festival. The press photographer from the Vancouver Sun newspaper dressed in all-white. In this part of his long career, Mr.Davis would often keep his back to the audience, one of the reasons being to mask his pain from sickle-dell anemia. The press photographer stalked Davis left and right up as the trumpeter paced the stage;  occasionally Miles would turn around give the photographer a pose. The photographer would lift his camera, and just before he got the device to his eye, Miles would turn around and walk away. The audience members caught on to the charade, started laughings and soon enough the press photographer disappeared, his time limit up.

Festival photographer Chris Cameron, dressed in black and waiting at the side of the stage at chair-level, watching patiently. With the press photographer gone, Miles walked to side of the stage Chris was on, nodded to him, and in a swift silent movement raised his sunglass gave Mr. Cameron an opportunity. He raised his pre-set Leica, took one frame and brought the camera down. The musician and photographer nodded to each other, the salute of professional recognition. Miles put his shades down and went back to playing. Later the ‘young lion’ Wynton Marsalis full of piss, vinegar, and arrogance stepped onto stage and uninvited started to play his brand of trumpet. Miles the boxer took one look at this nonsense, called the band down, walked over to Marsalis and said “Get the fuck off my stage!” Chris Cameron got the shot that put a brand new festival in a relatively obscure corner of the Americas on the international jazz map.  Proving that “the first three tunes rule” doesn’t have much to do with the bright moments that illuminate jazz history.

The Periphery

Jazz writing and photography always were and still are peripheral to the physical process of music-making. If the written review and photography don’t exist, the music happens anyway. The writing and photography capture the memory of the music or act as promotional devices. Jazz in the popular imagination was once considered primitive, exotic, for entertainment value only. It was burdened by a mythology of stereotypes, some of them patently racist. It was played in smoked-filled clubs, cigarettes hawked by Chesterield Girls, loud chatter and cash registers ringing, love for sale from the lovely perched on a bar stool, her empty glass the signal for a customer to begin the transaction with “Buy you a drink?” If the customer  had a fight inside or outside the club or there might be the prospect of scandal, a press photographer like Weegee could be lurking close by with his Speed Graphic. There is a wonderful film, The Public Eye, with Joe Pesci in the lead who plays a Weegee like character. If you want to hear what working in a club might be like for a musician, try listening to The Thelonious Monk Quartet Misterioso recording with Johnny Griffin, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and Roy Haynes on a Riverside live date at the Five Spot. The crowd noise will tell you that a substantial number of people were not particularly interested in the music.

There were always incisive jazz writers around, especially pioneers like André Hodeir, Charles Delaunay, and Hugues Panassié in France (there is a great story about jazz and the resistance to the Nazi occupation here). But in its beginning most of the jazz writing was embarrassingly amateurish stuff written by appreciators who really didn’t know much except their own enthusiasms. The Thelonious Monk Reader begins with almost illiterate writing about Monk’s music; at least the iconoclast was getting some press. Other stuff was stocking-stuffers There was writing by people who produced the recordings or concerts and then praised the same recordings in the press; today we call that “conflict of interest,” stocking-stuffers to hang over their own fireplace. It was treated as a big deal when the classical musicians would descend into a club to be dazzled by Art Tatum’s two hands doing things that a classically trained pianist thought could only be done with four. The talk of the town music column would concentrate on Stravinsky’s wonderment rather than Tatum’s wizardry.

Perhaps things really began to change with the be-bop revolution. Musicians as serious as Ellington and Gillespie overtly expressed their musical opinions. Nat Hentoff and Martin Williams co-founded The Jazz Review which included essays written by musicians; Whitney Balliett, the master of short-form performance reviews, wrote regularly in the New York Times. There were many other journalists, two of the most incisive of them starting Coda, founded by John Norris with Bill Smith joining  in 1963 out of Toronto Canada. Writers the caliber of Bill Shoemaker (http://pointofdeparture.org), Art Lange, and Kevin Whitehead started writing for the jazz press. Downbeat the oldest surviving jazz magazine became increasingly professionalized with editors who really understood the scope of the music, of whom just one, Paul deBarros, will be mentioned. Mark Miller started a long career of photography, writing books, and as a critic in Canada’s Globe and Mail. Miller and Smith were among a rare breed of “two-way” guys, an old newspaper term for a journalist who both wrote and photographed. (Examining the the European jazz press is a topic by itself).

