Artist Profiles

Baltimore Jazz Photographer Jeffrey Kliman Honored by University of Pittsburgh

Baltimore-based jazz photographer Jeffrey Kliman says he is “aglow” and “a happy camper.” That’s because in October, University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library celebrated its newly purchased archive of Kliman’s work — over 52,000 negatives, 3,000 slides, 2,300 prints and proofs, and 1,000 contact sheets — primarily black and white images of jazz musicians, taken from 1986 to 2014. Kliman’s images and memorabilia now join University of Pittsburgh’s other archives — those of jazz greats Erroll Garner and Sam Rivers; pianist and musical director of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Joe Negri; playwright August Wilson; and scientist Jonas  Salk. As part of the festivities, the Hillman Library dedicated two kiosks of Kliman’s memorabilia, including a photo of the photographer with his mentor, Herman Leonard, report cards, press passes and his Texas license plate from the early ‘80s — JAZZZ. Kliman was also interviewed for the archive,  the university’s jazz radio station, and the student newspaper.

Kliman spoke to three of the university’s jazz history classes, composed of non-music majors. His presentation included “bright moments” (e.g. “Kennedy Center, sitting mesmerized, on the floor, listening quietly, as Chucho Valdez warms up for 30 minutes. OMG. OMG.”); favorites (ballad medley: Jackie McLean’s “A Long Drink of the Blues,” “Embraceable You,” “I Cover the Waterfront,” “These Foolish Things”; singers: Billie, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Mark Murphy, Kurt Elling); best jazz fest ever (New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival); encounters with the greats (Miles, Mingus, Wynton Marsalis). Kliman’s only disappointment with the events at the university was that the students didn’t ask questions or respond to much of his jazz-related humor or jazz-inflected patois. “They only understand what’s on a screen. They don’t look you in the eye,” says the self-described “81 year old elder hipster”.

The Boston-area native says, “My life has been dictated by serendipity and circumstance.” When asked how he ended up in Baltimore in 1986, he answers, “chasing this blonde hairdresser.” That same year, he experienced an epiphany, realizing that he could combine his love of jazz with his experience in photography into a career, with side trips, as needed, into commercial work such as weddings.

If you were a jazz musician in Baltimore from 1986 to 2014, you may have had your photo taken by Kliman.  If you were a fan, you may have seen him photographing Baltimore Chamber Jazz Society or Jazz in Cool Places concerts. In fact, Kliman’s photos of musicians and venues comprised the entire Jazz in Cool Places 2001 calendar. But much of Kliman’s work was behind the scenes. In an autobiographical profile, Kliman wrote, “I always request access to the rehearsal/sound check times because, for me, this is a special place, the gateway to a very intimate kind of picture taking. This is what interests me as a photographer: passion for the music played by passionate people and the intimacy of the process of making  this music.”

 Kliman’s jazz photography career was by no means limited to Baltimore. He had been introduced by a friend to noted jazz photographer Herman Leonard, stayed with and photographed with him in New Orleans. This led to a 1996 show in D.C. — Herman Leonard/Jeffrey Kliman: “Photography You Can Hear,” presented by District Curators and Govinda Gallery. “That did it,” says Kliman, referring to his next big career boost. He was then asked to photograph all the jazz programming at the Kennedy Center, including Dr. Billy Taylor’s show for National Public Radio, the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz festival, and Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead residency programs. “I feel like I too had graduated from the University of Betty Carter,” says Kliman. The Kennedy Center gig lasted eight years.

 Many of Kliman’s photos were published by Jazz Times and DownBeat, and he covered four Jazz Times conventions. Four record labels —  Muse, Mapleshade, Milestone, and Evidence — used his photography for CD album covers. Just recently I was playing Rumba Club’s 2001 CD on Palmetto Records, Radio Mundo, and noticed that the insert was filled with photos by Kliman. He also did publicity portraits for Gary Bartz, Cyrus Chestnut and many others.

 Unable to continue meeting the physical demands of photography, Kliman retired in 2014. But his love of jazz is unrestrained. Prior to COVID he even organized two jazz shows in his senior citizen apartment building in Hampden.  Kudos to Jeffrey Kliman and thanks to University of Pittsburgh for recognizing his contribution to an essential piece of American culture. 

–By Bob Jacobson

Bob Jacobson plays saxophone and clarinet and leads combos “Sounds Good” and “Swing ‘n’ Samba.” He has written numerous articles for the BJA newsletter. He is a mostly retired social worker who still dabbles in counseling, freelance writing, teaching, and writing about music.  He was vice president of BJA for 12 years.

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