Saturday, August 8, 2015

The image of Indianapolis jazz: Mark Sheldon mounts a major exhibition at Indiana Landmarks Center

Mark Sheldon's "3 Bass Hit": Frank Smith, Mingo Jones, Nick Tucker.
The look of jazz has had a century of photographic images to make its musicians nearly as indelible visually as they are in the music itself. Indianapolis is fortunate to have over recent years the sensitivity and technical acumen of Mark Sheldon applied to our jazz musicians.

On Friday night, Sheldon's expansive display, "The Naptown Scene," opened in the Rapp Family Gallery at Indiana Landmarks Center, 1201 Central Ave., where it will remain throughout August. Mostly black-and-white prints, framed and featuring text mainly from David Williams' book "Indianapolis Jazz: The Masters, Legends and Legacy of Indiana Avenue."

Sheldon is equally comfortable pointing his camera at jazz musicians performing and posed. His portraits are effective expressions of musicians in repose. You are invited to study what depth of character can bring out in original music night after night on the bandstand. Or you can simply share in musicians' moments of relaxation. Slide Hampton and Rob Dixon come to mind in the portrait category, effectively caught. Especially involving is a large (how could it be otherwise?) portrait taken at the Chatterbox Jazz Club of three generations of bassists with their instruments: Mingo Jones, Frank Smith, and Nick Tucker.
Guitarist Steve Weakley (left) and trumpeter  Clifford Ratliff,  from the exhibition publicty

Sheldon often shoots his portrait subjects against a deep-red wall in a room to one side of the stage at the Jazz Kitchen. The backdrop comes out thoroughly dark-toned in black-and-white photography, projecting the subject. The facial features, especially the eyes, seem to move forward with special focus toward the viewer.

His playing photos often choose an angle from slightly below, as if the bandstand's elevated position also works best for seeing as well as hearing the musicians. The intensity of engagement between musician and instrument is maximized from such a perspective. Everybody looks awe-inspiring.

One pauses particularly before images of those who are no longer with us. The mysterious sources of Claude Sifferlen's art are suggested in Sheldon's photo of the late pianist at work. The effervescence and zeal to entertain that everyone remembers from Virtue and Aletra Hampton are captured in playing shots of that inimitable team, part of a powerfully communicative family of musicians who adopted Indianapolis as their hometown in the 1930s. The look of the teacher and impresario he reliably was is reflected in a shot of Jack Gilfoy drumming, his spectacles professorially down on his nose.

It's not fair to single out a whole bunch of memorable photos from such a range of high-quality pictures..There are many for sale in several bins, too, and I like the idea of the music-stand display of smaller images in the middle of the room. (Sheldon can be contacted at msheldonf32@earthlink.net.)

The best thing about this exhibition is that it inspires you to go back to the music with renewed vigor and interest. And for that ongoing adventure, Mark Sheldon continues to be the man to count off the visual tempo for us.