How I became a jazz photographer

Press clip: John McLaughlin with Shakti. Montreux Jazz Festival 1976.

Photography and music were already my passions when I was a teenager. During my college years 
the Montreux Jazz Festival became my Mecca. This was the place in Switzerland to discover new music, renowned musicians, and great bands. Despite my modest funds, I really wanted to go to these concerts, not only once in a while but regularly. And I wanted to be part of the world of music – somehow.

My real goal

Hanging posters for the Montreux Jazz Festival in my hometown of Berne was a nice start. But my 
real goal was ambitious: I wanted to be one of those guys in the front row photographing. A friend showed me how to process black and white film and print photographs. Working in the darkroom, seeing my images emerging, was fascinating to me. Occasionally I took pictures of local bands.

Who gives me a chance?

In 1975, at the age of 22, I started working as a freelancer, covering all kind of concerts for an agency based in Zurich: PRESSphoto. This had a very important side effect: I received a Press card – my ticket for an accreditation at the Montreux Jazz Festival! In the summer of 1975 I was photographing for the first time at this famous venue. In 1976 I came back with an assignment from a major daily newspaper.

In 1977 I received a special prize for "outstanding photography" at the international exhibition "Jazz Salon" in Burghausen, Germany. With these experiences I started realizing that I have an eye, and that professionals like what I see with my camera.

Eric Burdon interviewed by Christian Eggenberger in Montreux 1976.

But I was just starting. Going through the pictures I took almost 40 years ago, I find a couple I still like. But to be honest, the negatives are showing one fact above all: I was learning! That is what really matters: do something, getting better and better, taking one step after the other.

I had no strategy, nor 
a distant big goal; I was doing what I liked to do. Following my passions I learned something essential: What you do has an impact and it might allow you to push through new doors. Some years later I would come back to Montreux as a TV producer.

You can get it

Quite audatious how I became a jazz photographer, one might think today. I would rather say that I had the chance to grow up in the spirit of the late sixties and early seventies: "You can get it if you really want,” as Jimmy Cliff sings in his famous song. Our parents encouraged us to adopt this attitude. 
Once it has become yours, you cherish it forever.

Album: Jazz Icons
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Jazz Icons