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Efrain Ribeiro’s Jazz Photography Captures a Vital Community

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“Home of Eubie Blake, Billie Holliday, Cab Calloway, and Gary Bartz, Baltimore continues to foster a thriving and talented diverse jazz community that plays jazz each and every day to stay alive and thrive,” says photographer Efrain Ribeiro. “Documenting the evolution of this community throughout the last two years has made me realize how much common intensity photography has with improvised music.”

Ribeiro’s international background makes him the perfect advocate for jazz in the Baltimore-Washington region. The photographer was born in Fukuoka, Japan, to Peruvian parents while his father worked for the United Nations/World Health Organization in Korea, during the Korean War. Ribiero spent his youth in El Salvador and Argentina, as well as Silver Spring, MD.

Ribeiro started out his career in the arts in Baltimore, attending Johns Hopkins in the early 1970s to study creative writing and filmmaking, where his mentors were Richard Macksey, Alicia Borinsky, Sam Weber, and John Barth. After JHU, he attended Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, and soon after he co-produced, photographed, and edited a documentary about the boxer Carmen Basilio.

As a youth, Ribeiro had a strong interest in jazz and improvised music from the late ’60s. As a teenager, he began attending concerts and photographing jazz musicians at the Left Bank Jazz Society (Sun Ra, Charles Mingus) and DC Space (Julius Hemphill, Chicago Art Ensemble) in the ’70s. He grew up investigating the music of his place and time with jazz critic Bill Shoemaker.

Despite these formative and creative experiences, Ribeiro’s career took a practical U-turn and he ended up working in market research for global conglomerates like TNS, Ipsos, and Kantar for more than 45 years. Ribeiro says he continued taking photographs around the world, but because of the intensity of his profession, he could not keep up with the necessary post-production work that photography requires. Still, it remained a passion and a hobby.

In 2016, Ribeiro retired from market research and rededicated himself full-time to documenting local jazz musicians and venues, providing the photographs to musicians for their personal and professional use. “After a long and fulfilling career once in retirement, lots of people dedicate their time to some sort of meaningful ‘charity’ to give back to their communities,” he explains. “I knew that going back and immersing myself in photography was what I would do—being able to marry this with the jazz community in Baltimore has been a work in progress over the last five years.”

Ribeiro has shot thousands of rolls of film since 1973, so he divides his time between digitizing his archive of images with learning new techniques and subjects like infrared, landscape, and biographical photography.

In his ongoing pursuit of jazz documentation, Ribeiro says he is driven by several motives. He describes improvised African-American jazz music as “one of the true original North American art forms.” He wants the highly innovative practice to have more detailed documentation of performances in actual venues. Ribeiro is also driven by the omissions that currently exist within the recorded history of jazz. “What would the photographs tell and look like if they were meticulously documenting Charlie Parker’s or Ornette Coleman’s rise?” he asks. “The reality is that there is so little [visual evidence] of John Coltrane’s life and development.”

Historically, the Baltimore-Washington region has boasted a wealth of jazz talent and performance spaces, and Ribeiro is cognizant that the jazz program at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute is growing under the direction of Sean Jones. For Ribeiro, it’s even more vital now to document the musicians and organizations that are behind the expansion of this regional jazz community, as well as to provide visual resources to promote the interest and appreciation of this art form. Documenting the musicians in the actual settings where the music is made and practiced offers a layer of context and visibility for the individuals and communities who make this art form possible. Since 2020, Ribeiro has focused on capturing the impact of COVID-19 on jazz performances and communities that are struggling to survive and thrive.

“Packed with talented jazz musicians, Baltimore’s jazz heritage continues each and every day including during COVID by improvising spaces where these artists can continue their craft and earn their living,” says Ribeiro. “Documenting this difficult evolution through photography in parks and semi-empty clubs made me experience the drive and invigorating qualities of this unique North American art-form during these difficult times.”

In addition to this photo series that we present at BmoreArt, which focuses on jazz performances and artists in the Baltimore/DC region performing during the pandemic, often outside and in tiny venues, Ribeiro has added a few new directions to his practice. Since March 2020, Ribeiro began to spend much of his time in Puerto Rico and Peru, where he has family. He is now actively documenting the music scene in Puerto Rico and continuing to create iconic images for musicians and venues to use to introduce their work to new audiences.

 

The Ynot Lot. Musicians L to R: Craig Alston, Chris Hizon, October 2020
An die Musik. Musicians from L to R: Lafayette Gilchrist, Herman Burney, Eric Kennedy, October 2020
West Baltimore. Musicians L to R: Todd Marcus, Sean Jones, Eric Kennedy, Eric Wheeler, Tim Brey, October 2020
Carroll Park. Devron Dennis, March 2021
Herring Run. Musicians from L to R: Tim Andrulonis, Max Jacobs, unidentified, Baghwan Kalsa, Brendan Brady, Eric Williams, Tyler White, John McCahey, April 2021
Sisson Park. L to R: Cyrus Mackey, Eric Williams, Thomas Owens, Devron Dennis, Todd Marcus, Chris Hizon, April 2021
Riverside Park. Musicians from L to R: Devron Dennis, Chyna Beals, May 2021
Wonderpark. Musicians from L to R: Brandon Woody, Chris Hizon, Brent Birckhead, May 2021
Arnold Sumpter Park. Musicians L to R: Eric Williams, Sean Jones, Todd Marcus, Brent Birckhead, Melanie Brown, John McCahey, May 2021
Bertha's. Musicians L to R: Sean Jones, Bob Butta, Jeff Reed, May 2021
Latrobe Park. Brent Birckhead, June 2021
Grove of Remembrance-Druid Hill Park. Musicians L to R: Brent Birckhead, Dan Wallace, Ed Hrybyk, Devron Dennis, Eric Williams, Kevin B. Clark, June 2021
Terra Cafe. Musicians from L to R: Brent Birckhead, Ephraim Dorsey, unidentified, Clarence Ward III, June 2021
Terra Cafe. Anna-Lisa Kirby, June 2021
Little Lithuania Park. William Porter, July 2021
Little Lithuania Park. Ed Hrybyk, July 2021
Wyman Park. Xavier Ware, July 2021
Terra Cafe. Rufus Roundtree, August 2021
Tabor. Theljon Allen, August 2021
Terra Cafe. Aaron Hill, August 2021
The Undercroft. L to R: Chris Frick, Jack Naden, Nick Saia, September 2021
Terra Cafe. L to R: Alex Weber, Brinae Ali, Ebban Dorsey, Ephraim Dorsey, Adam Kahana, September 2021
Powell Recovery Center. Marco Hogue, December 2021
Bar 1801. Jeff Reed, February 2022
Maple Leaf Park. L to R: Eric Worthy, Ethan Bailey-Gould, March 2022
R House. L to R: Unidentified, Rodney Kelley Sr., Ed Hrybyk, March 2022
R House. Lee Mo, March 2022
R House. Blake Meister, April 2022
Vigilante Coffee. L to R: Derrick Michaels, Tony Martucci, Alex Weber, April 2022

Header image: Rawlings Conservatory. Musicians L to R: Nico Wohl, Dan Klingsberg, Jesse Moody, Charlie Reichert-Powell, October 2020

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