It’s the private, unguarded moments captured by Ed Berger’s camera that make this exhibit groove. There is tenor saxophonist Harold Land sleeping on a bus in Japan in 1983, his sax in its case next to him with his trilby-style hat atop.
There is bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter with saxophonist Benny Waters erupting in spontaneous laughter in the dressing room of the Iridium Jazz Club in 1996. And there is trumpeter Roy Hargrove rehearsing in an empty performance space for the JVC Jazz Festival in 2003 in Newport, R.I.
“Ed Berger, The Jazz Photographs: A Brief Retrospective” formally opens at the Jewish Museum of New Jersey in Newark on Nov. 3 with a performance by saxophonist Mark Gross, NJPAC director of jazz instruction. The opening event is in conjunction with the James Moody Jazz Festival and “Celebrating WBGO 40 Years of Jazz in Newark and Beyond.” NJJN attended a soft opening on Oct. 13.
Berger (1951-2017) had unique access to his subjects because, it seems, musicians trusted him. And Berger had the photography chops to turn access into visual music, capturing the essence of the artist in his lens: the palpable concentration on Carter’s face as he edits music in a rehearsal space at The Cooper Union in 1987; Carter’s glee while riffing with tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips as the pair rehearsed for the Ravinia Festival in 1997; and a joyful Louis Armstrong holding his trumpet at the Music Circus in Lambertville in 1966.
Jazz scholar, record producer, educator, author, and longtime road manager for Carter, Berger was also the longtime associate director of Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies and co-host of WBGO radio station’s “Jazz from the Archives” program from 1979 to 2014. His record label, Evening Star Records, begun with the assistance of Carter, produced two Grammy Award-winning songs, Carter’s “Prelude To A Kiss” and “Harlem Renaissance Suite.”
Jazz historian Jeff Sultanof has written that Berger, who lived in Princeton, always had his camera when he attended a concert or convention. He started photographing jazz musicians in the 1960s and never stopped. He left a collection of over 9,000 photographs, available on Flickr and housed at the Oberlin College Conservatory Library. They include a 2016 performance by Jamale Davis at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown and more than a few performances and conferences on jazz at the Jewish Museum of New Jersey, located at Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Newark.
Both the museum and the synagogue, separate entities, have a long-standing shared interest in the connection between Jews and jazz.
Berger, while Jewish, was not a member of any synagogue, to the best of exhibit co-curator Janice Greenberg’s knowledge. She considered herself a friend of Berger and said, “He was Jewish, but not a religious person.”
The exhibition space, a loft area overlooking the sanctuary, offers a hideaway for the exhibit of 30 photographs. The collection gives viewers a feel for the access Berger had to some of the country’s most celebrated jazz performers. It’s enough to make you want to swing.
The exhibit was curated by Greenberg and Matthew Gosser for the Jewish Museum of New Jersey in collaboration with NJPAC, WBGO Radio Jazz Radio 88.3, Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies, and Congregation Ahavas Sholom.
If you go
What: “Ed Berger, The Jazz Photographs: A Brief Retrospective”
When: Sundays, 1-5 p.m. from Nov. 3, 2019-Jan. 25, 2020
Where: Jewish Museum of New Jersey, Newark
Information: Visit jewishmuseumnj.org or call 973-297-5138
Other events at the Jewish Museum associated with the exhibit:
What: Concert by Bobby Sanabria, GRAMMY nominee
When: Sunday, Nov. 17, 2-4 p.m.
What: Fifth annual jazz collage workshop led by Newark artist
Mansa K. Mussa
When: Sunday, Dec. 8, 2-5 p.m.
Who: Deborah Campana, head librarian at Oberlin Conservatory Library
What: Discussion of jazz photography and The Ed Berger Photo Archive
When: Sunday, Dec. 15, 2-4 p.m.