Berlin Jews and Jazz

The German Roots of Blue Note

By A.J. Goldmann

Published December 01, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Celebrations for the 70th birthday of legendary jazz label Blue Note Records are taking place at an unlikely venue.

The Jewish Museum Berlin is tooting its horn with an exhibition of photographs by two of Blue Note’s Jewish photographers, Francis Wolff and Jimmy Katz. Wolff, a Berlin native, helped found the label in 1939, along with his childhood friend, Alfred Lion (a fellow Berliner). It is Lion’s famous mantra, “It must schwing,” that lends the exhibit its name.

On the eve of World War II, Lion and Wolff (too bad they didn’t start a deli!) set up shop in New York. Lion, for whom jazz had been a lifelong passion, was known for taking chances on new artists as the label’s focus shifted over the years, from boogie-woogie to bebop to hard bop. He funded not only the recording sessions, but musicians’ rehearsal time as well.

  • Image 1
  • Image 2
  • Image 3
  • Image 4
  • Image 5
  • Image 6
  • Image 7
  • Image 8


Wolff, a fellow jazz aficionado who was trained as a photographer in Berlin, would snoop around the studio and document the sessions in expressive black and white. His photos are among the most iconic of jazz images. They epitomize cool.

These candid shots often wound up on album jackets, setting a trend for the whole industry.

The show includes Wolff’s photos of John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and numerous other jazz greats. Wolff died in 1971. Katz, the other artist in the exhibit, has been Blue Note’s photographer since 1993. The label’s more recent history is seen through his work.

One of the perks of having an exhibition based on a legendary record label is the music available to visitors. At the gallery, the audio guides that lead you through the label’s musical development, feature music by the jazz greats in the photographs.

Visitors to the exhibit until December 27 should also check out the Jewish Museum’s Hanukkah Market in the Glashof (Glass Courtyard), designed by Daniel Liebeskind. Conceived of as an alternative to the myriad Christmas Markets that light up Berlin this time of year, the Jewish Museum’s version features an assortment of Hanukkah artwork and kitsch and edibles as well as a kosher variety of the German Christmastime staple Glühwein (a particularly sweet, spicy and strong mulled wine).

“It Must Schwing!” Blue Note — Photography by Francis Wolff and Jimmy Katz. On view at the Jewish Museum Berlin through February 7, 2010.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.