Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Worcester’s Whispering Serenader

By Chet Williamson

He was among America’s first generation of popular singers known as crooners. Along with such American vocal giants as Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, and Gene Austin, Worcester-born vocalist Chester Gaylord sang in this style with a soft fluttering approach that earned him the moniker of the "Whispering Serenader."

Unlike Crosby, Vallee and Austin, history has not accorded Gaylord his due as a legendary singer. However, the fact remains, he was among the most active and recorded artists of the 1920s and ‘30s.

Gaylord was born in Worcester on February 24, 1899. He was a graduate of Worcester Academy, where it was said that he "ached to get into the music business." He studied with with J. Edward Bouvier, director of the Holy Cross College Band.

He entered the military in 1917 just as America entered World War I and played saxophone in the Navy band at Newport. After the war, Gaylord moved to New York City and worked with, among others, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Burt Lowe, Red Nichols, and Paul Whiteman.  

According to his obituary, Gaylord returned to Worcester in 1924 "after being chosen from 500 applicants as chief announcer for WTAG." He was the station's first employee. "I put together the station's programs, did the announcing, played for singers and, and whenever there was an open spot, I played the piano and sang," he once told a Worcester Telegram reporter.

In the August 16, 1998 edition of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, under the headline of “WTAG was City's Chief Broadcast Resource,” local historian Albert B. Southwick wrote: “As the premier radio station of Worcester County, WTAG played a key role in Worcester's life and progress for more than 50 years. The strength of WTAG came from its solid roots in the community. Dol Brissette, one of the chief programmers, began his career as a band leader playing for dances at the Hotel Bancroft's Starlight Roof, and his orchestra was featured on WTAG. One of the early regulars was Chester Gaylord at the piano. He was a longtime favorite, almost the signature hallmark of WTAG."

Gaylord was first committed to wax as a saxophonist and not a vocalist. The early sides were recorded in 1921 by Thomas Edison on cylinders known as “diamond discs.” The tunes documented are “Love’s Old Sweet Song” and “Sweet and Low.” He also recorded for Columbia, Brunswick, Okeh, and Melotone records.

In 1923, playing saxophone, Gaylord recorded the single, “Baby Blue Eyes,” for Okeh with pianist Justin Ring. That same year, Gaylord signed with Columbia and made a raft of vocal records with the company under his own name. They are “Montmartre Rose,” “On My Ukulele,” “Who Takes Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter,” and “There’s One Born Every Minute,”  “Insufficient Sweetie,” “My Sugar,” and “Her Have Gone.”

Other Columbia sessions feature Gaylord singing in a vocal ensemble with Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. He was paired with other popular vocalists of the day, including Bing Crosby, Al Rinker, Austin Young, Jack Fulton, and Harry Barris. Those sides are “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love,” “Evening Star,” “Last Night I Dreamed You Kissed Me,” “Get Out and Under the Moon,” “No More Worryin’,” “I’m in Love Again,” “Fallen Leaf,” “My Blue Heaven,” “The Calinda,” “Shanghai Dream Man,” “Ooh, Maybe It’s You,” “Why Do You Roll Those Eyes at Me,” “It Was the Dawn of Love.” 

According to Wikipedia, Gaylord’s “popularity spread rapidly leading Brunswick Records (the second largest record company in the United States in the 1920s) to offer him an exclusive contract. He became one of the label's most prolific vocalists during the late 1920s.”

Between 1927 and 1931, Gaylord recorded more than 50 sides in New York City. Some of the studio musicians on the dates included many of the top players on the scene, including jazz stalwarts Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, trumpeter Manny Klein, and guitarist Dick McDonough. Topping the list of tunes Gaylord recorded for the label are such classics as “My Baby Just Cares for Me” (Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson), “Blues in the Night” (Johnny Mercer), and “Just You, Just Me” (Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages).

In addition to accompanying himself on the piano on many of the sides, Gaylord is also supported by a collection of bands. He sang with the Joe Rines Band, Jack Denny’s Orchestra, Jacques Renard and His Orchestra, Castlewood Marimba Band, and Red Nichols and His “Strike Up The Band” Orchestra. The Nichols recordings featured among others, the Dorseys, Charlie Teagarden, Glenn Miller, and Gene Krupa. "As a Brunswick recording 'houseman,' he also played saxophone with Dr. Frank Black and Gus Haenschen orchestras, and was once described as a 'saxophone virtuoso," the Telegram noted.

