Shutter and Sound: The Jazz Photography of Bob Willoughby

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By 1950 jazz was here to stay and had migrated its unique sound from the streets of New Orleans to American cities from coast to coast. As the world changed, jazz evolved as well. In the 1950s one of the foremost jazz scenes was located in Los Angeles, CA. Some would say it was due to the laid-back surfer culture of California, but the jazz of this region had a flavor all its own and is often considered the birth of what we know as “smooth jazz” today. This exhibition provides a wealth of programming opportunities from forging partnerships with local jazz clubs or radio stations, to on site concerts to bring the environment to life.

With photographs by Bob Willoughby, the exhibition Shutter and Sound explores the compelling world of the 1950s California jazz scene. As he developed photos at night in his Los Angeles garage, Willoughby listened to jazz on the radio. If he heard a live broadcast from a nearby venue, he’d drop everything to go take photographs. This exhibition consists of fifty images, taken by Willoughby from 1950–1960. In these vibrant photos, Willoughby’s appreciation for and understanding of jazz music is apparent.

“Willoughby ‘not only had a good eye, he had a keen ear, and seemed to know when to snap at an inspired moment’.” – Dave Brubeck

Bob Willoughby is perhaps best known for his candid photographs of famous Hollywood actors; but before taking photos on film sets, he captured many images of jazz musicians. His photographs stand out because of their realism and immediacy. Working in difficult lighting and crowded conditions, these images are jazz improvisation made manifest: they give the viewer a sense of vibrant intimacy as he captured wistful singers, jamming musicians, and enthusiastic audiences. Willoughby photographed jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and Frank Sinatra, to name just a few. These images reflect the dynamic jazz scene of the 1950s, a time—in the words of Dave Brubeck—“of youth, exuberance, hope, and change.”

Willoughby’s photographs continue to be avidly collected and are in museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Tate Modern in London. Whether visitors are seasoned jazz fans, newcomers wanting to learn more about the music scene, or photography enthusiasts, Shutter and Sound is as enduring as the music.

This exhibit can be paired with our exhibition Backstage Hollywood, which chronicles Bob Willoughby’s renowned work as Hollywood’s first on-set chronicler of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Additional printable didactics are available to venues who plan to book and present both exhibits in tandem for a larger Bob Willoughby exhibit.

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Tour Schedule

Shutter and Sound: The Jazz Photography of Bob Willoughby is touring April 2023 through March 2028. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

Exhibition Details

  • Content

    Fifty framed photographs by Bob Willoughby

  • Curated By

    Elliott Halls Gallery

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee

    $6,600

  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $3,960

  • Duration

    7-week Display

  • Shipping

    Van Line

  • Running Feet

    165 Linear Ft.

  • Square Feet

  • Security

    Moderate B

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    3 estimated

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.