The Seminal Jazz Photographers

The written materials of the jazz press and the essays on the backs of 33⅓ packaging needed photography to embellish the front side as a selling point. Musicians and producers weren’t about to let some stumblebum into a recording studio, so Francis Wolff of Blue Note Records did it himself, producing some of the most intimate and long-lasting photos at recording sessions. Along came the photographers such as Herman Leonard (1923-2010) and William Claxton (1927–2008). The advance of the single-lens reflex cameras, lens design, faster monochrome films, lab techniques, and creative club lighting allowed the respectful photographers to stop popping flash guns in the clubs.

Leonard and Claxton were mainly big-city USA photographers while Bill Smith of Coda was an outlander operating in Canada (a man Žiga Koritnik has never heard of). Smith’s 1985 book Imagine the Sound No 5 -The Book is long out of print, but in it he makes a salient statement that sums beautifully what the classical jazz art photographers experienced: “Mostly, the main part of the technique has to do with the fact that you are shooting in low light conditions. Just dealing with that detail alone became an art in itself. Unless you use a flash, which mostly seems an intrusion on the music, you have to develop a low light technique.” 

Each jazz photographer had to find a way when the fastest film was pushed to 400, 800, sometimes beyond; a photographer often had to implore the lighting guy to set the spots correctly and with enough intensity. Thus Smith would capture on negative Marcel DuChamp and John Cage playing chess, a young Ray Anderson, an Evan Parker at an age when his beard was black, and a rock of the ages Cecil Taylor. Smith the photographer was also a writer, publisher and musician, and Coda had an influence on the music far beyond its subscription list. Intolerant of amateurish writing or photography, Smith was also something of a talent scout. I’ll cite just one writer, Greg Buium, who got his first jazz article courtesy of Bill Smith. Coda published for 50-something years and is long-gone. Smith well-retired, but he still writes and plays music. A reproduction of a Coda cover from 1963 when a single issue cost 25 cents can be found here.

Leonard and Claxton did what Smith did, taking their cameras straight to the musicians, not only inside the clubs, but outside the clubs and into the studios. Claxton for example did them all, Monk, Miles, Chet Baker, Bill Evans. His photo of Donald Byrd practicing on a NYC subway is a classic. His photos had a sense of human community to them, including children and junkies. He did the art scene in totality, including Lennie Bruce in a wheelchair, Sinatra, Streisand, Redford, Garland, and Dietrich in her dressing room with Claxton and camera in her make-up mirror. He did a with a fascinating spontaneous study in monochrome, Ray Charles sitting next to Marilyn Monroe (the film photographers’ dilemma: how do you get the proper exposure of a black cat and a white cat sitting side-by-side)?

A Tale About Claxton

The majority of Claxton’s art scene work was monochrome; he also photographed with humor and was also a great teacher. I had noticed that a Vancouver newspaper had an advertisement using one of his photos, uncredited. I found a contact address for him and forwarded the information. One day the old black dial phone rang. “Hello, it’s William Claxton. You wrote me a nice letter.” 

He said that his photos were frequently used without credit for advertising, especially the one with Donald Byrd on the NYC subway. He knew the business inside-out and loved three things: jazz, beautiful women (he married a model), and fast cars (he was a staff photographer for a car magazine). “So, I’m very fulfilled because I realized my dreams.” 