In 1930, Warner Brothers bought out the Brunswick Record company. Wiki notes that a reorganization occurred and Chester Gaylord's contact was one of numerous artists whose deal was not renewed. “Chester Gaylord continued to be popular on radio throughout the early 1930s until the introduction of swing music, in 1935, a type of music that was unsuitable to his style of singing. From 1929 to 1931, he was a featured vocalist on NBC radio on the Top Notchers Coca Cola Radio Program with Leonard Joy and his All String Orchestra.”
The history of the program is documented on the website known as Digital Deli (edited by Steve Ditlea).  On a show that was aired at 10:30 p.m. on November 26, 1930, Gaylord appeared with the playwright Ring Lardner and sang a collection of standards such as “Something to Remember You By,” “Three Little Words,” and “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You.”

The site states that “Coca-Cola made their first entry into Radio network programming in 1930, with 'Coca-Cola Top Notchers,’ a weekly, live (then later for syndication), 30-minute Sports/Variety show, which aired on Wednesday nights over the NBC 'Red' Network from 10:30 to 11:00 pm. Popular New York Herald Tribune sportswriter and commentator Grantland Rice presided over the show for its run.”

Bandleader Leonard Joy was also an arranger for RCA records. He was involved in two of the more historic moments in the annals of jazz. He was an assistant director with Paul Whiteman, who was involved in the 1928 recording of “San” by Bix Beiderbecke. And, on October 11, 1939, Joy was the studio producer for Coleman Hawkins landmark take on “Body and Soul, a recording that the Library of Congress has placed into the National Recording Registry.

Gaylord also appeared on radio with bands led by Ted Fio Rito, Ben Pollack, and Ben Selvin. According to Wiki, Gaylord moved to WBZ in Boston in the late 1940s, and “completed his broadcasting career there. He retired sometime in the mid-1960s.” In a feature article on the history of WBZ Radio, Donna Halper wrote: “November 26, 1946: WBZ’s 25th anniversary celebration features performers from the early days along with current stars. Had you listened back then, you would have heard such popular entertainers as country singer Georgia Mae and her Buckaroos, vocalists like Ray Dorey and Chester Gaylord, and courageous Dotty Myles, who despite having been severely burned in 1942’s Cocoanut Grove fire, was making a musical comeback.”

Harper later added on a WBZ bulletin board the comment: “In the course of my research, I have found all sorts of interesting stuff about Chester Gaylord, the former chief announcer of WTAG in Worcester (their first announcer in fact, way back in 1924 when the station went on the air as WCTS), who was also a prolific recording artist during the golden age of radio and beyond. He made a number of hit records during the 78 rpm era, and sang on NBC as well as on the Yankee Network. 

“According to his obituary (he died in 1984, at the age of 85, and was still performing right up until a few weeks before his death!), he moved to WBZ in the late ‘40s, and finished his  broadcasting career there -- but I do not recall him at WBZ, although I have seen his name in printed materials from the station.”

The Old Timer, Clinton
Though retired from radio, Gaylord remained an entertainer. "One of his favorite playing spots was The Old Timer Restaurant in Clinton," reports the Telegram.
Chester W. Gaylor, the Whispering Serenader, died on July 1, 1984.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: chromatic@charter.net. Also see: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com. Thank you.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A League of Her Own

By Chet Williamson

In her book, Swing Shift: All-Girl Bands of the 1940s, author Sherrie Tucker documents the largely forgotten history of women musicians and their contributions to the big band era. She notes that during WWII, when men were serving overseas, “swing skyrocketed with the onslaught of war.” The book is filled with firsthand accounts of remarkable women playing in all-female jazz and dance bands all across America.

Here in Worcester, one such band was Maxine King and her Starlets, an all-girl territory band that barnstormed throughout New England in nightclubs, dance halls, and ballrooms. At its peak, the group had as many as 13 members and by most accounts could really swing.

