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Hugged by a Million Stars

Hugged by a Million Stars

"His photographs are like a kaleidoscope of my life. They are so personal, looking at musicians in a human way, that many photographers don't, as they do it for the image and not the person" - Michael Connarty, formerly Chairman of the Parliamentary Jazz Awards

Sinclair David (Claire Martin) 55788 Royal Albert Hall 18.11.15

Mari Wilson & Claire Martin with David at the Royal Albert Hall 2015 

So many musicians, journalists, jazz buffs and collectors at last winter’s Royal Albert Hall Exhibition, said that David’s work needs more exposure. But how?

Sinclair David 55770 Royal Albert Hall 18.11.15

Julian Joseph and other visitors to the Royal Albert Hall Exhibition in November 2015

Those that have known him for years will be aware that self-publicity is rarely his style. He turns up at a club, having parked in the nearest blue badge disabled bay, puts his walking sticks aside, takes a few shots, then goes home. It was forever thus. Even this week at Ronnies catching up with old friends from the Average White Band, on one of his rare visits to the Club since a bad car accident, he was again away early.

Our question now is what to do next to promote work that was described last year as “unbelievable photography” and “absolutely inspirational” and “a wonderful legacy” and “you are the best, stunning, emotional, brought back many memories” and, well, every other superlative imaginable?


“If you are trying to be a jazz venue, as long as there are some Sinclairs on the wall then it is a sign of authenticity that you have made it in the jazz world”Simon Cooke, Managing Director, Ronnie Scotts


JONES Elvin 18

Elvin Jones, one of David’s 85+ photographs up on the walls of Ronnie Scott’s

Most of the photographs covering the walls of Ronnie Scott’s, Pizza Express Jazz and the 606 are David’s. They are likely to be, for years to come, a semi-permanent way of displaying some of his most iconic shots. But they are only about 150 out of more than 50,000 images in his 27 year archive.

As well as in London Clubs, over the last 18 months we have displayed David’s pictures in a number of different venues: in Paris in an exhibition alongside Charles Delaunay drawings for the 80th anniversary of Jazz Hot; in London at the Royal Albert Hall and in Bristol at the Colston Hall at those cities’ respective main Jazz Festivals; and in smaller arty venues such as the Arts Lodge Cafe in Portsmouth, or Bar Chocolat in Bristol.

HARRY "Sweets" EDISON, at Pizza Express, 21-10-96.

Harry Sweets Edison, one of around 50 of David’s images on the walls at Pizza Express Jazz Soho

The feedback from all of these displays, particularly the larger exhibitions, has really taken us aback. What visitors to David’s exhibitions remarked, time and time again, was how he has been able, year after year, since 1989, to find the one shot in a show that is as personally evocative as the music he seeks to represent.

This copyright photograph may be used for PR use only, it can not be used for CD, DVD, Video, Record, Cassette, Poster or any other purpose without specific written permission from the copyright owner, David Sinclair.

Mike Stern, one of David’s images displayed at the 606 Club

The fact that he started this when clubs were poorer lit and smokier than they are now, using for many years 35mm film and then early digital equipment, and did so restricted by his severe physical disabilities, has for many, including scores of musicians and vocalists, made David stand out. Of course, open all hours access to Ronnie Scott’s and almost every other London Club since the 1990s has helped too.


Collectors, including many of the musicians David has photographed, have for years put his images up on their own walls at home or work. Many of the hundreds of visitors to the Royal Albert Hall show wanted us to do more to share his photography with a wider public. Our question now is how? If you came to the show, or know David, or visit these clubs, or just like good photography, please get in touch if you have any ideas:  @ or use the form at the bottom of this post – As David’s son, I do not want Dad’s work to be like the American photographer Vivian Maier, only really discovered years after her death.

WYNTON MARSALIS. Jazz Cafe, 31/7/03.

