Jazz started for Max with a feeling, a feeling for outsiders, for beats, for bohemia. He tells us "I was in Liverpool at the time of The Beatles and I wanted to feel them too, and Cilla Black, but Jack Kerouac and John Clare listened to jazz so that was where I really wanted to be. For 10 shillings I bought the Modern Jazz Hall of Fame LP, on a cheap label called Allegro, featuring ‘“The Yardbird”, Charlie Chan, The Sparrow, call him what you may’.
It didn’t make much sense to my new ears. My dad had some Fats Waller and Satchmo and I had to repress the thought that this was what I preferred. Be-Bop was the music that revolutionised jazz and I wanted to be in that revolution. When, in April 1966, I went with John Clare and Dave Ryner to hear Ornette Coleman’s plastic sax at The Liverpool Philharmonic I wondered if I’d ever catch up.
But feelings inspire hearing and seeing things anew. I saw black people making ground-breaking art, upending the extraordinary musical form made by the New Orleans underworld and rejected by the white elite. Bebop and then free jazz had sent further tremors through white America. I read James Baldwin’s ‘Another Country’ and Alan Ginzerg’s ‘Howl’ and began to find the outsider I wanted to be.
The more out-of-joint I felt, the easier it was to find my way into the harmonic breaks of jazz. Much later I discovered Max Roach’s Freedom Suite and understood how, as those Be-Bop radicals identified with Civil Rights and Black Power struggles, they created a new sound of defiance. These sounds, those movements, were the future I wanted.
In the late 1980s I tried my hand at making a living from writing and photography. I got nowhere, commercially, with the photos of my heroes who, thanks to Leeds Jazz, suddenly turned up on my city’s stages, but some of my journalism appeared, with a photo attached. Not enough to pay the bills, so I got a job at Leeds Polytechnic instead.
My jazz photos from this period have rarely been seen and it’s thanks to John Clare that Punch Maughan has kindly displayed the selection here. It’s a special pleasure to be interacting in the Found Gallery with John Clare’s art of jazz. His ear has guided mine and his shop and record label, Honest Jon’s, has supplied my most treasured items. Now one of his jazz paintings adorns my home. If there are echoes of his paintings in my photos, I’m happy.
Placing my photos alongside John’s art makes me think of his statement that he paints from his unconscious. Photography is a more literal practice. It largely depends on getting in the right place with a decent camera and finding the light on an exciting person or place.
But photos can reveal something of the relationship between photographer and the subject. Max Roach saw me squatting on the floor as he sat alone on stage with his hi-hat at the Leeds Astoria in October 1989. He looked at me directly and he gave me a series of photos.
More usually, the musicians have no eye on the camera, but they know their audience and, on a good day, they are in communion. Betty Carter, opening Honest Jon’s basement in Portobello Road in October 1988 is, what can I say?, gorgeously communicative. Gill Scott Heron’s wave at the Irish Centre in Leeds in March 1990 is weary, and I think you can see that the communion is weak here; whereas Pharaoh Sanders’ small smile in Manchester in November 1993 is warm, and he seems close with the crowd.
Perhaps there is an unconscious, improvising quartet at work here. The artist, the person in the audience, the photographer, and you, looking at a photo of a jazz gathering — all discordantly joined in our search for the multiple meanings that jazz offers."