Art

Scenic Overlook

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At the Institute, Williams studied with the late Aaron Siskind and other famous faculty members, including Buckminster Fuller and Harry Callahan. In the mid-1950s, the school became a part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, which had just been created.

Even before he entered the Institute of Design, Williams was selling his photographs of jazz musicians. He received his first professional commission in 1947, when he sold some shots to the Chicago-based music magazine Down Beat. For the next decade, he "sold a print now and then," as he said, but his first big break came in 1957, when Down Beat editor Jack Tracy hired him to cover the Newport Jazz Festival. Tracy loved the photos and devoted nearly thirty pages to them in Down Beat's first annual, done at the end of the year.

It was then that Playboy -- which is also based in Chicago -- became aware of him. Despite his connection to the nation's preeminent girlie magazine, Williams did not make cheesecake shots. Instead he continued his specialty: celebrity portraits. For decades, Williams took candid shots of jazz musicians at work around the world for Playboy, literally recording the history of jazz. The show at Gallery M includes dozens of these, including an incredible Count Basie (Upstairs at the Blue Note).

Mryna Hayutin, director of Gallery M, plans to bring more Playboy photographers to Denver in the future. In fact, she has already installed a smattering of photos of the magazine's signature Playmates at the gallery. However, Hayutin felt, correctly, that for this introductory show, Williams's luxurious jazz photos might have a wider audience.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia