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 really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • 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.