Photographer Roy DeCarava, whose black-and-white images of jazz musicians in the 1950s and 1960s seemed to go a step beyond those of his peers by capturing artists' authenticity, poetry and emotional commitment, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 89. [Photo by Sherry Turner DeCarava]
DeCarava's images were always about the subliminal message, the perspective and the irony of everyday life for African Americans. Less interested in glossy me-too portraits of jazz artists, DeCarava was more fascinated by the jazz mood and finding that fleeting moment when feeling trumped thought. In this regard, his images were about the depth hidden within the truth. And his patience always paid off.
Perhaps my favorite quote of DeCarava's appeared, in part, in the New York Times obituary written by Randy Kennedy:
Here are four of my favorite Roy DeCarava jazz photos:
Duke Ellington in 1967, by Roy DeCarava. This is clearly a portrait, but Duke's off-duty smile and twinkle in his left eye speak volumes about the pianist's mischievous side.
Billie Holiday and Hazel Scott at a party in 1957 by Roy DeCarava. A candid, this image expresses beautifully an artist-to-artist moment. What's particularly delightful is you never know whether they are talking in between songs or Holiday is singing while Scott is playing. The result is both confidential and intriguing, leaving you wishing you were there.
Dancers in 1956 by Roy DeCarava. We have no idea what type of music or song was playing when this image was taken. But the sculptured silhouettes tell us the music was hip, funky and exciting. Once again, mood conquers all here.
John Coltrane and Ben Webster in 1960 by Roy DeCarava. In one blurry moment, this photo speaks volumes. Despite their generational and stylistic differences, these tenor-sax giants were united by the same artistic and Civil Rights struggle. We don't know what they're celebrating, but the bond and emotional expression makes perfect sense.
JazzWax clip: In this clip, Mac McAllister put together a collection of Roy DeCarava images...