Then he told me how he dealt with uncredited photos. “At first I was outraged and let lawyers handle it. But too much money was flowing to lawyers and the process took too long even when I won. So I had to admit some defeat until my sense of humor kicked in. Look, they used my photos because they liked them. So instead of me hiring a lawyer, I would say to an audio company, for example, ’Hey I like the sound of your speakers. My speakers are kind of old, why don’t we settle this thing with a set of your best?’ You should see my stereo rig now!” Then he ended the conversation with, “Are you taking at least one photo every day? It will keep your brain sharp.”

Claxton & Leonard, like all excellent jazz photographers, possessing a quality simple-in-form but exceedingly difficult-to-execute: how does one get though the door to the musicians, to stop time, to capture the musical experience in what the brain senses in four dimension but what ends up on paper or computer screen in two? They loved the music and wanted to hear it. They had the visual and technical chops to make the viewers of the photo feel as if they are actually present and listening during a session, the music vibrating their bones. Photographing artists is an exchange of gifts. The musician had to give herself (remember the gender deficient non-sequitur of the English language) to the musician’s lens just as the photographer had to give her soul to the sound.

Enter Žiga Koritnik: the Portrait of Paul Lovens

Cloud Arrangers: Musical Photo Impressions by Žiga Koritnik comes straight out of the lineage of what the master of the masters, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004) left for us to see, feel, and learn. To confirm that, look at Koritnik’s cover photo of drummer Paul Lovens. It is a portrait in monochrome, a smiling and happy face, serene even. The photo, free of the text on the cover, is on p. 214 next to the equally beautiful photo of Hamid Drake.

Koritnik’s photo is as pure as Lovens’ musical attack. Many comment on Lovens’ attire, always the white shirt and the skinny black tie, maybe one button open at the collar, monochrome. But don’t be fooled by the monochrome as something simple. Even if the human eyes see in color, the grey-tone gradient from no color to the most reflective white entails a different conveyance of emotion, the grey scale sometimes being more convincing than the color scale.

Lovens, baby. At the drum kit he is all intensity of sound, his face rarely lifting from the instrument to view the rest of the world around him; improvisers really don’t need visual queues to know where the music is taking them. With the exception of the massive shoulders and neck bent slightly forward, Lovens is all right angles at the elbows and knees. That posture is particularly relevant for his tightly-arranged kit. His is an economy of motion for a man who makes such a huge sound with so little apparent force. He has mastered that law of physics, f=ma, the accent on ‘a’. A smallish man like Bruce Lee could knock a balanced-stabilized opponent down with his one-inch punch; Lee could do it because of fist acceleration. Lovens just doesn’t need a long distance to swing the drumsticks. The short distance combined with intense acceleration emanating from the strength of the wrists achieves his huge sound.

This portrait of Lovens has a different look than Lovens at the kit. While playing, his eyes are always open but they are not focused on the other musicians. He is typically only seeing what is front of him, the kit if that. Paul Lovens is not about ‘showmanship,’ the kind of visual embellishment found in, just for example, Jo Jones. He is more the Joe Morello type in that regard.

In the cover portrait, Paul Lovens beams with an aura of serenity, eyes closed and huge Buddha smile. He is also surrounded by something of wonder, omni-present in the back-stage dressing room and behind the drum kit. Wrapped around him from cheekbones to clavicles is a pair of falling-apart shoes, soles facing outwards, held in place not by his hands but by the pressure between upper arms and facial cheeks. They are slip-on ankle-high boots, the kind with no laces but with elastic at the ankle, in this case deteriorated barely-grasping elastic. The leather uppers are worn-out, no polishing shine on them whatsoever, split open from the heels. They could be kind you might see in a photo of a starving man who has marched for leagues through freezing rain looking for food and shelter, the uppers and heels losing their structural integrity as the chilled water penetrates the leather and dissolves the threads that the cobbler had so carefully put into place.

