Jazz grabbed Fred Lyon in childhood as he cranked the spring drive of his parents’ Victrola. An old orange Vocalion 78, Fletcher Henderson from 1928 spun until it was gray.
By his mid-teens he had discovered the smoky basement jazz joints of downtown Los Angeles. A favorite held Barney Bigard over for a long run.
As a Navy photographer during World War II, Lyon found music with each transfer: Chicago had Jack Teagarden and Gene Krupa. Washington DC had concerts, and New York had 42nd Street and the Village.
The music was the focus, so very few of those greats ever saw Fred’s camera.
Even when he moved to San Francisco in the late 1940s, he seldom shot performers in that era of jazz renaissance. But finally the magazines he shot for regularly assigned stories and record labels needed album covers. West Coast jazz was exploding and Fred was in heaven.
These many years later, the stars we thought would always be in place are gone.
Fred Lyon can’t imagine why he didn’t photograph all of them. And he’s still digging through old file boxes, searching for the occasional image that brings with it the thrill of a great performance remembered.
Fred Lyon currently resides in San Francisco and has enjoyed a successful career in commercial photography.