King was a gifted pianist and organist who was born in Worcester on October 5, 1922. Her family name was George. Her real name was Sadie Ferris George. There is no known origin of the name change to the more Americanized “King.” The guess is that it was fashioned after one of the Andrew Sisters (Maxine) and the King Sisters. She grew up in a traditional Lebanese home and practiced her faith at St. George Orthodox Church. She first lived at 31 Wall Street, in the same neighborhood of local trumpeter Emil Haddad.

In fact, according to Maxine’s younger sister Delores, Haddad was first taught how to play the trumpet by Michael George, one her older brothers. Emil was 13 when he first started playing.  

Author Elizabeth Boosahda, who is a cousin to the George family, wrote about Maxine and those early days in her landmark book, Arab-American Faces and Voice; The Origins of an Immigrant Community. “Around 1939 and 1940, when she was just out of high school, she had practice sessions with Emil Haddad on the trumpet, Richard Haddad on the saxophone, and her brother Michael on the trumpet at their homes or at an empty store owned by Emil Haddad’s parents. They did gigs together.”

The adcopy for the book reads: Boosahda focuses on the Arab-American community in Worcester, Massachusetts, a major northeastern center for Arab immigration, and Worcester's links to and similarities with Arab-American communities throughout North and South America. Using the voices of Arab immigrants and their families, she explores their entire experience, from emigration at the turn of the twentieth century to the present-day lives of their descendants. This rich documentation sheds light on many aspects of Arab-American life, including the Arab entrepreneurial motivation and success, family life, education, religious and community organizations, and the role of women in initiating immigration and the economic success they achieved.” It was published by University of Texas Press, 2003.

Boosahda also noted that Maxine King’s all-girl orchestra played gigs not only in New England, but all the way into New York, and at military bases. “Her four brothers were in the U.S. military and enjoyed the orchestra’s music.”

Teenager Emil Haddad on trumpet with the Al Gervais Band 
Before taking up the trumpet, Haddad was already an entertainer by the age of 10. He and Al Dahrooge – also a neighbor and cousin of the George family – formed a comedy act and for a period of time appeared every Saturday morning over radio WTAG.

In addition to both being Lebanese, Maxine and Emil were the same age. As teenagers they went to Commerce High School, which at the time had an outstanding music department, boasting two large orchestras and concert bands, choruses, and glee clubs.

Commerce High School Orchestra, 1939

Maxine was the fifth of eight children of Thomas and Sophie George, both originally from Lebanon. “My father got up every morning at 4 o’clock to chant and pray,” says Dolores. “We all sang in church. Maxine was the organist.”

Student walking outside Commerce High on Walnut Street

  The El Morocco, a legendary Lebanese restaurant
owned by the Aboody family,
first opened in 1943 on Wall Street. 

By the 1930s the George family moved to Hamilton Street, where Delores still resides. She says Maxine was earning money for the family by playing music at an early age. “She was a special person. Maxine had perfect pitch. My mother made it a point to see our teachers once a week and one of them said to my mother, ‘Your daughter has musical talent.’ She recommended her getting private tutoring. I still remember her teacher. Her name was Marie Louise Webetts. She was a real Blue Blood American. She lived up near Fairlawn Hospital.  Lessons were $25 a week. That was a lot of money back then.”

Before putting the all-girl band together, Delores says Maxine worked general business musical jobs all over the city. In particular, she recalled her sister playing at Putnam and Thurston’s Restaurant on Norwich Street. She also worked at the Eden Gardens, Hotel Coronado, the Bancoft Hotel, and at one point, Maxine was the house pianist at the Plymouth Theater.

Maxine died on July 17, 2006 and according to her obituary in the Worcester Telegram, she played between showings of movies and newsreels at the Plymouth when she was 12 years-old. “She later played with such well-known groups as Spike Jones, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Horace Heidt and singers: Vic Damone, Dick Haymes, and the Ink Spots.”

“She was invited to join Spike Jones, but my parents said, no because while at home she was required to sleep in her own bed every night,” says Dolores. “I remember she had an agent. She also studied in Boston.”

Maxine (2nd from left) and her Starlets, circa 1945

Unfortunately, very little is known or documented of the all-girl band. In 1945, Telegram entertainment writer James Lee made mention of them in his column, Backstage: “Under the marquee: Maxine and her Starlets, all-girl Worcester orchestra, play a repeat date Sunday at the Merry-Go-Round, Hoosick Falls, NY, nightclub.”