But that is not the case. These are the shoes that help Lovens make the astounding music he does make, be it the music of Fats Waller that he does in a band with Ake Takase – Eugene Chadbourne, the Schlippenbach Trio or the Globe Unity Orchestra. Mr. Koritnik’s portrait of Lovens was taken in Skopje, Macedonia in 2009 and the shoes, based on visual evidence, could be the same falling apart pair he wore in Vancouver in 2007. How Lovens the road warrior kept them in wearable shape to grip and guide the bass drum peddle and high hat over the course of two years is something not revealed in Cloud Arrangers. It would even be nice to know when Lovens started breaking these shoes in but Mr. Koritnik offers nothing factual about the photos in his book except to reveal name of the musician and the place-year where they were taken. The interpretation of the photos is up to the viewer, the same as being a listener in a concert hall finding their dream to the sound of music. 

Žiga Koritnik the artist has done something with his portrait of Lovens no one else has envisaged. While others write about the obvious white shirt and black tie, Mr. Koritnik has taken what is not seen on stage, the shoes hidden by the bass drum, and shifted them all middle grey tones to straddle the glowing unflappable face of Paul Lovens. Invisible becomes visible through the magic artistry of the photographer.

There are about 375 pages of photos in this book,  no shortage of formalized portraiture. Mr. Koritnik has captured Anthony Braxton in a slightly side-lit portrait looking-staring straight into the lens, the horizontal lines on his  own bifocal lenses clear, his beautiful Black skin glistening, the  penetrating eyes of this dignified man. Koritnik captured Roscoe Mitchell, his eyes covered with signature round-frame lenses, glasses that give the impression that his music is so searing that the eyes must be covered with welding lenses to prevent arc-flash from melting them. There is Ennio Morricone, looking to the right, his head leaning slightly left on his hand. 

Then there is Steve Lacy from 2001, looking straight into the lens. Lacy is wearing a herringbone jacket, lit slightly from the left, relaxed and happy. A photo of Lacy grinning happily is one of the rarest of public visions of this extraordinary man who normally did not give his aura away except through the music. This one is soul-to-soul moment, Lacy & Koritnik.

Žiga Koritnik can capture these kinds of photos precisely because he has the trust of the musicians. He has this trust because he knows he music, hangs out, and follows the music to where the musicians are and go. That is how a photographer gets gets on train platforms, in the same car, and backstage. If you want to know this for fact, read the accompanying essays by Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, Jöelle Léandre Here is what Joe McPhee says in his essay: “With his mind’s eye, he has the ability, to move faster than the speed of light, to capture moments in time and through his photographs, share those moments with the world.” Wow-wow.

Peter Broetzman’s Chicago Tentet / 10th anniversary

There is another kind of portraiture, informal mode. Mr. Koritnik includes several portraits of Mr. McPhee, who has been known to play a reed instrument and a trumpet at the same time. Some of those portraits have him looking commanding, almost ferocious, as he is sitting in front of an ancient wood door. Another one is in a more modern setting, standing on a Ljubljana train platform in 2007 with an out of focus Peter Brötzmann standing in the background. There are also a couple photos of McPhee, capricious and just plain goofing around with fellow musicians. 

There is a daylight street photo on page 105 of Cloud Arrangers, Birdland New York City 2005 to be exact. Framed on the right and left are two women who appear to be JW or some other proselytizing outfit; the viewer can detect that by their postures seeking out some mark. In the center, in front of the Birdland door, is pianist Kenny Baron eyes wide open, maybe looking for a cab, maybe scouting for a musician who didn’t show up on time for a rehearsal. The photo is grainy and in graininess there is photographic mystery. The grain signifies that the photo was not taken with ISO100 but with high speed film designed for dark conditions. Mr. Koritnik had to be inside the club, the camera loaded for (pre-digital) low light photography. Then he stepped outside and did not have time or ability to change to a daylight film of Kenny Baron on the street. Žiga Koritnik is an improviser and he “got the shot.”

