Jazz Shadows: A Decade of San Jose Jazz - San Jose Jazz

Jazz Shadows:
A Decade of San Jose Jazz

August 2022 – April 2023
54 images documenting San Jose Jazz performances from 2012 and 2022, displayed at San José City Hall

Jazz Shadows is an exhibition organized by San Jose Jazz at San José City Hall for an indefinite period beginning August 2022. It features 54 photographs by Robert Birnbach taken over a 10-year period between 2012–22.

The images capture intimate moments of performance or repose of dozens of musicians that have appeared in San Jose Jazz’s festivals and other live music events. Robert’s position as official photographer of the 32-year strong San Jose Jazz Summer Fest gave him unfettered access to these artists as they performed on Fest stages and throughout the year at some of San José’s most legendary venues.

Photography, as an artistic medium, captures and arrests life, creating an immutable image. How, then, can it emulate jazz performance, which is constantly evolving and based on an interplay between specific players onstage and between players and an audience? Perhaps in the shadows some clues can be found.

As Robert has said: “jazz is improvised; it happens in the moment. How can I place the viewer back in time so they see that moment like I did—so they can “hear” it despite the image's silence? For me, photography is as much about listening as it is about seeing. Jazz musicians need to be attuned to everything happening in the moment, yet they need to anticipate where to go next. I need to do that too if I am going to capture a moment. I have to listen and pay attention. These photos are the result of the last 10 years of paying attention.”

In those ten years—and since its founding in 1986—SJZ has brought scores of artists with unmistakable international stature to San José for local, regional and national audiences to enjoy. Included here are photographs of Dianne Reeves, who appeared at the second Summer Fest in 1991 and at the 30th anniversary Fest in 2019; NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater, who performed with the San Jose State University Jazz Orchestra at SJZ Winter Fest 2018; MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow Vijay Iyer, captured during SJZ Winter Fest 2013 and Morris Day & The Time, a 2012 Summer Fest favorite.

Other artists were lesser known at the time that San Jose Jazz first engaged them, including Robert Glasper, José James and Keyon Harrold, who first came to SJZ’s attention as a member of the band supporting Common’s headlining Summer Fest performance in 2021.  Also included in the exhibition are exceptionally talented regional artists poised for greater stages, including San Josean Jackie Gage and pianist Javier Santiago, who was awarded an SJZ Jazz Aid Fund grant to create a new work in 2021.

Together, the images provide a tour of many of the venues that have contributed to downtown San Jose’s vibrant live music scene. Many of the pictures were captured at the Summer Fest Main Stage in Plaza de César Chavez, which has played host to the Fest since its inception in 1990 and has inextricably linked the site to music, community and fun for generations of San Joseans. The Hammer Theatre and the short-lived Jade Leaf were the site of several of these performances and we visit the late, great jazz club Cafe Stritch (now Mama Kin), once the epicenter of San Jose’s jazz scene. The newest venue included is the SJZ Break Room a popup performance and recording venue located in San Jose Jazz’s offices at the “gateway” to the SoFA Arts District, a neighborhood with a long tradition of hosting live music spots.

About the Photographer

Robert Birnbach is a widely-respected photographer and has had a reputation for capturing timeless images for over 30 years. His editorial work has been featured in various international publications including Jazz Times, Rolling Stone, Metropolitan Home, Wired, and Details. Robert began photographing jazz as a teenager in New York City.

Jazz Shadows: A Decade of San Jose Jazz is part of the City Hall Exhibitions Program established to provide the temporary display of artwork and artifacts in San José City Hall. The purpose of the program is to enliven the City Hall, to celebrate the creative and diverse community of San José, and to engage the public. A project of the Public Art Program, San José Office of Cultural Affairs.

“For me, photography is as much about listening as it is about seeing.”

–Robert Birnbach


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