Sentimental Moods: The Photographs of Ted Williams

Duke, Miles, Trane, Prez—photographer Ted Williams shot them all. With 100,000 negatives, his newly discovered archive is a jazz lover’s dream.

Ted Williams / Iconic Images
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Shortly before Christmas 2014, while curating an exhibition of classic photography in Los Angeles, I received an e-mail out of the blue, tipping me off to the contents of a storage facility in West Hollywood. Inside, I was told, was a trove of 100,000 negatives chronicling the postwar jazz age from the late 1940s through the 1970s. Within 24 hours, I was sifting through the lost archive of photographer Ted Williams, who passed away in 2010. Williams captured the focus, the energy, and the delight of jazz artists, and he photographed virtually every big name in the business. The giants in the pages that follow are barely a taste. His images were published in major magazines—including Playboy, Ebony, and Life—but he himself remained largely unknown. Born in Texas, Williams shot around the world as a photojournalist but soon found his calling in jazz. One of his champions was Gene Lees, managing editor of DownBeat magazine from 1959 to 1961. “Remarkably, few photographers get good pictures from jazz,” Lees says. Williams, meanwhile, “blends all the elements of jazz into stirring, story-telling pictures.” After more than a year of painstakingly restoring the collection, my company, Iconic Images, in collaboration with ACC Editions, will publish Jazz: The Iconic Images of Ted Williams, an extensive volume of Williams’s extraordinary work. It’s coming out this fall. $75;