Jazz and Jam

Gjon Mili, Duke Ellington, piano, 1943

Trained as an engineer and self-taught in photography, Gjon Mili came to the United States in 1923 and became a Life photographer in 1938. In his field Mili was renowned for his pioneering work in strobe photography, but his colleagues and friends famed him for his charm and love for life. His friend Jean Paul Sartre described him as a man “who likes everything: eating, drinking, dancing. Harlem he knows better than any white man; New York he knows better than anyone.”  In 1943 Life Entertainment Editor George Frazier, an ardent jazz fan, asked Mili to open up his studio for a jam session. It became a memorable event. “It was wartime, excited times: the year was 1943. Jazz was in full swing, and what better subject for a story than a gathering of extroverted musicians and a mob of fans. We were to cut recordings to send to the armed forces overseas and shoot a story for Life. And every great in jazzdom who happened to be in town—Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, Jess Stacy, Lee Wiley, Mary Lou Williams, Cozy Cole, and Billie Holiday—turned up.”

(Gjon Mili. Boston: New York Photographic Society, p. 168)


About claartjevandijk

Assistant Curator, Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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