The trumpeter in the group was Jane Krasuki, an accomplished musician who held a “gold card” with Worcester’s Musicians Union Local 143. She was later a member of a trio called the Rhythmettes. 
Delores, who was born in 1939, was little too young to remember the band, but she says, “I have a 78 of the band somewhere. I remember them travelling. They played in western, MA at a place called the Bernardston Inn.”

The March 12th 1949 edition Billboard magazine mentioned Maxine. An item, with the headline of “Organ Jamboree Big at Dolan Skateland” read: “Worcester, Mass, March 5 – An organ jamboree held February 28 at James J. Dolan Skateland here was reported a big success by Mrs. Norman Allen, wife of the Skateland organist. Five organists, including Allen, were featured. Ira Bates, Boston; Joe Nickerson, the Sheraton Hotel, Boston; Ron Harry, Fitchburg, Mass., and Maxine George, Worcester, Mass., appeared on the program. To the skater selling the most tickets to the affair went an album containing an autograph record of each organist. Skating was offered the first half of the evening, with ballroom dancing following. Organ novelties were offered between sessions.”
In 1948, Maxine played a church convention in Grand Rapids, MI and met her future husband Moses Hattem, who owned a prominent dining establishment in that city. She left Worcester in 1950, settling in Grand Rapids where she became a well-known pianist and organist for more than 50 years. She first came to prominence there after performing at Hattem’s Restaurant.

Grand Rapids is comparable to Worcester. A 2010 census counted its population as a city of 188,000 people and is the second to Detroit as the largest city in Michigan. Maxine and Moses had four children. A daughter, Donna still lives in Grand Rapids. “My mother was very talented. She had a great ear. She could play any song in any key. She played in the family restaurant and elsewhere, everywhere, really. And, she taught. She recorded one album. It is called Music by Maxine.”

Downtown Grand Rapids, circa 1950s

At the restaurant Maxine played for many dignitaries, including Betty and Gerald Ford, who were so enamored of the pianist that they invited her to the White House as their guest. According to her Grand Rapids Press obituary, “she was the pianist at the weekly Grand Rapids Lions Club meetings, Cascade Hills Country Club, and many local retirement communities. Maxine was the organist and member of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church.” Aquinas College has established the “Maxine G. Hattem Memorial Music Scholarship” for students pursuing a major in music with a preference in piano and organ.”

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: chromatic@charter.net. Also see: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com. Thank you.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Black Elks on Chandler

By Chet Williamson

The Independent Benevolent Protective Order of the Quinsigamond Elks #173 is best known as the Black Elks. Back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the first Elks Club was on Summer Street. By the 1980s, the order set up shop at 200 Chandler Street on the corner of Bellevue Street. Like its predecessor, the Black Elks held Sunday afternoon jam sessions. The house band was the Soul-Jazz Qt., featuring trumpeter Barney Price, bassist Bunny Price, drummer Reggie Walley and pianist Allan Mueller. Qt., was an abbreviation out of necessity. Sometimes the group was a quartet, other times a quintet.

A pianist in residence with the Thayer Symphony and Chamber Orchestras today, Mueller is also an outstanding jazz pianist in the Oscar Peterson vein. A few years ago he sat down to recall his days at the Elks. The intent of the conversation was to document the club as part of an oral history section of the Jazz Worcester Real Book. Unfortunately, the section didn’t make the cut. Here is our conversation. 

Pianist Allan Mueller
Tell me what you remember about the club? 

It was the same type of thing we were doing at the Hottentotte [A former club on Austin Street]. We played a session. It was a Sunday, like 3 to 7 p.m. The music room was separate from the bar. I remember that the stage was tiny and not very deep. We had to spread across. If you are looking at the stage, Reggie was on the left. I was next to him. Then Bunny. The three of us would be in the back. Then the horns would be out front. Barney really liked being right out there with the people. There was some kind of soundboard and occasionally a deejay would crank something up on the break.

Who were some of the guys who sat in?

