Back in May, I posted on a Bill Evans Trio rehearsal in Denmark in 1966 that was captured on tape for TV broadcast. In the TV studio that day was Evans on piano; Eddie Gomez on bass; Alex Riel on drums; several cameramen; and a director. There also was a Danish photographer. His name is Jan Persson.
Last week I caught up with Jan to chat about his career, how he happened to be in the studio with Evans that day in '66 and his thoughts on the pianist and photography in general [photo above from the rehearsal tape, with Alex Riel, left, Jan Persson and Bill Evans]...
JazzWax: Where did you grow up?
Jan Persson: I grew up in Copenhagen and lived there most of my life until 20 years ago, when I left for the countryside 40 miles south of the city. I first became interested in photography when I was 12.
JW: Which photographers did you admire most and why?
JP: There were so many great European and American photographers working in the jazz field. Among the ones I admired most were Herman Leonard, Don Hunstein, William Claxton (above), Dennis Stock and others. There also are younger ones I've long admired, like Jimmy Katz.
JW: How did you first become interested in jazz?
JP: In Denmark, at the start of the 1960s, there was a jazz club in virtually every town of a certain size. At one point, there were upward of 80 American jazz musicians living here. [Photo above of Stan Getz performing at Copenhagen's Jazzhus Montmartre]
JW: How did you wind up photographing the Bill Evans rehearsal?
JP: I was working as a freelance photographer for daily newspapers and magazines here. I knew the people at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation—a very active part of the Danish jazzlife—so I didn't have a problem being there.
I think Bill Evans did about six sessions for Danish television over the years. The first was in 1964, with bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Larry Bunker.The second was the one you wrote about, with Eddie Gomez, Danish drummer Alex Riel and Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund. On this occasion, Evans had arrived in Europe without a drummer so he used Alex on a number of his gigs. [Photo above of Bill Evans and Monica Zetterlund in 1966 by Jan Persson]
JW: Did you talk to Evans?
JP: No. I was 23 and a shy young man. At that age you don't disturb a superstar. But I felt he was a very nice person and very dedicated and concentrated on his work. [Photo above of Bill Evans by Jan Persson]
JW: What were you trying to capture about Evans with your camera?
JP: I was trying to capture the atmosphere in the studio.The very concentrated, hard-working and dedicated Bill Evans. [Photo above of Bill Evans by Jan Persson]
JW: Which jazz or rock musicians gave you the most trouble as a subject?
JP: As an interviewer, you know that musicians are rarely the problem. It's all the people surrounding the musicians who make a living from stars who can be difficult.
JW: What’s your favorite portrait and why?
JP: If we are talking about my favorite by other photographers, I'd have to say Herman Leonard's image of Dexter Gordon with all the smoke. There's a lot of jazz feeling there. I look at the image every day because I have a signed copy of it it on my office wall.
If you are asking me which portraits of my own, I'd have to say my images of Miles Davis. The three images (above, from top) are from Copenhagen in 1964, Berlin in 1971 and Aarhus, Denmark in 1987. These three say everything about the man and his music. Through these images, you can see his development from jazz artist to rock musician. And that was quite a transformation. [Photos above of Miles Davis by Jan Persson]