In 2002, Thorsten Roth’s photo-portfolio of portraits of jazz musicians was accepted by the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
Having worked as a photographer in Paris, France for 12 years and then moving to New York City to ply his trade there, this was indeed a career highlight. For the Smithsonian boasts the best jazz imagery collection in the world.
The portfolio consists of 60 black & white photographs shot in Paris from 1993 to 1999, while the musicians were on tour. The subjects are primarily African Americans based in the U.S. [New Yorkers, for the most part]. Among them are famous personalities like Abbey Lincoln, Hank Jones, Ahmad Jamal, but also “young lions” like Joshua Redman, David Sanchez, Ravi Coltrane, and Roy Hargrove, who are now Jazz royalty.
Since the 1940’s Paris has been a stronghold of American Jazz. Artists such as Miles Davies, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gilespie performed and lived there. In their function as “music ambassadors” they established a global tradition and a cultural link to one of America’s most significant art forms.The musicians portrayed represent this thriving cultural exchange. Their music creates connections that transcend everyday events and political shifts.
They are part of cultural history. Thus, these intimate photographs are vital historical documents.
Thorsten was fortunate to have unlimited access to these wonderful musicians. Initially, he was motivated by curiosity and the opportunity for a creative balance from the fashion- and advertising-industry. Eventually the work grew out of assignments for magazines and agencies. The German Marie-Claire featured some of these photos in 1996; others appeared in publications such as El Pais Semanal, Libération, Figaro, Angeline’s, Hot Jazz, and Jazz Thing, among others.
The photographer became close with many of the musicians, often driving them to some of Paris’s most famous locations to take their picture. The legendary Von Freeman told him once: “I am playing the jazz on my horn, you are playing it with your camera.”
Certainly, jazz’s structural frame, which borrows from classical music and improvisational African roots, informed Thorsten’s photographic style.
These photographs were created during a fascinating constellation and represent a deep soulful, story-telling documentary, a cultural bridge between the USA and the old continent Europe.