Bunny Price, Al Mueller, Barney Price, and Reggie Walley
A lot of guys would come in and you wouldn’t even know their name. They’d say “Hi, I’m Bill.” There were so many. And of course you have all these guys lined up on the side. They would be holding their horns waiting to play. I can remember Bob Simonelli would come in and play. He would get so frustrated because you’d be playing a tune like, “l’ll Remember April” and somebody would be up there blowing and he might be three fourths of the way through the tune and stop playing and walk off.

We’d be in the middle of a tune and this guy would start at the beginning. You’d go nuts trying to figure out where all these guys were. If you were playing “How High the Moon” in G, they’d play in G, but they wouldn’t make any changes. Simbob would look at me. We just decided to keep the form no matter what.

Bob Simonelli
It was loose and relaxed. Reggie would be smoking his pipe and smiling. Everybody was drinking and having a good time. We’d set up, play and have a good time. It was fun. I can remember Teddy Blandin coming in. When I left, one of my students, Jim Heffernan, came in.
Jim Heffernan

What was the audience like at the club?

It wasn’t just a black crowd. It was a good mix of white and black. Everybody was there to hear the old tunes and remember back when there were clubs where you could go out and hear that stuff. There were very few places where you could go once the Hottentotte closed. As those places died out you wound up with discos and deejays. Before you knew it there were not many venues for musicians to play.

Nobody seemed to bother us. I could never remember any instance of any kind of a racial thing going on. When I was there or Nat Simpkins was there it was just a crowd of musicians and a crowd of people that liked music. There was no, I’m black and you are white. No problems. It was a natural situation. We played and people appreciated what you did. Nobody would ever hassle you.
Nat Simpkins
I taught at Clark [University] during that period and so just spreading the word that we were doing jazz on Sundays you’d get a lot of kids coming down sitting-in. I’d have students get up and play a little bit. That’s the name of the game, how you learn to play. Again, you had to be a little careful because the union was strict about people sitting-in. They weren’t supposed to unless that had a union card. They didn’t like the business of sitting-in anyway. We did it anyway.

Charles Ketter
[A partial list of other players to have played the jam include Bruce and Steve Thomas, Bill Vigliotti, Jim Robo, Charles Ketter, Jerry Pelligrini, Bill Ryan, Tommy Herbert, Sonny Benson and Willie Pye.]

Trumpeter Bill Ryan and saxophonist Joe Pisano

Did you ever play at the club when it was on Summer Street?

You are talking about the original Elks, which was way over in the Laurel/Claytonneighborhood. I did a lot of playing over there with Barney and Reggie. This was in the 1960s. I remember going into the place. There was a big old upright piano in there. It was really beat, out of tune, but not ridiculous. The sustain pedal didn’t work. I can remember somebody went out back and found a broom handle. We were able to saw it off and stick it on the piano. We did a lot of stuff like that. We’d take the whole front of the piano off so you could hear it.

Larry Monroe
It was like a session. One time Larry Monroe was with us. He was studying at Berklee. I remember we rolled the piano right out of the club and down the street. Some of the local kids were riding it. We rolled it right onto a basketball court and we played an outdoor thing there. The kids were running and jumping all over the place. It was all-acoustic. Bunny played an old upright bass. There was a saxophone player name Al Pitts. He was great. It was fun to play blues with guys like that. They played the real stuff.

What it was like working with Barney? There’s not much is written about him.

Mueller, Price, Bill Myers, Bobby Gould and Monroe
Barney Price was a super guy. I played with him quite bit. He used to like to open with the theme song from the Burns and Allen TV show, “Love Nest.” That was a tune that he liked to play. He had a great voice. He used to sing a lot of things He actually sang more tunes than Reggie. He knew more tunes.

Mueller, Bunny and Barney
He was great with the crowd. Right off the top of his head he always had all kinds of stories, little anecdotes and stuff. The first concert I did at Clark University, I had Larry Monroe and Barney, Bobby Gould, Bunny Price and myself. It was when I first started to teach at Clark. We did a jazz concert. I remember Barney got on the mike and he said, “What town are we in? Oh, wait a minute this is Worcester.” 

This was a typical Barney thing. He would always keep you laughing. He had a million stories. I think a lot of it was because he worked at the train station helping people with their luggage. He had a lot of personality. We did a lot of jobs together and he was an awful lot of fun to be with. Barney and Howie Jefferson were also a great pair to work with.