Enter Žiga Koritnik: the Concert Photo

Mastering the art of the concert photo is the signature skill of the jazz photographer and all jazz photographers recognize the concept of the “decisive moment” whether they have studied Henri Cartier-Bresson or not. In a famous  1957 quote from the Washington Post, he said, “Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.” ‘Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever!’”

What the jazz photographer does involves an extra step in the eye’s compositional process Cartier-Bresson described. The jazz photographer also hears the sound coming, and it is the combination of the musicians’ interaction with the instruments that defines the photographic moment. It goes a further step of complication if the photo is to be of multiple musicians on a band-stand. “Getting the shot” is not a simple matter of serendipity anymore than Cecil Taylor’s ability to improvise was solely based on making it up on the spot. There is logic, experience, mystery and quantum entanglement in the process. The artistic need and desire to photograph may come intuitively, but training the eyes and ears to know the exact moment to press the shutter leaving enough lag time to capture the exact moment requires years of cortical neuron training, vision training to recognize motion-foreground-background, and muscle-reflex memory training to recognize and execute the photographic moment. Žiga Koritnik spent years in the television media learning and defining his craft, the result of what neuropsychology defines as “acquired drives.”

It is the concert photo that makes the jazz photographer special. There are multiple sub-specialities of photography. Great street photographers for example need a knack for spontaneity, capturing something unique on the fly. Mr. Koritnik can do that, just look at the opening page on his website. The yellow taxi crossing 3rd Ave. has a sign on the top, “The Show Never Stops.” Center stage is a woman in a sleeveless yellow sweater, head topped with frizzy orange-white hair surrounded by a huge pair of orange sunglasses, one lens clear the other pale blue. The composition could have been a set-up, but in this case I doubt it.  The show never stops in NYC indeed.

The jazz photographer has something in common with the rest of the discipline, but there is a totally different set of skills the jazz photographer needs, the most primordial of which is love for the music.  The jazz photographer also needs certain social skills. He has to be able to please venue managers by not getting in the way of the essential workings of the concert hall, like seamlessly arriving backstage through the security door, not interfering with the stage hands or the sound crew. In North America he has no control over stage lighting, depending on the whim of the lighting guy. Jazz carries myth and a deformed DNA with its history. Some lighting guys think they should change the lighting to set the mood according to how they feel. Some prefer always low light, others throw rock ’n’ roll reds and greens, not knowing that those colors look terrible on skin and fuzz-distort-blur the photo results. Whites and blues are the best for both color and B/W jazz photos. The best jazz photographers get into the concert hall or club even before the sound check to make their requests, but it doesn’t always work and he must adjust himself accordingly.

He has to know the geometry of the concert hall and the delicate skill of making himself practically invisible and inaudible to the audience (shutter click, fidgeting with camera controls, foot placement and leg motion when he gets fatigued from standing too long in one place). Cartier-Bresson wold paint the shiny parts of his Leica black to avoid calling attention to his instrument. As Bill Smith described, these techniques are discovered by experience or passed along by folklore. One night in in a low-decibel concert I heard a little click. Oopsie. In the dark I had accidentally activated the pop-up flash; the good fortune of hearing that little sound from the instrument so close to my ears meant I missed the  moment. Black electrician’s tape to hold the flash-head down forevermore solved that problem.

Like wilderness photographers Ansel Adams or Galen Rowell waiting for the clouds to arrange themselves for the moment, the jazz photographer needs patience. The reward is not just the instantaneous pleasure from knowing she captured the moment. The reward for the patience is also the time to dwell in the music. The jazz photographer, if she has preset the ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and the camera is tripod-mounted may not even need to be eyes-open to ‘get the shot.’ The adept photographer can predict the future to the µ-second. It is called “pre-visualization” in phtographer-speak. In neuropsychology it is ecphoria. The jazz photographer knows the moment is coming, the beholding foretold in the bones of ear and eye memory. 

