Some of the most recognisable and striking images of musicians ever captured were taken by Jim Marshall. The photographer, who used a Leica, got up close and personal with everyone from The Beatles and Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. A book of his photography of the era-defining Newport and Monterey jazz festivals in the 1960s has just been released, featuring never-before-seen images of Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk and many more.
We spoke to fashion designer (and ardent rock 'n' roll fan) John Varvatos and his friend, the renowned music photographer Mick Rock, about their memories of 'the father of music photography', Jim Marshall.
Mick Rock: Jim Marshall was a great photographer because he was there for the whole thing. He was around musicians very early on - he started as a jazz photographer.
John Varvatos: Yeah, he took pictures of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, all of those musicians. He captured a lot of amazing moments and really had an eye for them. From Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan to that famous picture of The Beatles at Shea Stadium where they're walking to or from the stage - the access he had was incredible. Not only did these people grant him access, he was part of the family. Jim just had the trust of these artists that he'd do the right thing and that he'd keep things to himself - he even named one of his books Trust. Just like Mick - he has tens of thousands of images, but he's not going to share them all because some of them are moments between him and the artist. Jim shot on a Leica, which meant he had to get really close to the action [due to the camera's fixed lenses], so he was really in the moment with artists like The Beatles, or when Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin let him ride in the limo with them.
Mick Rock: Jim's attitude was unique and the people he photographed really related to him, I think. Perhaps that's why he got a lot of cool pictures when no one else was around - he was always ahead of the pack. Who else was around that early?
John Varvatos: There was maybe Baron Wolman, Gered Mankowitz…
Mick Rock: But Jim was before all of them, wasn't he? Because of the jazz thing.
John Varvatos: Also, Jim was around in the early 1960s and shot a lot of civil rights pictures - he was in Life magazine and his work around that time is really impressive. The texture he got from shooting with a Leica was really unbelievable.
John Varvatos: Jim was a good friend of ours. He was a real character - kind of a grumpy old guy, but with us it was all love. I was with him the last day he was alive - I have pictures of him in my showroom and he had his Leica around his neck.
Mick Rock: You rarely see me with a camera unless I'm shooting, but Jim always had one with him.
John Varvatos: Jim had a book coming out, and we were doing an event at our store for the launch. The next morning we found out that Jim had passed away in his sleep. So of course we didn't want to do the party for the book, but in the end, everybody convinced each other to do it as a celebration of his life. Jim loved giving the finger - think of the famous image he took of Johnny Cash doing it at his San Quentin Prison performance - so we all said 'Jim', looked up and gave the finger together. There were 150 people in the room, so you know, it was kind of cool…
Jazz Festival by Jim Marshall, with an introduction by President Bill Clinton, is out now in hardcover, published by Reel Art Press. Mick Rock has just released a special edition of his book The Rise of David Bowie, available now and published by Taschen.
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