For several months now, when I could no longer reach my friend, jazz photographer extraordinaire Ted Williams, by phone, AND, conversely, I had not heard from him for a while, I suspected something bad (indeed, the worst) might have happened. I kept sweeping this under the carpet, hoping for the best. But yesterday, I could no longer avoid the obvious, and so I somewhat gorily Googled: (quote) Ted Williams (unquote) + photographer + obituary, and, alas, my worst suspicions were verified when THIS popped up at the very top of the search results page.
Ted is probably one of the least well known of---extra-categorically---great American artists. Probably due to the fact that when Ted, an African-American, began to operate as a professional in the field of photography in the late 1940s, there was really not much of an old-boy network of similar professionals that he could connect up with. Back then, there were but a relative handful of blacks working in the overwhelmingly white world of photography. Even the field of jazz picture taking was dominated by whites. In other words, he was fairly much operating out there alone and without a net. He never talked about this with me, but I really can't see how it could have been otherwise. On top of that, Ted was simply the most modest and self-effacing of men. He never told me so, but I am assuming that he and his wife, Adrienne, were active Buddhists. At least, they were forever going on Buddhist retreats for purposes of meditation and spiritual regeneration. His always calm and friendly demeanor seemed to lend evidence to that assumption of mine. In other words, Ted was not much for blowing his own horn; there is also the probability that Ted's sharing his name with a certain famed sports figure might have helped bolix his recognition factor a bit. ("Oh, you mean The Thumper also took jazz photos?")
Over the years, I had the pleasure of going through most of Ted books of contact sheets, and the range of artists he photographed---aside from jazz---ran the gamut from the likes of Edith Piaf to Jack Benny. And he had wonderful remembrances of the circumstances surrounding the taking of his photos. As for the jazz subjects he captured on film, I think he and I came to the conclusion that the only major artist he had failed to "get" was Chet Baker. And the range of his coverage of Duke Ellington was mind-boggling, i.e. in dozens of contexts and milieus, both professional and behind the scenes. Also, he was especially "big" on documenting the music scene of his home stomping grounds of Chicago in the 1950s and early '60s, having been employed non-stop by that city's Down Beat magazine, Mercury Records, and Hugh Hefner, for both the mag and the Playboy TV show.
Here is a link to a post I did about Ted a few years ago: "Annie" and. . .
. . .a link to Gallery M, the Denver gallery that represents Ted (just LOOK at that photo of Sarah Vaughan!) and to:
. . .www.ctsimages.com , the agency that represents Ted's overall body of work
Actually, Ted had two other major periods as a photog besides the subject of jazz. He lived in Mexico for a few years, some time ago, and accomplished much in documenting the life and culture of that country's people. He also was a major documenter of Martin Luther King and the activities of civil rights activists during the time of Doctor King's international prominence.
Ted's father died only a few years ago at an age somewhat beyond a hundred. My friend was so full of life and always so active; thus, well into his late seventies he told me that he surely hoped that he had inherited his father's longevity gene. Sadly that appears to have not been the case. Still, he had a good, long, rich life.
My sympathies go out to Ted's wife Adrienne and all others of Ted's friends and family.