I seemed to recall him going from Louis Armstrong hits to modern stuff. Was he flexible like that?

He was open to doing anything. I mean, jazz-rock tunes, he’d get in and play it. Barney was good with the swing and the old time blues. He’d get in and do his thing, whether we were doing a Cannonball Adderley tune, “Walk Tall.”

Elwood "Barney" Price

I had a lot of respect for Barney. He may not have been a schooled musician but the guy was a real musician and somebody that I respected. It was for what he was able to do, his entertaining with the people. It’s certainly something I can’t do. Barney, Howie [Jefferson] and Reggie were the three guys.

You have to hear these guys back in their prime to really appreciate them. The problem is some people hear them when they are old and their chops are starting to go and they say, “What’s the big deal with these players?”

This article was first published in Jazzsphere on April 16, 2008.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: chromatic@charter.net. Also see: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com  Thank you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nine bars with Nubar Alexanian

By Chet Williamson

In the introduction to his book Where Music Comes From, photographer Nubar Alexanian writes: “I’m not sure if you’re born with a musical ear or whether you develop one from your father constantly whistling into it. I can still see myself standing next to our old Magnavox Hi-Fi when I was eight years old.

“My father stood right next to me, keeping the beat with his finger and whistling the notes to Armenian songs. I ended up playing clarinet in an Armenian band with my cousin. I did my first solo gig when I was ten years old playing Armenian music in a night club in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Alexanian was born here in 1950. Continuing with his memories in the book of music he says, “For a first-generation family trying to transmit its culture to their children, music was essential. But I was a second-generation kid growing up in America. One rainy Saturday morning, I walked down Portland Street in Worcester and purchased a copy of Meet the Beatles.

“In my family, this was a dramatic decision, taken with some risk. My father, an engineer, was working a second job, but he came home early that day. He walked over to the Magnavox, took the Beatles off, and made it clear he never wanted to hear that in his house again.”

Alexanian attended Burncoat High School and says he didn't become passionate about photography until college. “In 1968 I entered Boston University. I was assigned three roommates. The four of us shared a three-room suite. The first, the son of a United States ambassador, smoked opium every night and carried on about how people didn’t like him. The second, an orthodox Jew with whom I shared a room, prayed with Tefillin every morning in front of our dorm window and wanted to be an opera star. The third, a tall bearded guy from Chicago named Charlie, mainly stayed alone in his room. The music coming from under that closed door sounded strange and formidable.

“After a few weeks, my hair was well on its way to my shoulders. I'd lie on Charlie’s floor listening to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Pharoah Sanders. I don’t know how many copies of Kind of Blue we went through by the end of our sophomore year, but every note and nuance of that album is engraved in my musical memory. It was a long way from ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘Never on Sunday’ duets with my cousin. Every so often Charlie and I would fly to Chicago on $29 student airfares and go to blues clubs. We’d sneak into the Newport Jazz Festival and sleep in the bushes. Jazz and the chaotic passions on campus during those times were my formative influences.

“But as I grew older, I noticed how much like my father I had become. To this day, before he begins a project, he turns to Armenian music. He always makes sure that music is in his immediate environment. So do I. Certainly our taste is different, but music is an indispensable part of our lives, and one day I found myself wondering why. I was standing in the gospel tent at the New Orleans jazz Festival in 1981 trying to photograph how music made me feel. What was it about Coltrane, Miles and Billie Holiday that I found so extraordinary? What made music such a powerful force?”

In the sixties, Alexanian attended Boston University during the Vietnam War-era. “I needed a way to understand what was going on without committing myself,” he said. “I picked up a camera. A camera lets you get close. You are photographing it. You are not committed. I left college after two years and started to take pictures, full time. I finished my degree at UMass a few years later.”

Today Alexanian is an internationally recognized documentary photographer whose work has appeared in LIFE, The New York Times Magazine, American Heritage, Audubon, GEO, The London Sunday Times, Premiere and others. David Friend, director of photography at LIFE magazine, said this about Alexanian’s work: “I can name only a small handful of photographers now plying their trade who share Nubar's passion (for his craft and his subjects) while at the same time retaining what amounts to an unswerving commitment to ‘pure photojournalism,’ a style of reportage in the finest documentary tradition.”

