Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jazz by Ed Van Der Elsken

I know I have already made my favorites list for 2007 but I do want to slip one late arrival in under the wire while we still have a couple days left. Jazz by Ed Van Der Elsken, originally published by De Bezige Bij in Amsterdam in 1959, has just been released in a facsimile edition from Karl Lagerfeld’s Edition 7L in Paris. This is one of several books that Edition 7L has created a facsimile edition of and in each case they have done so with beautiful results.

This small book, unassuming from the outside with its 6 ¾ by 7 ¼ inch trim size, reveals itself within the span of just a few pages to be a remarkable document in both photography and book design. Elsken’s small format camera and fast speed film is the perfect combination to catch the spontaneity of what is transpiring both on stage and in the crowd. Within a few frames he shifts our vantage point from passive observers of the musicians to placing us in the shoes and on stage among the players. Jumping from wide shots to extreme close-ups, the strength of the photography is its ability to be as energetic as the music.

The design, also by Elsken, is another achievement in raising the energy level. The page layouts have their own rhythms and structure that are as metaphorically musical as necessary to create a visual accompaniment that expresses the excitement felt while listening to the music. The book starts with the crowd responding to the first notes and the layout progresses in a fairly traditional way until Miles Davis steps to center stage; Elsken makes a double page spread out of a vertical photo and turns Miles sideways so he defies gravity.

Parr and Badger in their citation of this book in Photobook Vol. 1 name William Klein’s New York as a likely influence to the design. I would add that some of Elsken’s page layouts echo the John Hermansader and Reid Miles Blue Note album covers of the late 1950’s with their heavily cropped and contrasty photos of musicians emerging from the darkness. For me, one of the more seductive qualities of the book is how the difference in the coarseness of the film’s grain varies from photo to photo and becomes another element in the design.

Few of the images in Jazz escape with their original Leica proportions intact. Elsken crops the images down to their purest form and mostly for the sake of the book’s design. In one particularly creative page, Elsken splices the faces of Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge onto the same head to form a tenor sax and trumpet playing hybrid. The book ends with a sequence of Sarah Vaughn building to a final never-ending note.

The production work on this facsimile edition was done by Steidl. The original was printed in gravure and with this edition; Steidl has accomplished a beautiful faux-gravure printing that is ever so slightly silvery-blue in tone and deeply rich. The paper choice and tack sharp grain of Elsken’s photos complete the feeling of vintage gravure printing.

The texts by Jan Vrilman, Hugo Claus, Simon Carmiggelt, Friso Endt and Michiel de Ruyter along with a song list of recommended listening appear in their original Dutch. A separate thin-paged booklet of English translations sits in the endpapers.

The regular edition retails for only $30.00 which I find surprising inexpensive considering the fine quality. There is a special edition of 1000 copies also available for $100.00. This special edition is a facsimile made from an original copy of Jazz from Ed Van Der Elsken’s estate where he had written the names of all of the performers in silver ink directly onto the pages.

Buy online at Steidlville

Buy Special Edition online at Steidlville


Glenn Twiggs said...

I really like the layouts shown in your comps. They have a very improvisational feel - quite appropriate for the subject matter. I can almost feel the excitement with which he was cutting up prints and composing pages out of them. It tells me I should walk away from my computer and pick up a pair of scissors instead of a mouse.

I'm also a big fan of jazz album covers of this time and can see his inspiration there. That Blakey cover is fantastic. I love how the images have crooked borders and inconsistent spacing. It reminds me of the image layout in several of the Kunsthaefte books you recently reviewed.

Unknown said...

Hey Jeff, I am piling through all this and adding comments.I was editing the Amsterdam show of Ed's
amsterdam show and book with Anneke Hilhorst who is Ed's widow and she showed me this copy of Jazz with Ed's writing on to identify all the musicians. I was so impressed that I suggested that we show this to Steidl and they do a reprint which is what happened. Please pay the extra to get the hand written version, it is stunning. Ed'd hand writing is really brilliant, like some photographers it is very distinctive indeed. The great thing about this reprint is you get an extra dimension, rather than just a faithful copy of the original.
Jeff, is that a first?
Martin Parr

Anonymous said...


I have never heard of another book that is a "modified" facsimile like that. Great suggestion. Thanks for encouraging them to do it.

Or were you asking if my copy is a first edition? If so, it is not...just the new reprint.

Ed also just showed me a different edition of Jazz (from the 80's?) which has a shitty binding but lots more of Elsken's photos.