Wynton Marsalis, one of the most popular of the pictures displayed in Paris in 2015  

Madeline Bell

Madeline Bell, admired by many of the visitors to the Royal Albert Hall, including Madeline herself


One of the last visitors to the Royal Albert Hall wrote in the Visitors Book that it had been “like being hugged by a million stars.” If you have any ideas on how to keep these stars shining bright, do send them through.

“One of the rare photographers who gets to the essence of the music. When you see David’s images you feel that you are part of the music that the artist is performing”John Cumming, Director of Serious & EFG London Jazz Festival


Our thanks go to those who supported recent exhibitions and displays: Ronnie Scott’s, Serious & the EFG London Jazz Festival, Pizza Express Jazz Soho, the 606 Club, the Royal Albert Hall, Bar Chocolat in Bristol, Jazz Hot & Fondaction Boris Vian in Paris, the Arts Lodge in Portsmouth, the Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival. Thanks also to photographer Brian O’Connor for recording images at the Royal Albert Hall.RAH Info Board 11 pdf 1 '16

RAH Info Board 2 pdf 1 '16

Two of many supporting displays about David’s work at the Royal Albert Hall 

Black and White Jazz Photography

Black and White Jazz Photography

The “25 Years of Jazz Photography David Sinclair Exhibition” starts at the Royal Albert Hall on 14 November 2015.  Although many of the more recent images on show were shot in colour, due to media requirements over the last few years when David was providing pictures for the national press, his preferred medium has always been black and white photographs. This harks back to his early years of 35mm cameras in the darkly lit jazz clubs of Soho, and South West London. 


Don Weller

Black and White Style
Many admirers of his work over the years have remarked on David’s signature, often grainy, black and white style, particularly from his older, film, images. Several of these are on the wall at the Exhibition (other images are shown here so as to not preview the show in advance).


BENNY GOLSON. at RONNIE SCOTT,s, with 'ROOTS'. 4/96. © David Sinclair. 01883-345790.

Benny Golson

Photographers like David, who started with 35mm film cameras, had to shoot more by instinct to reflect a single moment. Doing this in dark, often smoky clubs, he learned to use any available light. Then it was up to development in the darkroom to bring out the images.


FAME Georgie 5

Georgie Fame


Working with Musicians
To quote one well known musician and subject of David’s photography at the Royal Albert Hall Exhibition this month:
“Most photographers these days seem to be there for ages taking hundreds of shots with their digital equipment and massive lenses, in the hope of capturing one decent image by chance. David is different. He comes in, works out where he wants to be, takes three or four shots which capture the moment, and then he is gone, or just comes and talks with us. He is the musicians’ photographer.” (Danny Thompson).



Joanna MacGregor

Digital Photography
Often, David uses shades, reflections and even smoke to provide contrasts in his images, and he has continued this into digital photography. Black and white jazz photography remains his preferred medium to record the music he loves, and shine light on the friends he has got to know through his work.


ANDY SHEPPARD. at Ronnie Scott's, 16/2/98.

Andy Sheppard

Light and Shadow
Of all his photographs, the one that best shows his use of light and shadow is his popular film image of Andy Sheppard, taken in Ronnie Scott’s. At first sight this is an image of simple black and white contrasts, but on closer examination there is tremendous detail on Andy’s hands holding his sax, as well as of the instrument itself. This is not the detail of every facial line and wrinkle which today’s multi-million pixel photographers show so well in black and white, but a simpler contrast which makes the musician stand out rather than the photograph. That is David’s unique style.




Lou Donaldson

That’s Jazz Folks
Around two thirds of the photographs on display at the Royal Albert Hall this month are black and white. Of the images shown here, only the Andy Sheppard one is in the Exhibition, but around a third of the images at the Royal Albert Hall are from the 35mm era. David is hardly the first photographer to be heard saying “I wish I could just go back to using my old Leica” and maybe he will in the future. There is something to be said for the shadow and darkness of old photography, just as of jazz itself.


The Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall Exhibition runs from 14-29 November, with Open Days on 14/15/20/21/22/28 November. Admissions free. All framed photographs are on sale for £185. A list of the 5,500 artists photographed by David is on this website in the Archive section, and all these photographs are also available for purchase.
Pictures at an Exhibition

Pictures at an Exhibition

A reflection on choosing the photographs for next month’s London show at the Royal Albert Hall: David Sinclair – 25 Years of Jazz Photography – 14/15/20/21/22/28 November 10am-4pm

Note: none of the images shown here are in the exhibition … next week we shall start to preview what is in!

Mussorgy’s original composition of Pictures of an Exhibition was based on ten paintings out of a total of 400 on show by the late Russian painter Viktor Hartmann in St Petersburg in 1874. That many might have been easier to choose than the hundred or so we have space for in the Royal Albert Hall from November 14th 2015. Selecting these out of David’s 50,000 digitised images and thousands of negatives has proved a real challenge.
What matters most in a jazz photography exhibition? The music is too subjective for it to be the ‘best’ musicians? Maybe it should be the ‘greatest’ photographs, but that is pretty subjective as well. Friendships and memories then ….. but after more than 25 years and 5500 artists, there are far too many of these too.
CASSANDRA WILSON. at Royal Festival Hall, 4/5/04.

Cassandra Wilson – one of many great pics we could not include

Sure, there are a few classic images of David’s that have been reproduced many times, and they needed to go in. You can hardly exclude the likes of Sonny, Elvin, McCoy, or Wynton, any more than the naturally photogenic Pharaoh or Esperanza. But we got to the stage of having impossible choices like Cassandra Wilson or Jack Parnell, Elvis Costello or Ernest Ranglin.  In those two cases Jack won out because of history, and Ernest due to his connection though to Gary Crosby and Jazz Jamaica who, if not up on the wall themselves at the Albert Hall, certainly needed some recognition in a London exhibition.

Jimmy Scott – another great pic we could not include

The pictures have all gone to the framers now. Hindsight might have helped us add Coleridge Goode, Phil Woods and Wilton Felder, after their sad deaths in the last couple of weeks. But once you start to pull out great names and even greater characters from the past, where do you stop? We had already taken out the likes of Shorty Rogers, Ornette Coleman, Jack Bruce and Jimmy Scott. Even some great current performers across the spectrum are not included, ranging from Joe Lovano and Charles Lloyd to Liane Carroll and Bobby McFerrin.
This copyright photograph may be used for PR use only, it can not be used for CD, DVD, Video, Record, Cassette, Poster or any other purpose without specific written permission from the copyright owner, David Sinclair.

Liane Carroll – good friend of David but sadly we could not include this either

As Joe and Liane have been so supportive of David over the years this was a really difficult decision.
But there are still 115 pictures to go up, and we could have displayed 200 if the Albert Hall had enough hanging wires.
David Sinclair. 01883-345790. Intl. (UK) +44 1883 345790

Joe Lovano – another good friend whose picture we could not include

So, if you do visit the exhibition on a weekend in November, maybe ahead of one of the EFG London Jazz Festival gigs later in the day, or just to see the history of jazz over the last quarter of a century, please enjoy those that are there rather than the thousands that are not. After all, a list from 1989-2014 which, as well as those named above, includes the following, just as a taster, ain’t that bad really: Carla Bley, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Dick Morrisey, Max Roach, Anita O’Day, George Shearing, Jimmy Smith, Adelaide Hall, Cecil Taylor ….. and many, many more.

The Exhibition, which has sponsorship from Ronnie Scott’s Club, is open to the general public on 14/15/20/21/22/28 November at the Royal Albert Hall – admission is free. It can also be viewed by all ticket holders attending concerts there from 14-29 November.

Many more of David Sinclair’s photographs can be seen at SinclairJazz website or the Facebook ‘Jazz Photographs’ page on Facebook or via SinclairJazz Twitter

Click for more information on the EFG London Jazz Festival

Thanks to Serious for all their support

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