In addition to publishing a series of books featuring his photographs, Alexanian has presented numerous one-man exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe, and his work is held by museums and private collections worldwide, including Polaroid, the University of Arizona, and the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris. In 1983 he was presented with a Fullbright Fellowship. For more than 25 years, Alexanian travelled to more than 30 countries focusing on long term personal projects. He is the co-founder of the Essex Photographic Workshop in Essex, Massachusetts. These days he directs and shoots films for Bose Corporation. He lives in Gloucester with his wife, Rebecca, and daughter, Abby Rose.

Alexanian’s first music book is Where Music Comes From. It was published in 1996 by Dewi Lewis Publication, Manchester, England. This work, his first major color project, explores what inspires the great musicians of our time, documenting the creative processes of musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Philip Glass, Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon, and others. In 1997 it was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the best and most inspirational books for young adults.

On its website, Bose Corporation wrote about Alexanian's Where Music Comes From, stating: “For five years, he accompanied more than 25 captivating music makers of our time on their travels and in their daily lives. The result is a passionate celebration of the creative souls and spirit behind the harmonies and melodies that sweeten our lives.”

Seiji Ozawa and Wynton Marsalis 

“Alexanian's photographs and interviews take you to Milan where Wynton Marsalis warms up in front of a bathroom mirror before a concert. They lead you to India with Philip Glass, immersing himself in the mystical roots of that ancient civilization, and to South Africa, where Joseph Shabalala absorbs the richness of his Zulu culture. Then they send you on a tour of the United States with Phish.”

Albert Murray 
Here is the publisher's description: “Photographer Nubar Alexanian's Where Music Comes From honors the transcendent nature of music and the gifted human beings inspired to make it. With strong, lyrical color images of the highest quality of reproduction and text derived from Alexanian's ongoing dialogue with his subjects, the book allows viewers to experience music as it is being created.”

Alexanian spent five years working on the project. He traveled around the world shadowing and photographing more than two dozen committed artists. He rode on the tour buses, hung out backstage, attended jam sessions and teaching seminars.

He immersed himself in their world. In the process, he got to know each artist as people as well as performers. As a result, Where Music Comes From is a document that makes manifest the spirit of their music.

Harmonica player Jr. Wells

The book features more than 100 photographs. Other musicians photographed in the book, include Aretha Franklin, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, The Mississippi Mass Choir, Marcus Roberts, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Jr. Wells, among others. The book also includes such gems as a handwritten composition by Marsalis called “Buddy Bolden.”

Art Farmer and Wynton Marsalis
Opposite a photo of Marsalis talking with his bandmates is the quote: “The foundation of both jazz and democracy is dialogue, learning to negotiate your own agenda within the group’s agenda. Jazz is like a good conversation. You have to listen to what others have to say if you’re going to make an intelligent contribution.”

“Ornette Coleman once told me: ‘Every living thing has something inside of it that does not want to die. Find out what this is and play that.'” -- Nubar Alexanian 

The follow-up to Where Music Comes From is JAZZ written by Wynton Marsalis and Alexanian. This, his fourth book, was published by Walker Creek Press in 2002. In its introduction the publishers state: “Jazz is a conversation between word and image, and between Wynton Marsalis, one of jazz’s most charismatic and gifted artists, and his audience. Using inspirational quotes taken from lectures and workshops, which he conducts all over the world, Marsalis’s philosophy is emphatic: jazz cannot exist without communication, truth, respect, self-control and wisdom.

"His appreciation of and reverence for each of these elements, combined with the lyrical images of award-winning photojournalist Nubar Alexanian, make this a compelling and inspirational view of America’s greatest music. For both Marsalis and Alexanian, jazz is a metaphor for the best kind of human interaction, and JAZZ illustrates all this beautifully.”

Music continues to inspire Alexanian’s photographic output, regardless of the focus. He says, “In places like Egypt, people were often entombed with instruments because they believed that music came from another world and having an instrument there would be essential. Humans everywhere have relied on music -- the medium created by the gods -- for dialogue. I understand why they believed this. Some music speaks to me so universally and powerfully, it does indeed seem otherworldly.”

This article was originally published in Jazzsphere.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: chromatic@charter.net. Also see: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com  Thank you.