Jazz had a foothold in Rochester in the hip 1950s, so much so that Paul Hoeffler could make a niche for himself as a young photographer fascinated with jazz and the people who toured the country and entertained here.
He tagged along inconspicuously and photographed those who were-or would become-masters of that musical era. A new exhibition at the University of Rochester, "Mid-Century Jazz in Rochester, 1955-1962: Photographic Prints from the Paul Hoeffler Archive," brings together classic portraits and never-seen shots of artists at rehearsals, with admiring fans, on stage, and in quiet moments of thinking and composing music.
Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Sonny Rollins numbered among the musicians and vocalists Hoeffler photographed. At the Pythodd Club, Ridgecrest Inn, Eastman Theatre, and the Rochester Roller Rink, Hoeffler documented them and their ubiquitous instruments. His black-and-white photographs captured them at public performances, in hotel rooms, and outside clubs taking breaks between sets.
Hoeffler also sized up the audiences. In the exhibition, dancers swirl across the floor, some just a blur. They jitterbug or strut in dance halls with chairs lined up on the perimeter for those still to come. In the crowd shots, people wait with their heavy coats thrown open, revealing clothes appropriately formal for that time. Up close, Hoeffler recorded a range of expressions-some intense, stoic or bursting with excitement.
In the introduction to the exhibit, the photographs are described "as a collective portrait of Rochester jazz history that had begun to fade in memory, but has now been brought back into sharp focus." Almost 100 photographs from the collection recently acquired by the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections are on display.
Hoeffler was studying photography when he took a professor's advice and used musicians at Rochester jazz clubs as subjects for his assignments. Carmen McRae, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, and a young bassist named Ron Carter, among others, were sources of endless visual possibilities. Carter, then a student at the Eastman School of Music, was the subject of Hoeffler's senior thesis, and is now an international jazz icon.
Producer Ken Burns featured Hoeffler's photographs throughout the 2001 television documentary, "Jazz," and Burns called him "one of the truly great jazz photographers, a real treasure."
The imprint of jazz and its people stuck with Hoeffler. After earning a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography at Rochester Institute of Technology in 1959, he started a custom printing service in New York City and worked as a freelance photographer. Then he opened his own studio for advertising and editorial jobs. In 1971 he moved to Toronto, where he still works, to document the music scene. Much of his career has revolved around entertainers and the record/CD industry.
The exhibition has been extended through Friday, May 30, in the Hilfiker Gallery and the Seward Room in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in Rush Rhees Library on the River Campus. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday; and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Beginning Monday, May 12, the hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more information on the exhibit, contact (585) 275-4477.