A Jazz Pictorial, by Brian Foskett

Jazz Pictorial cvr

Subtitled ‘A collection of photographs capturing some of the greats of the Jazz & Blues world’ and with an enthusiastic foreword by critic Dave Gelly, A Jazz Pictorial (1997) is a self-published A4 compilation covering Brian Foskett’s music photography from the early 1960s to mid-1990s.

Cambridge resident Foskett sadly died last year at the early age of 77.  The copy I read is autographed by him, from which I know that for some reason his nickname was Fred.  There is also an autograph by Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, whose photo, labelled ‘Mr Jazz’, graces the cover.  Sweets declares ‘This book is a classic.  It is a must’.  His praise may be exaggerated, but this is definitely a fine collection of photographs.

Having previously been a drummer himself Foskett had a feel for musicians, and he captures them in their exuberance, sometimes at rest but mostly performing.  He was a professional industrial photographer but took music pictures as a hobby, and they had not been widely circulated prior to publication of this book.  It was followed by a sequel in 2005.

A Jazz Pictorial begins with Louis Armstrong, taken in London in 1962 (though there are images from 1961 – for some reason they are not in chronological order) and ends with George Melly in 1993.  In between is a huge range of performers, some well-known, others only to aficionados.

Foskett had clearly maintained his music connections and was able to gain privileged access.  Most of the images were taken in London, but he did travel to other places in England, with forays further afield to Holland and the United States.  He was equally at home with colour and black and white, though the latter predominates.

He sounds as if he was quite a character.  In August 2014 he made the pages of the Daily Mail when a neighbour managed to set fire to his first-floor flat by placing a candle commemorating the start of the First World War on a window ledge, which then set the curtains alight.  Foskett was asleep in the flat below when firefighters smashed down his door:

‘The former jazz drummer said: “I could hear this ‘bang bang’ and I thought ‘hello hello’ and I thought I must be in a bit of difficulty here with burglars.  All of a sudden these firefighters were in my flat with their yellow helmets on and I’m there starkers.  I was freaking out saying ‘what are you doing here?’ and they said I’d better get out. It was a bit of fright.”  He was strapped to a spinal board as a precaution but escaped with minor injuries.’

Why he didn’t make more of his pictures in the thirty years he took them before publishing this book is a mystery.  Gelly says that they were known only to a small circle of friends and few had been published; the book was ‘his long-overdue debut’.  But an agency would surely have been pleased to handle them: Mick Jagger at the Richmond Jazz and Blues Festival in 1964 would probably have funded Foskett’s pension on its own.  He could capture intensity and humour, and both would have made his output very saleable.

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