Jazz Greats Captured in Family Photos

By David Cruz

The history of jazz was written on the road, in small clubs, in towns big and small, by musicians whose names are now legendary for even the uninitiated. Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Frank Downbeat Brown. The last name on that list may not be the best known, but, aside from playing drums with some of these greats, Frank Brown Sr. is the man who took these amazing candid photos, hundreds of them, in fact. His son, Frank Brown Jr., is our audio engineer.

The photos feature some of the great names of jazz, including Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins and other artists like performer Eartha Kitt and writer James Baldwin.

“I knew he had them and I knew there were a lot of pictures that he had taken because photography was just a passion of his, where music was a first love but photography was just a side love and he loved to capture things because he knew for some reason that these would be worth something, if nothing more than great memories,” recalled Frank Jr.

We took the photos to Dorthaan Kirk, the manager of community relations and special events at WBGO, our neighbors in Newark, the only 24-hour jazz station in the New York metropolitan region. She is the widow of famed jazzman Rahsaan Roland Kirk. We went to her for some context.

“Jazz came out of blues and gospel and just the whole thing. It’s all connected. And as you can see, this music is timeless. It sounds just as good today as it did when I was a teenager. These are absolutely invaluable,” she said.