Oliver Beener Group #4

Roy DeCarava American

Not on view

What does a photograph sound like? Richly toned and tightly composed, Roy DeCarava’s jazz pictures record the New York music scene “for those who have eyes to hear,” as he put it. He made this photograph of the Oliver Beener band in the mid-1950s, and later planned to include it in the sound i saw, an ambitious jazz photo-book published only posthumously. DeCarava was an ardent jazz fan, and his commercial jobs photographing album covers offered a backstage pass to the city’s clubs and recording studios. While he sensed a kinship between improvisational performance and photography, he often collaborated as much with the audience as the band, listening through his lens.

Here, as the Beener group swings on stage, DeCarava takes it slow, framing a monumental view from behind. He sets up the scene like a Renaissance fresco—almost symmetrical, with musicians statuesquely arranged in the foreground, as the pressed-tin ceiling stretches out into linear infinity overhead. DeCarava was famous for his embrace of shadows, and here casts the musicians in uniform darkness, such that they and their instruments all seem to cohere. A rebuke, perhaps, to the perceived disorder and dissolution of their genre, his photograph isolates an instant of total harmony.

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