Scenes: photography by George Nelson

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Photographer George Nelson has more than 24 years’ experience, and his passion for the camera is clearly matched by his passion for jazz in this valuable documentary on the London jazz scene. In his foreword, he reports that the photographs were mainly taken between July and October 2018, and most are in small clubs, plus a few larger venues such as King’s Place and the Barbican. The images convey a great sense of intimacy, much like the pioneering backstage work of the great Valerie Wilmer, though she worked mainly in monochrome while Nelson presents these images in colour.

There are some striking close-up action shots, but more informal shots predominate – we see the musicians setting up, snacking, relaxing, travelling, interacting with their audiences, and even breaking down in a car. Among a host of artists portrayed are reedmen Tony Kofi, Shabaka Hutchings and Nathaniel Facey, drummers Shane Forbes, Jon Scott, Winston Clifford and Rod Youngs, trumpeters Byron Wallen and Theo Croker, pianists Kit Downes, Ivo Neame, Liam Noble and Robert Mitchell, bassist Daniel Casimir, vibes player Orphy Robinson, violinist-singer Alice Zawadzki, and singer Emilia Martensson – plus many up-and-coming young instrumentalists and singers whose names may not yet be known to most fans. The widespread locations include Cafe OTO, Kansas Smitty’s, Pizza Express, The Crypt, Mau Mau Bar, Jazz Cafe, the 606, Village Underground and The Vortex. 

Although there is an index to the photographs at the back of the book, including the locations, the actual pages are unfortunately not numbered. Each chapter has a heading, taking the titles from jazz compositions, so – if a face is not familiar – the reader has to constantly flip between the index and count forward through the pages to discover who a particular artist is. This aside, Scenes is a book many fans will find of interest, as well as being a worthwhile document reflecting the vibrancy of the UK contemporary scene. 

Scenes. By George Nelson, published by Tatumspecial, hb, 209 colour plates. No ISBN. £35+pp from georgenelsonphotography.com/books