Sept/Oct/Nov 2010

You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen

David O'Neill


As a photographer for publications like the Village Voice, Crawdaddy!, and Harper's Bazaar in late-1960s and '70s New York, James Hamilton captured one of the most vibrant music eras this country has ever experienced. His vast and spectacular archive from the time—black-and-white portraits, snapshots, and contact sheets—has been assembled for publication for the first time in You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen. There's an exuberant Chuck Berry in performance, James Brown posing with thick shades, and shots of underground legends like Tom Verlaine and Sun Ra, as well as of the hoard of wild things making the rounds through the city's diverse and jumbled party scene. In the intimate 1977 portrait at left, Ornette Coleman poses with his saxophone, seemingly poised to play a riff that's as frantic as the world around him. Like Thelonious Monk a decade before him, Coleman had exploded expectations with a far-out sound that was both perfectly formed and beautifully confounding. When Hamilton photographed him here, his music still divided jazz fans, but it was soon to be canonized. Coleman doesn't seem to doubt that history would follow his lead.

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