Jazz Photographer Jimmy Katz & Giant Step Arts

Jazz Photographer Jimmy Katz & Giant Step Arts

I started Aurelie’s Gallery to champion and support photographers I love.

Case in point, Jimmy Katz.

Jimmy has been photographing the who’s who of the jazz world for the last 30 years. As NPR said, “How you know you’ve made it in jazz: you get your photo taken by Jimmy Katz!”

To further support a music genre he loves, he became a sound engineer and producer and started to record live albums. In 2018 he founded Giant Steps Arts, a non-profit organization focused on innovative music, free of commercial constraints. Donations help finance live performances and to give exposure to talented artists.

During the Covid lock-down, Giant Step organized a series of jazz concerts in Central Park, NY. As clubs were closed, the outdoor performances were a much welcome outlet for both musicians and their audience.

Trumpeter Jason Palmer in Central Park

Titled “Walk with the Wind” and honoring John Lewis (the pioneer congressman and civil rights activist), the performances took place in Seneca Village on the west side of the park.

The location was chosen not only for its acoustic quality but also for its history, which is steeped in the Black experience, much like jazz itself. Founded in 1825, Seneca was a refuge for freed Blacks and newly arrived Irish and German immigrants, far from the racism and xenophobia they encountered elsewhere.

Saxophonist Abraham Burton and drummer Eric McPherson in Central Park

The concerts were such a hit Jimmy decided to record them whenever possible.

The live recordings feature trumpeter Jason Palmer with saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Edward Perez and drummer Johnathan Blake. Saxophonist Abraham Burton and drummer Eric McPherson co-lead another performance, featuring bassist Dezron Douglas. True to its artists-centric mission, the musicians keep the right to the music and sell it directly through their own channels and websites.

In a time of uncertainty and forced isolation, Jimmy Katz was able to create a bubble of conviviality and creativity. The world needs more bubbles like this, don’t you think?

Donate to Giant Step Arts here.

See Jimmy Katz’s jazz portraits here.

Meet the Artist: Kourosh Sotoodeh

Meet the Artist: Kourosh Sotoodeh

Kourosh Sotoodeh had to leave his home country to pursue his photography passion. The road has not always been easy but the journey took him far and is still ongoing!

Originally from Iran, Kourosh studied Industrial Design and Cinema before focusing on photography. He fell in love with the medium while photographing his friends and family. From there he started experimenting and building his portfolio, although his work was limited by the fundamentalist laws ruling over Iranians’ lives.

Kourosh eventually left his home country when it became clear he would never be able to work as a photographer and express himself as an artist in the Islamic Republic. Although there might not have been laws forbidding fashion photography per se, taking photographs of people (and of people of the opposite sex) falls in a grey area and is left to subjective interpretations.

There have been crackdowns on the Iranian creative class over the years. What is permitted one day is not the next day, the rules are unspoken and ever-changing – an impossible situation for any artist to live and function in!

Female model looks a us as she's standing against a wall

Since then Kourosh has made a name for himself in New York and Los Angeles, where he works on both editorial & commercial assignments for fashion and cosmetic clients.

Being a foreigner in the US myself (I’m originally from Paris), I know firsthand how difficult emigrating can be. You are confronted with a new language, culture, and social code. You’re the new kid on the block, with no support or friends. Everything needs to be built from scratch – it’s no easy feat.

Succeeding then is a testament to your talent and hard work (and just enough luck to make it all work!).

Woman dressed in Indigenous dress, standing on a rock in a desert
Woman drapped in a long red fabric, standing in a desert

The images presented here span genres and styles – from hyper glamourous beauty shots to views of a starry sky. They come from both editorial shoots and personal work. I like the mix it creates.

I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s important for photographers to work on personal projects throughout their careers. If you’re only shooting for jobs (even editorial ones), you’re never free – there are always expectations and requests you need to worry about.

Personal projects allow you to truly express yourself. Which can be daunting for some. It’s equivalent to the fear of the white page for a writer!

I titled Kourosh’s exhibit “Moments” as the images presented here are a mix of past and present works, editorial images and personal projects. Aren’t all photographs moments after all?

