What do you get when you take a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and some of Kansas City, Missouri’s most colorful jazz performers? A killer black-and-white, fine art photography exhibit, The Fine Art of Jazz, now at The Ritz Theatre & Museum’s gallery.
For nearly two decades, professional photographer and world traveler Dan White explored the faces and personalities of dozens of musicians working in Missouri’s largest city. The result is 50 portraits of jazz innovators, including Jay McShann, Orville “Piggie” Minor, Eddie Saunders, Rusty Tucker and Pearl Thuston Brown.
White completed the series in 2006, and The Fine Art of Jazz opened as a one-man show at the American Jazz Museum. It’s been traveling the country ever since. In one image, Booker T. Washington sits on a floral sofa, smiling ear-to-ear with his trumpet nearby. In another, Dwight Foster smokes a cigarette while simultaneously playing the saxophone. Then there’s the one of Queen Bey, considered Kansas City’s Ambassador of Jazz, dressed in a larger-than-life feathered boa and tipping down the microphone as she belts out a song.
“I started the jazz series in 1987 as a way of capturing and preserving the legacy that is Kansas City jazz,” White told Folio Weekly in an email after returning from an assignment in China, where he was working on a book for the MIT Sloan School of Management. “I worked on the project for 19 years — shooting when I could fit them in between assignments.”
White, 57, was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. His love for photography started at a young age, when he received a Kodak Instamatic for his ninth birthday. He built his first darkroom when he was 12 years old. While in high school, White worked for The Flint Journal under his mentor, Barry Edmonds. He took that experience to college, where he majored in photojournalism at the University of Missouri.
“I really fell in love with jazz on a trip to New Orleans in 1976. With live Dixieland [music] coming out of every other doorway in the French Quarter, I was hooked,” White says. “When I took a job at The Kansas City Star, I began to learn of Kansas City’s jazz heritage. That’s when I decided that someone needed to capture these musicians for posterity.”