Mr. Koritnik knew exactly when to apply that final gentle pressure on the shutter button for a photograph of Gerry Hemingway subtly sounding a cymbal with what looks like a knitting needle in his right hand, the sinews of his right forearm bold, his left five fingers appearing over the top of the cymbal for a tapping or damping motion. Hemingway’s face, eyes closed, is in meditation-like concentration in the far field. The visual focus is the interactions of hands with the cymbal in this wonder-provoking composition. 

Consider jazz photography this way: sound and vision enter the brain, through practiced reflexes the photographer regularizes his breathing to obtain maximum lung exhalation, the resulting relaxation dampens camera shake, the brain sends a signal to the finger to activate the shutter. The same way a military sniper operates, but with a different social result. All of this happened as Hemingway’s hands moved into the shapes so delicately captured in the photo. Ecphoria allows the photographer to see ever so slightly into the future. 

These seven years since Mr. Koritnik composed this photo, the concert hall is long empty. Yet looking at that photo, a viewer can “Imagine The Sound.” Perhaps the foregoing description is too exacting, maybe it should be more simply stated in the jazz vernacular: Žiga Koritnik has chops.

There are multitudes of other concert photos. On page 57 there is a fabulous photo of Marcus Miller in signature pork-pie hat. The mode is portrait and the bass guitar cuts the vertical diagonal into two triangles, the stage light on the bass guitar divides his face into light and shadow. That’s good enough to make an excellent concert photo, but Žiga Koritnik caught another Miller signature, the elevated thumb on the right hand about to snap-slap the strings. In another photo Mr. Koritnik tripped the shutter an instant before Tito Puente’s drum stick reached its peak during a Skopje, Macedonia concert. Stop-motion on a drum-stick, to get that the photographer requires not just pre-visualization but also an intimate knowledge of the musician’s sound.

But perhaps the most stunning concert photo is that of Aki Takase, Skopje Macedonia in 2009. The photo is unusual in that it is taken from the bass end of the piano. The photographer can only do that if he is backstage or in the wings. The essence is that Takase has propelled herself off the piano bench with her right leg, left leg looks almost as in the beginning of a kick, both arms swung in back of her as part of the vertical propulsion, her hair akimbo. Photoshop the piano out of the photo and one would take Ms. Takase for a dancer; the kinetics of the photo are not surprising at all given that Aki Takase regularly performs in duo with improvising dancers. Akase + Koritnik = Chops2.

Žiga Koritnik: Himself

February 2017 / Stockholm

Žiga Koritnik himself appears in three places in his book, some mirror reflections in the photographs, in a portrait taken by trombonist Mats Äleklint, and a few paragraphs he wrote. In the portrait, Mr. Koritnik is holding a Fujifilm X70 envisioning a photo. His eyes are focused upward resulting in a deeply furrowed grouping of the forehead muscles, concentration and patience revealingly apparent.  In a less intense moment it is easy to imagine his having a broad smile over discussion about the music over a glass of Slovenia’s Maribor Žametovka wine, a plate of Kraški pršt, and dark bread. 

The X70 is held in portrait mode, tilted slightly upward, parallel with the line of sight of the eyes. The instrument is cupped in both hands, right index finger on the shutter, left vertical finger counterbalancing against the torque that will come when he activates the shutter, forearms braced on the rib cage to add stability. It is a decisive-moment portrait of a decisive-moment photographer.

Mr. Koritnik writes a few paragraphs about himself, one of which is about his love for photography as a youth: “Whenever I held a camera in my hands, I dreamed of how it would work – how would be possible to make, with this box, beautiful pictures like those I was admiring at the time – and how great it would be to have one. My first camera was an East German camera, a CERTO KN35, and I can still smell it, though I later demolished it into pieces, as I was interested in how it looked inside.” 

Imagine that, fixed in memory the smell of the camera! Ecphoria. Perhaps the most important and noble thing he says is his modest description of the essential qualities the jazz photographer needs to create a body of work as impressive as Cloud Arrangers: Musical Photo Impressions. “When you are in the scene with total sincerity and without any special expectations, the scene gives back to you. You just need to be there and prepared. Everything is about the music that we love so much.” With thinking and emotion like this, no wonder he “gets the shot.”

