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Celebrating Black History Month: A Look at David Spitzer's Iconic Photograph Collection of Jazz and Blues Artists


Since the early 20th century, Blues and Jazz have emerged from Southern Black culture as two musical genres with shared roots. They spread nationally and internationally in popularity through media such as sound recordings and radio broadcasts, extending beyond mere musical terms. Blues and Jazz play a pivotal role in cultural heritage, Black History Month, and their impact on artistic expression.

David Spitzer, a Miami-based photographer, skillfully captured an impressive collection of black and white photographs featuring Jazz and Blues musicians. These images are not conventional studio portraits. They depict musicians in action, capturing them in their natural element. As Spitzer recalls, "I first became acquainted with the Blues in the 1950s as a teenager growing up in South Florida. Where Ministry Blesses Many (WMBM) radio was a small, local station that played the recordings of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, BB King, Etta James, Ruth Brown, and Bo Diddley among many others."

Many of Spitzer’s Blues and Jazz photographs are part of the National Blues Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture's permanent collections.

Below is a brief selection of photographs of Jazz and Blues musicians captured throughout his career.

Miles Davis, a trumpeter and bandleader from East St. Louis, Illinois, is considered one of the most influential Jazz musicians ever. Known for his haunting ballad performances, he began in the Bebop era with Charlie Parker. His 1970s album played a pivotal role in initiating the Jazz fusion movement.

Born in Arizona, Charles Mingus is recognized as one of Jazz's notable composers and musicians, alongside Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. A robust bass player, Mingus embraced collective improvisation in his various musical groups. Noteworthy among his works are Goodbye Porkpie Hat and Better Git It In Your Soul, reflecting Mingus' deep Blues and Gospel influences.

Koko Taylor, known as "the Queen of Chicago Blues," was a vital force in preserving the tradition of powerful, brassy female Blues vocalists. Her iconic hit Wang Dang Doodle, challenged male dominance in the music scene and won her numerous W.C. Handy Awards, earning her the reputation as the greatest female Blues singer of her time.

Originally from North Carolina, Max Roach played a pivotal role in revolutionizing Jazz drumming during the Bebop era. Departing from the rigid backbeat, he introduced a more fluid and subtly shifting rhythmic pulse, driven by the ride cymbal. Beyond being a master drummer, he co-led a quintet with trumpeter Clifford Brown, contributing to the development of Hard Bop in the early 1950s. Roach was also a notable Civil Rights activist, using his music as a platform for socio-political statements.

Sometimes seen as a comedic counterpart to the intense Charlie Parker in the Bebop era, Dizzy Gillespie's famous cheek-puffing playing style, contributed to one of modern Jazz's most iconic and frequently covered tunes, A Night In Tunisia. Beyond co-creating Bebop with Parker, Gillespie also played a pivotal role in the emergence of Latin Jazz, introducing Afro-Cuban cross-pollinations in the late 1940s.

Carol Fran performs in both English and her native Creole French, a heritage passed down by her parents and grandparents in the bayous of Lafayette, Louisiana. With a career spanning over six decades, her unique voice and piano-playing style have garnered acclaim. In 2012, she was honored with the Slim Harpo Blues Award for Female Legend of the Year.

Emerging in 1956, Pennsylvania-born Jimmy Smith bestowed genuine credibility to the Hammond B3 organ. A captivating showman known for his pyrotechnical fusion of Blues and Gospel elements on stage, Smith redefined the role of the organ in Jazz. He experienced considerable commercial success, particularly at Blue Note in the 1950s and Verve in the 1960s, delivering classic Soul-Jazz albums like The Sermon! and The Cat.

As a drummer, Pittsburgh-born Art Blakey was a polyrhythmic powerhouse. His turbulent, hard-swinging grooves served as the driving force behind the legendary group The Jazz Messengers for 36 years. Blakey played a crucial role in shaping Hard Bop, a robust offshoot of Bebop deeply influenced by Blues and Gospel. This genre found its purest expression in the music of The Jazz Messengers, among their recorded successes are the albums The Freedom Rider and Buhaina's Delight.

Singer Mary Smith McClain, also known as Diamond Teeth Mary, was born in Huntington, West Virgina, in 1902. Over the years, McClain shared the stage with performers such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Big Mama Thornton, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and her half-sister Bessie Smith. Despite her extensive stage career, McClain released her first album at 91 years old, recording If I Can’t Sell It, I’m Gonna Sit Down On It. She continued performing at regional Blues festivals until her death in 2000. McClain was posthumously inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2011.

To view David Spitzer’s entire collection of Jazz and Blues Musicians photographs in the Miami-Dade Public Library System Digital Collections, click here.