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: 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