Tuesday, September 30, 2008

R.I.P.: K. Abe

(guitarist Jack Wilkins and K. Abe in Tokyo, 1977)

R.I.P.: K. Abe
(born December 10, 1929 in Tokyo, Japan;
died September 17, 2008 in Tokyo, Japan)

Japan's most renowned and awarded jazz photographer ever, K. Abe died from pneumonia at Seikyo Hospital in Tokyo, a couple of weeks ago. He was 78.

Born in Tokyo, Katsuji Abe was first exposed to American popular music in the mid-Forties. While he was a student at Waseda University, in the late forties and early fifties, he performed jazz at U.S. Army and Navy camps. After graduation, he worked as a radio disk-jockey and an album cover designer, and became a self-taught photographer.
I was introduced to Abe's artistry through his great pics that Creed Taylor used in the liner covers of many CTI albums for such artists as Milt Jackson ("Sunflower"), Kenny Burrell ("God Bless The Child"), Hubert Laws ("Morning Star") and Freddie Hubbard ("Sky Dive"). Oddly, when some of these albums were reissued on CD, the photos taken by K. Abe were deleted from the CD booklets... even in the latest Japanese paper sleeve issue of "Sky Dive" in 2002.
(liner photo from Hubert Laws' "Morning Star" LP)
K. Abe also did all the photos used on the three volumes of "CTI Summer Jazz at Hollywood Bowl", reissued on a 2-CD set (I have supervised the first reissue and made sure that Abe's fantastic pic that shows the musicians from the back of the stage would be preserved). Abe, Creed's top choice to document all the Japanese tours of CTI artists during the 70s, had been invited by the producer to attend that historic Hollywood Bowl concert in July 1972.
(the CTI All-Stars live at the Hollywood Bowl in '72)

Abe-san also did the album design and all liner photos for "CTI Double Deluxe", a 2-LP set released in Japan back in 1970. Its gatefold cover includes many rare pics of Creed Taylor on sessions with such artists as J.J. Johnson & Kai Winding, plus Walter Wanderley, Quincy Jones, Paul Desmond, Wes Montgomery and many others. His work can be appreciated also on Ron Carter's "Blues Base", Hubert Laws' "Firebird" and Wes Montgomery's "Max 20" compilations.

He worked for many journals and magazines in Japan, and also published some great books there and abroad. One of them, "Jazz Giants - A Visual Retrospective", issued by Billboard Publications in 1988, was reviewed by the New York Times in December 18, 1988, when writer Tom Piazza stated: "The Japanese photographer and fan K. Abe has compiled probably the best and most satisfying book of jazz photographs ever published."

A tribute to Abe-sun is scheduled for December at the "Cafe Cotton Club" in Takadanobaba, Tokyo.

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