Friends, students and lovers of Jazz gather at Lovejoy Library, hear Crenshaw discuss his photography

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of The National Ragtime and Jazz Archive at SIUE, photographer Roscoe Crenshaw presented at Lovejoy Library. Photo courtesy of Wells.

Nestled in the corner of Lovejoy Library were jazz lovers, students and experts in the craft engaging in discussion with photographer, Roscoe Crenshaw.

Crenshaw, a St. Louis photographer of jazz musicians, was invited by Fine Arts Librarian Therese Dickman, and Black Studies Program director Prince Wells, also a music professor. The event, titled, “Jazz in St. Louis: 40 Years of Photographs and Recollections,” was held Nov. 18, and was a way celebrate the 40th anniversary of The National Ragtime and Jazz Archive collection at SIUE.

Dickman said she was grateful to have Crenshaw, who is well-known for his work in the St. Louis area, with seven photographs published in “DownBeat” magazine.

“I think he’s an outstanding photographer and having seen the photographs, he brought roughly 30 framed and others [that] were in glossy sheet protectors.  He was gracious to bring that many,” Dickman said.

Crenshaw said he spent the evening before applying Windex on all the frames of the photographs he was to present.

According to Crenshaw, he was told that black people could not make a living as an artist during the 1950s.

Wells, a colleague and friend of the photographer said Crenshaw is a jazz aficionado and historian; very well-known and respected in many circles.

Roughly 70 people were in attendance.

According to Dickman, attendees ranged from students of jazz to jazz musicians themselves or those who performed with some of the photographed musicians.

“The beauty of the presentation was [Crenshaw] being able to introduce St. Louis jazz music [history] to many students for the first time,” Dickman said.

She added that music professor Rick Haydon, who attended, had performed with some of the musicians portrayed in Crenshaw’s photographs.

According to Wells, Crenshaw has a vast photograph collection of national jazz contemporaries such as of Regina Carter, Lena Horne and James Moody.

Wells said many of them were autographed and during the presentation, Crenshaw discussed his relationships with and history of these people.

According to Dickman, she enjoyed learning about how Crenshaw captured what he said to be his most difficult image to take: that of Horne.

During his presentation he said he waited roughly six hours for Horne to emerge discreetly from her hotel. Recognizing her, he shot a photo of her.

“I think it obviously meant a lot [to] him…,” Dickman said. “People knew who she is–[her being] of international fame and because of her fans–she was hoping to avoid that rush of a crowd.”

Dickman said she also liked learning what Crenshaw looks for as a photographer. For instance, during his presentation, Crenshaw shared how he includes the fingers of jazz pianists because that is what people want to see.

She added that Crenshaw said you must be respectful of your surroundings to get a good shot such as being aware of other equipment in the area.

According to Crenshaw, he had been listening to jazz since the 1960s and got his first decent camera in 1972.

He said he has captured 200,000 images with 60-70% of them of jazz artists while others are of children, animals, traffic cars and so forth.

“Jazz requires you to think,” Crenshaw said. “It is intellectual music: like an abstract art with no boundaries, and spiritual: a feeling you embrace or it embraces you.”

He added that if you know something about the medium, then you know what to expect.

“I’m just a photographer,” Crenshaw said. “But jazz is something I really love, so I do jazz photography.”

Crenshaw added that he has not been in college for 40 years, but is still a student and wants to keep learning, growing and honing his craft.

“I don’t want to think I’ve arrived,” Crenshaw said. “I am still learning every day.”

Crenshaw, 72, teaches jazz history in various community centers In St. Louis. He earned his B.A. in English literature at the Univ. of Missouri, St. Louis, and took a couple courses in photography from Florissant Valley Community College. A lifelong resident of St. Louis, he worked for McDonnell Douglas now The Boeing Company for nearly 30 years at various positions.

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