See Kourosh Sotoodeh’s exhibit here.

Female fashion model seen in profile, dressed in a tight black leather top and shorts
Close-up of a woman's mouth with red lipstick, holding a precious gem between her teeth

Meet the Artists: Kiritin Beyer and Parris Jaru

Meet the Artists: Kiritin Beyer and Parris Jaru

“Reappropriation” is an apt title for this series. Abandoned spaces are reappropriated and turned into private playgrounds, while ancient customs are reinvented.

The photographs are a collaborative effort between Kiritin Beyer, a French & Danish photographer, and Parris Jaru, a Jamaica-born painter.

I met Kiritin a long time ago. When you both work in photography in New York AND are both French, you’re bound to cross paths! We moved in similar circles and worked a few times together. She has a very calm energy about her and you can feel some of it in her work. Her images are powerful but not “loud.”

I particularly love this series. Kiritin had shot an earlier series in an abandoned penal colony in French Guinea (West Africa). The place might have been empty, but she could feel the ghosts of its past.

A mysterious figure in a traditional African costume and mask dancing in a forest
This led her to the idea of “summoning” a character to stand guard in other deserted locations. Working with Parris Jaru and drawing on African, Indigenous and Caribbean rituals, she created costumes and searched for masks. They studied traditional dances and looked for forgotten places.

The resulting images are striking and filled with unanswered questions. A mysterious character inhabits a no man’s land of empty buildings that have been reclaimed by nature. He changes appearances and his face is always hidden by a mask.

We know nothing of him or where he is; he simply stands before us, caught in the middle of rituals and dances he alone knows the meaning of.

I love art that makes you wonder and takes you on a journey…

See “Reappropriation” here.

A mysterious figure in an African costume and mask strikes a pose in an abandoned indoor pool

Meet the Artist: Jazz Photographer Jimmy Katz

Meet the Artist: Jazz Photographer Jimmy Katz

Jimmy Katz is the most prolific and celebrated jazz photographer of the last 30 years.

As NPR stated, “How you know you’ve made it in jazz: you get your photo taken by Jimmy Katz!”

I am incredibly proud to show his work and grateful for his trust and support. We met through Tim, my husband, who worked with Jimmy and his wife Dena on a few of their shoots.

They opened their world to us and invited us to intimate jazz performances. Thanks to them, we got the chance to see some incredible talent and witness jazz’s creativity and mastery.

Jimmy’s love for the music can be felt through his photographs. Since that fateful evening when, as a teen, he went to see Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey at Carnegie Hall, he has loved and breathed jazz. He now has more than 4,000 records and an encyclopedic knowledge of the music and its history.

Arthur Taylor playing on his drums

One of his most cherished memories is when the great Andrew Hill invited him to sit practically under his piano during his last recording session. Hill was dying of cancer but enjoyed the creative energy of the moment.

Art is an act of creation and so, by extension, it is life — never was this truer than on that day.

Over the last 30 years, Jimmy has photographed the who’s who of jazz. He added audio recording and engineering to his arsenal to further his work and connections to the musicians.

Jimmy and Dena have done over 200 magazine covers for Downbeat and Jazz Times alone and have worked on over 580 recording projects for a variety of labels. They have witnessed and captured creative collaborations few others ever get to see or hear.

Portrait of Keith Jarrett at home
Portrait of Ray Charles
Giant Steps Arts, the non-profit he founded in 2018, is his way to give back to the community. Thanks to donations, he’s able to help musicians create personal projects free of artistic compromise or commercial constraint. Unlike with a traditional recording company, the musicians keep ownership of the master tape and are then able to sell their music freely.

The fact that Jimmy knows his subjects so well gives an extra depth to his portraits. They are not just people in front of his camera for him – many are friends and people he has worked with over the years as a music recorder and engineer. He sits next to them while they play and works alongside them to capture improvised moments of musical brilliance.

