Duncan Scheidt, 91, has photographed jazz musicians since 1939. Until April 20, a selection of his personal favorites from an over 70-year career will be on display at the Pensacola Museum of Art.
Co-sponsored by PMA and the Jazz Society of Pensacola (JSOP) the exhibit is part of a series of programs for the “Viva Pensacola Jazz!” celebration, marking the 30th anniversary of the Pensacola JazzFest,
Photos from Schiedt’s archives have been reproduced over the years in a variety of publications and mediums, including the epic 2001 10-part PBS series “Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns.”
Capturing artists both on and off stage, Schiedt’s collection of performance and candid photos document some of the most seminal figures in jazz, including Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Wes Montgomery—to name only a few.
Though his photography career began in the 1930s, Schiedt (pronounced ‘sheet’) first exhibited his photos in 1986 at a jazz festival. From there, he chose to let requests for exhibitions and sales of prints to occur with relatively little promotion.
“I don’t aggressively pursue exhibits,” said Scheidt, who prefers word-of-mouth networking over marketing campaigns to promote his work, the quality and importance of which speaks for itself. By attending festivals and setting up occasional exhibits at jazz events, invitations for gallery shows developed.
As part of his personal and low-key exhibition style, Schiedt typically drives his photos to the exhibition venues in his station wagon. The photos arrive mounted and framed, ready to install.
Scheidt hand selected the photos currently on exhibit, which he regards as “his number one set.” Many of the photos are also featured in Schiedt’s 2004 book “Jazz in Black and White,” featuring images along with anecdotes about the subject musicians, many of whom have become icons in part through images such as Schiedt’s.
Looking at his collection in the early 2000s, Schiedt decided to visit the Indiana University Press to develop an inclusive volume of his images.
“I’m particularly proud of how it was put together, the art and design. The reproductions were flawless,” said Schiedt, who worked with the press to assure the highest quality of reproduction of his photos, all of which he originally developed himself.
In addition to “Jazz in Black and White,” Schiedt has authored three other books that focus on musicians and/or jazz history, including a biography of pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller and a history of jazz in Indiana, where Schiedt has lived since 1951.
Aside from being a jazz historian, Schiedt is a pianist himself, and recently showed off his skills at his PMA exhibit’s opening on March 7.
Surprisingly, in decades of photography, Schiedt says he has never taken a color photograph of a jazz musician. “The addition of color in jazz photos weakens the idea,” he said, of an art form he believes is best represented by the drama and contrast inherent in black and white photography. His passion for that form of processing inspired the title of his most recent book, and of the exhibit.
Born in 1921, Schiedt fell in love with jazz and photography in close succession in the mid-to-late-1930s. In 1939, a Benny Goodman concert in New York City marked the convergence of the two passions, and set Schiedt on a path he has stayed on for over 70 years.
In 1989, the Jazz Society of Pensacola held the first of three Jazz Parties, which were essentially conferences featuring numerous musicians and speakers. Scheidt attended and exhibited photos at that inaugural event, and struck up a relationship with Dr. Norman Vickers, who would occasionally see Schiedt at jazz events across the U.S. in the following years.
When looking for venues to partner with for the “Viva Pensacola Jazz!” events, current JSOP President Crystal Joy Albert said PMA was a natural fit. Having been several years since JSOP sponsored a photography exhibit, the time seemed ripe to bring such a display back to Pensacola.
Vickers, a co-founder of JSOP and President Emeritus, e-mailed Schiedt to ask whether his photos would be available for display, and they were. The PMA exhibit, Schiedt’s second showing in Pensacola, took shape from there.
Having traveled to Pensacola over two days to deliver the prints and participate in the exhibit installation and opening, Schiedt will personally return to take the photos back to Indiana.
Though not hunting down photo ops the way he used to, Schiedt still snaps shots when inspiration strikes. Said the photographer, “I’m 91, but I’m still working at it.”
JAZZ IN BLACK AND WHITE
WHAT: Jazz Photography of Duncan Schiedt
WHEN: Exhibit open through April 20; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday; 12 to 5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
COST: Free for members and children under 5; $2 for students (with ID) and active duty military; $5 for adults