Stellar unSEEN Peek™ – B. B. King was born Riley B. King on a Mississippi cotton plantation in 1925.

As a boy in the Deep South of the United States he must have lived the blues but at his own instinctive rhythm.

As a man, King was laurelled as “The King of the Blues” due to his mastery and magic with the electric guitar, song writing and record producing.

His distinctive scintillating vibrato and mercurial bending of strings created a signature style that greatly influenced many generations of electric blues guitarists.

To my eye, this photograph taken of B. B. King by David Redfern on 7th July 1972 at the Newport Jazz Festival at New York’s Yankee Stadium is quite an alchemical composition.

The spotlight blazes an aureole reminiscent of the iris of the iconographer’s eye and imbues both the artist and his instrument with a stellar luminosity that transcends time and space in ecstatic movement, bold vibration and supernatural sensation. 

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As I appraised arresting images from The Gleaner photographic archive of musical artists and their stellar performances, many of them reminded me of the captivating work of the acclaimed Jazz Photographer and founding father of British Rock Photography, David Redfern.

Of the stellar Englishman David, the American jazz tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon said:

“He’s the Cartier-Bresson of jazz.”

David’s work over a 45 year career crystallised the aura of jazz clubs the Marquee Club and Ronnie Scott’s with iconic portraits suspending past eras in modern time.

Thousands of images captured and owned by David’s Redferns picture agency which represented his own body of work and that of over 400 photographers are now part of the Getty Images portfolio, although David retained the rights to a portfolio of premium images for use in fine art contexts.

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David Redfern was in a class of his own as a music photographer whose work encompassed many eras and captured a galaxy of stars who shone brightly in both the Twentieth and Twenty-First centuries.

In September 1995 the US Post Office issued 10 Jazz Postage Stamps.

Three out of the ten were David Redfern images.

The Louis Armstrong image which David captured in 1967 on his first trip to the USA was selected after 38,000 signatures were collected from 65 countries over an 8 year period. The stamps were launched in New Orleans, the birth city of Louis Armstrong.

In 2007, David received the prestigious Milt Hinton Award for Excellence in Jazz Photography, which recognised his lifetime achievement in jazz photography as both art and history. In 2014 he was honoured with the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Services to Jazz at the UK Houses of Parliament.

David imbued a substance within his work that was as potent as his style of representation and lived and worked with a vocation to capture the moment with the forces of both his creativity and the camera’s physics and chemistry.

The result was the creation of diverse artist definitive iconography and the gilding of many of music’s golden eras.     

David Redfern was an authentic creative spirit and true gentleman who I had come to know socially via our mutual friend the artist, agent and curator, Ian Irvine.

David and I had an easy rapport based on shared intellectual references and cultural appreciations from Fine Art to finer Wine.

Amongst our close yet wide circle of creative friends we shared quality times and illuminating conversations over drinks at the Chelsea Arts Club or private views of his work at the Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall.

David shared many amazing, amusing and arresting recollections of his life, times and picture-taking with me. He was innately charismatic, genuinely warm, succinctly eloquent and understatedly witty. His anecdotes and memories illuminated many Twentieth-Century musical legends including Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, Eartha Kitt, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.

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We often spoke about the politics and economics affecting the global African struggle and he had witnessed and discussed aspects of this during his documentation of many North American icons who had been born and bred within the Jim Crow era.

David was sympathetic, diplomatic and realistic in his appraisals and opinions.

He admired my philosophy and intention of aligning musical artists of North America with those of Jamaica in a holistic manner that fused musicians and musical genres of direct African descent and exalted how these roots shaped popular Western music from Rock and Roll to Disco.

When I shared my vision of expanding the focus and uniting Jamaica’s iconic musical heritage with that from the United States, home to the second largest African diaspora population, David happily lent his works to my 2012 exhibition.

I realigned the unveiling presentation to harness Olympic momentum as well as musical potency and entitled the exhibition GOLD MEDALS & PLATINUM DISCS.

David, then President of the British Association of Picture Libraries and Archives (BAPLA) was a great mentor and genuine friend to me.

He shared many obscure technicalities and serendipitous alchemies that had crystallised into his iconic photography.

I will always regret not interviewing him over a bottle of my favourite jazz era champagne cuvée, which he was greatly looking forward to trying.

I had planned to ask David about Pannonica Rothschild’s musedom and his observations and insights on her patronage of jazz and bebop musicians including Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk and find out details about Miles Davis’ tailoring and drug-taking.

David was keen to show me the evolution of his work and spoke very proudly of his wife Suzy Reed. Her use of his images to create exquisite silk scarves that took his own art form to the next level in a new context marrying the sense of sight with touch pleased him immensely.

David said I had written the best ever biography of him in my Christie’s auction catalogue. It began with my rumination that:

“Nothing captures the transmutable essence of African-American music in 2-D format with more style and soul than David Redfern with a Hasselblad camera in his hand.

You don’t just see an icon: you feel their energy and hear their notes.”

 We had planned to do a Hidden Voices™ interview that would have been his final one.

He said that he did not like being interviewed, but was looking forward to ours.

It was a psychic shock of some electricity on a Saturday night in 2014 to pick up a copy of The Times and read David Redfern’s obituary.

He passed on to the next realm on 22nd October 2014 at the age of 78 after a valiant and determined battle against pancreatic cancer.

I will always lament not chasing up my friend and capturing some historic and secret stories that will now never be told, but am happy that David lives on immortal in his masterful images that captured time, elevated eras and created legends.

David once said: “photographers are born, not made” and like Louis Armstrong also marvelled at the wonderful world he lived in.

He bears a special place in the creative pantheon only few artists will ever ascend to.

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© W. O. Adeyemi/ AFRICA: Seen & Heard Ltd and, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to W. O. Adeyemi, AFRICA: Seen & Heard and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


LEARN more about the iconic David Redfern shot of Jimi Hendrix. A lightjet transparency of this image mounted to a light box from a limited edition of 10, featured in AFRICA: Seen & Heard’s debut Fine Art exhibition “Gold Medals and Platinum Discs” alongside exhibits from The Gleaner Archive Collection in 2012. 

The exhibit also featured within our Inaugural Charity Art Auction executed by Christies. David Redfern offered to personally hang the work for any winning bidder within the M25: 

ACQUIRE  a limited edition DAVID REDFERN PRINT. Each photograph is hand-printed using traditional printing techniques from the original transparency or negative upon fine art quality material including silver gelatine fibre paper and Ilfrachrome glossy paper.

Each edition is unique and limited to between 25 – 250 and personally signed by David Redfern:

HEAR  The BAPLA Academy Meets David Redfern – a narration of David Redfern recalling the process and magic behind some iconic portraits

AGREE OR DISAGREE  with David Redfern on whether it is ‘Crucial that photographers stick together’

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