Ordering information: Cloud Arrangers: Musical Photo Impressions

Author’s note: In parallel with writing this essay, I was reading a book by the Hungarian scientist Joseph Knoll (1925-2018). Knoll was a neurochemist, pharmacologist and Nazi concentration camp survivor. In The Brain and Itself, A Neurochemical Concept of Innate and Acquired Drives he explores the role of cortical neurons of the human brain in relation to evolution, science, art, and social development (which includes the most negative retrograde motion). His thinking certainly influenced the writing of this essay. I’m further indebted to Ivo Andrić after spending time reading the novels of this 1961 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

1 comment to Žiga Koritnik’s Cloud Arrangers: Musical Photo Impressions

  • This is Margaret Davis-Grimes, heartbroken and devastated because my beloved husband Henry Grimes has left this life due to a combination of Parkinson’s Disease and Covid-19, the coronavirus. He was 84 years old and had been living in a Harlem nursing home, Northern Manhattan Rehabilitation and Nursing Care.
    Henry was a great double-bassist, violinist, published poet,educator, and illustrator. In the late ’50s and throughout the ’60s, after receiving his music education at the Mastbaum School in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School in New York City, Henry Grimes played acoustic bass with many master jazz musicians of that era, including Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Haynes, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Sunny Murray, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, and McCoy Tyner. Sadly, a trip to the West Coast to work with Jon Hendricks went awry, leaving Henry in downtown Los Angeles at the end of the ’60s with a broken bass he couldn’t pay to repair, so he sold it for a small sum and faded away from the music world.
    In Los Angeles without a bass, a vehicle, or a telephone, he was truly lost. He survived by doing manual labor and redirected his creative powers into writing poetry. Henry was discovered there in 2002 by Marshall Marrotte, a Georgia social worker and fan, was given a rare olive-green Kay bass by fellow bassist / multi-instrumentalist William Parker, and after only a few weeks of ferocious woodshedding, Henry emerged from his little room to begin playing concerts around Los Angeles. He made a triumphant return to New York City in 2003 to play in the Vision Festival. Since then, Henry Grimes has played some 600 concerts (including many festivals), touring in 30 countries throughout North America, Canada, Europe, and Asia, playing and recording with many of this decade’s music heroes, such as Rashied Ali, Marshall Allen, Fred Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Dixon, Dave Douglas, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Roscoe Mitchell, David Murray, Zim Ngqawana, William Parker, Marc Ribot, Wadada Leo Smith, and again, Cecil Taylor. Henry made his professional debut on a second instrument (the violin) at the age of 70, published the first volume of his cosmic poetry, “Signs Along the Road,” and created illustrations to accompany his recent recordings and publications. He has received many honors in recent years, including four Meet the Composer grants, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Vision Festival / Arts for Art, and a grant from the Acadia Foundation. He also held a number of recent residencies and offered workshops and master classes on major campuses, including Berklee College of Music, CalArts, Hamilton College, Mills College, New England Conservatory, the University of Gloucestershire at Cheltenham, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and several more. Henry Grimes can be heard on 85 recordings, including a dozen recent ones, on various labels (Atlantic, Ayler Records, Blue Note, Columbia, ESP-Disk, ILK Music, Impulse!, JazzNewYork Productions, Pi Recordings, Porter Records, Prestige, Riverside, Verve). He had been a permanent resident of New York City since 2003. He was and always will be beloved and revered by fellow musicians, music lovers, bandmates, family, friends, and fans everywhere, for all time. Henry’s archives are presently being set up at the New York Library for the Performing Arts on the Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan (NYC) under curator Jonathan Hiam, and once the quarantines are over and it’s safe to gather once again, everyone will be able to view, see, hear, and appreciate the many brilliant artistic endeavors of Henry Grimes on exhibit there. Thank you.