Mitchell Seidel, American

Mitchell Seidel

For photographer Mitchell Seidel, the most interesting images of jazz musicians aren’t found on stage, but on the sidelines — a backstage dressing room, a table out front — just about anywhere out of the spotlight. Asked why he eschews the performance photograph in favor of his distinctive un-posed environmental portraits, Seidel contends simply, “Anyone can take a picture of someone with a horn in their mouth.” He’s got a point.

Despite the many memorable, often iconic images of jazz musicians in performance, making such photographs is a little Seidel recalls. Immediately smitten, he wrote to his mother and asked her to send negatives of family photos for him to print. His first exposure to jazz came during his high school years at the home of Springfield neighbor Morty Geist, the father of a classmate. Geist, a saxophonist who played with Ray McKinley’s big band, became a renowned teacher of music in the Union, New Jersey school system and was a charter member of the National Association of Jazz Educators (now the IAJE).

New Jersey-bred musicians no less than drummer Danny Gottlieb and trombonist Steve Swell cite Geist as an important early influence, and the young Seidel was first exposed to the riches of jazz music under his neighbor’s experienced tutelage.

As photographer Ed Berger told Jersey Jazz last January, “If you happen to be in the right spot at the right time, almost any idiot can push the button and get something interesting.” Seidel’s photographs seek to offer the viewer something of the person behind the artist’s public persona. And so, for example, we’re shown a barefoot Dexter Gordon at home with his also barefoot son, Benjamin Webster Gordon, in a quiet and window-lit family portrait. Some of Seidel’s images are pure spontaneity — Maxine Sullivan evincing a wide and beaming smile, a somewhat chagrined Mel Torme embraced by a camera-mugging Buddy Rich. Other shots, though unplanned, are meticulously composed, for example, the almost painterly scene of Jimmy Rowser and Arthur Taylor intent on a game of chess, white with a bottle of beer and black, a cup of tea. A particularly intriguing composition shows Joe Pass seated in a Greenwich Village club casting a penetrating gaze at a companion to his right, who is seen in the photograph peripherally in a mirror on his left. The photo displays Pass’s impressive looking left hand, whose talented fingers, relaxing between sets, casually cradle the guitarist’s cigar. Mitchell Seidel was born in Newark and grew up in Springfield, New Jersey. He came under the spell of photography, like so many others, in the warm amber glow of the darkroom, while taking a photography class at summer camp in 1971. “Three wet trays and a water bath,” Seidel recalls.

Immediately smitten, he wrote to his mother and asked her to send negatives of family photos for him to print. His first exposure to jazz came during his high school years at the home of Springfield neighbor Morty Geist, the father of a classmate. Geist, a saxophonist who played with Ray McKinley’s big band, became a renowned teacher of music in the Union, New Jersey school system and was a charter member of the National Association of Jazz Educators (now the IAJE).

New Jersey-bred musicians no less than drummer Danny Gottlieb and trombonist Steve Swell cite Geist as an important early influence, and the young Seidel was first exposed to the riches of jazz music under his neighbor’s experienced tutelage.

Seidel went on to earn a degree in Journalism at New York University. NYU’s Greenwich Village environs provided ample opportunity to hear live jazz by top players, both on campus and in the neighborhood’s many jazz clubs. In short order the young Seidel’s interests converged and he began photographing jazz musicians. After graduating NYU in 1978, he went to work as a reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger, where he now writes about photography and serves as Assistant Photo Editor. Over the years he’s continued to write about jazz and to photograph musicians, accumulating a large collection of album cover and magazine credits. Seidel’s work has appeared in Jazz Times, Jazz Journal International, Swing Journal,Musica Jazz and Down Beat. He also contributes to AllAboutJazz.com. His album credits include Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Joe Chambers, Peter Leitch,Woody Shaw, Art Pepper, Bill Evans, Ralph Moore, Paul Motian and Don Pullen. The photographer has exhibited his work at Sweet Basil, Fat Tuesday’s and other New York jazz clubs, as well as at WBGO radio and at Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz Studies. Photographs by Mitchell Seidel appear frequently in Jersey Jazz, thanks to the generosity of the artist, who is also a long-time NJJS member.

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