Jimmy approaches photography like a jazz musician approaches music. There’s a plan, yes, but there’s always room for last-minute changes and for that elusive magic all artists chase after. He brings all his gear to the set and chooses on the spot the ones that work the best for that moment. Like in jazz, things are calculated AND free – a perilous exercise many fail, but one Jimmy excels in.

See Jimmy Katz’s exhibit here.

If you want to support Giant Steps Arts, go here.

Portrait of Ornette Coleman

Meet the Artist: Fashion Photographer Helena Palazzi

Meet the Artist: Fashion Photographer Helena Palazzi

Helena Palazzi’s women are self-confident and in full power of their seduction. Her images celebrate femininity and sophistication and perfectly reflect her own dual nature.

Helena grew up in Sweden, where equality between men and women is valued. I imagine this helped shape her image of women as strong and independent beings [which we are!].

Her early exposure to movies and fashion magazines fueled her with powerful iconography. It was the 80s, a time of big hair and even bigger shoulder pads, when larger-than-life supermodels reigned supreme.

Helena’s interest in art brought her to photography. With a second-hand film camera and a darkroom set up in her family’s garage, she started to experiment, looking to capture fragile moments of beauty.

A woman getting out of the sea
In her early 20s she moved to Italy, her father’s country. There her Scandinavian roots mixed with the Latin world and she embraced Italy’s sophistication and elegance.

You can see Helena’s dual cultures in her work: her women are both strong and seductive, mixing the coolness of the North with the South’s vibrancy.

I love that mix and how beautiful and timeless her images are. The clothes might be right off the runway or from 10 years ago, it doesn’t matter: they are not the focus – the woman is.

Maybe because I also grew up in the supermodels’ area, but Helena’s depiction of women speaks to me. I feel the fashion world (and world at large) can always use more empowering images of women, don’t you?

A woman in fancy lingerie bathing in a milky bath

Helena’s also the nicest person I ever met in the fashion world! We worked a few times together, most notably for Resource Magazine, a photography magazine I had created with a friend.

For one series, we shot in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. We had a model, a small crew, some basic equipment, and LOTS of fake snow!

Things were hectic leading up to the shoot and I hadn’t had time to ask for a permit (!!). We just went and did our thing, all the while praying no one would catch us – thankfully, no one did and the resulting series was a big hit for the magazine!

PS: While the memory makes me smile, I don’t recommend winging it nowadays. Park officials have gotten a lot more diligent and are quick to shut you down if you don’t have the proper authorization and paperwork! Beware!

See Helena Palazzi’s exhibit here.

A woman dancing in a wheat field on a sunny summer day

Meet the Artist: Nature Photographer Andre Baranowski

Meet the Artist: Nature Photographer Andre Baranowski

Nature is the ideal imperfectly perfect subject for Andre Baranowski, and he has been photographing it for almost thirty years.

I’ve worked with Andre a few times on his advertising shoots. I remember a project for a fast-food chain; the sight of the stylist flipping burgers at 8am made me a vegetarian (at least for a little while!).

I love Andre’s work because it combines exactitude and freedom – a rare mix. It’s like working simultaneously both sides of your brain!

While carefully constructed and technically perfect, Andre’s photographs are never stiff or precious.

Going back to our food shoot, the stylist would build elaborate and perfect-looking piles of fries… and Andre would mischievously remove a couple of fries here or there, bringing life into the composition.

As a photographer, he welcomes and embraces the unexpected… even if it means making it happen if needed!

Pond covered with fallen flower petals (vertical format)

Andre has a wealth of knowledge about photography, both technical and artistic. He started in the film days as a printer for Conde Nast, working with celebrated and talented photographers. Examining countless images on contact sheets and negatives shaped his own creative vision and led him to pick up a camera.

While the gardens and parks he captures are man-made and cared for, Andre favors environments that feel wild and free. Once he has planned his image in his head, he has the patience to wait for the ray of sun or soft breeze that will add that extra magic to the photograph.

Standing in nature is akin to a religious experience for Andre, and his photographs beautifully capture these moments of grace.

See Andre Baranowski’s exhibit here.

Shaded and flowery spot in a park
Field of flowers hit by a ray of sunlight