Every Picture Tells a Story
Our cover features an image captured by the late, great photographer Bob Willoughby, whose poetic eye still serves as a reminder that there’s a story behind almost every good photo. While everyone’s heard the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words,” experience has taught me that choosing a photo for a magazine cover can also make for quite an interesting story.
Since the early ’80s, we’ve showcased the work of the best photographers in the business, skilled artists like Annie Leibovitz, Matthew Rolston, Eddie Adams, Herman Leonard and William Gottlieb. Our cover subjects have included legends, established jazz and pop stars, and relatively unknown artists, some of whom have since become famous. There are memorable stories behind many of those photos shoots. For example, in 1989, Miles Davis agreed to allow a photographer to come to his house to shoot photos for an upcoming JAZZIZ cover story. When the photographer, Jeff Sedlik, and his crew — assistants, technicians, makeup artist, hairstylist, etc. — arrived at Miles’ Malibu home at the scheduled time, his girlfriend answered the door with the disappointing news that the trumpeter had decided to cancel the session. Eventually Sedlik persuaded Miles to reconsider. In the end, the Prince of Darkness allowed Jeff and his crew to spend the day at his house, photographing. A few days later, I met with Miles to go over the contact sheets and 11” x 17” printouts of my favorites. Though he was partial to one shot in particular, he told me in his raspy voice, “You pick.” Out of respect, I ran his choice on the cover. The shot we ran on the inside still stands as a classic Miles photograph. (I always regretted the decision to allow Miles to choose the cover. I’ve never allowed another artist to do the same.)
One of my favorite artists, who shall remain nameless here, has graced several JAZZIZ covers. And he’s been a headache to deal with every time. First of all, he thinks they’re “his” covers, and he’s never been shy about criticizing the way we’ve handled — or, in his opinion, mishandled — them. During one shoot, he convinced our photographer to send me only his approved, pre-screened choices. Later the photographer told me that she didn’t want to get in the middle of a squabble. For a subsequent cover of the same artist, in an attempt to obviate a potential conflict, we ran an illustration, instead of a photograph, on the cover. That precipitated a series of predictably chastising phone calls and e-mails from nameless’s camp, all of which were a great joy to behold.
Esperanza Spalding expressed her own criticism to me shortly after we ran a photo of her on our cover for the first time, in 2008. She was still largely unknown then. Our photographer, Tom LeGoff, sent me a wealth of photos from the shoot he did with the 23-year-old bassist. For the cover, I decided to go with a close-up shot of Esperanza’s face, her prodigious ’fro tamed by an attractive beige headband. A few months later, Esperanza and I had dinner together when she visited my nightclub in South Florida. The first thing she said when we sat down was that she hated the cover shot, which, if nothing else, struck me as a novel way to begin our conversation. I asked her why she disliked the photo. She said it made her look young and innocent. I asked why she objected to that. The question seemed to make her uncomfortable, and we silently agreed to change the subject.
And so it goes.
In the recently published book, Jazz: Body and Soul, from which this issue’s cover shot of Gerry Mulligan is taken, Bob Willoughby shares one of his passions with us. During Bob’s life, he was best known as a photographer of movie stars, but in the Mulligan photo — and in the other Willoughby shots featured in this issue — he relates to us as a jazz fan. If Bob was still here, I’m sure he could tell rich stories about all of his jazz photos. In his absence, we may not have all of his stories but, fortunately, we have the photos themselves. By appearances, each of them is worth at least a thousand words. —Michael Fagien