It was very sad news this week to learn of John Cumming’s passing.
John was a true titan of the jazz scene, not only as a founder of the London Jazz Festival and Serious but also a person who tirelessly promoted and shone the brightest spotlights on the live jazz. To experience jazz in a live music setting is a visceral, enlightened experience and John understood this to his core. His enthusiasm for the musical genre knew no bounds and his stories and anecdotes are legendary to anyone who spent time with him.
I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside John and his many colleagues at Serious since 2008, photographing many events from 12 years of EFG London Jazz Festival and BT River of Music to 6 editions of the highly successful Take Five professional development programme (now hosted under the Seriously Talented umbrella). Working with Martel Ollerenshaw, Take Five was a perfect example of John’s strength in recognising emerging musical talent and weaving their creative forces into his encyclopaedic ecosystem of jazz knowledge, contacts, venues and established artists. Seeing those artists mature in statue over number the years has been brilliant to witness. Just look now at the Seriously Talented roster of near 200 musicians - they include Alexander Hawkins, Emma-Jean Thackray, Jules Buckley, Kit Downes, Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, Pete Wareham, Shabaka Hutchings, Shirley Tetteh, Yazz Ahmed and Zara McFarlane - to new a few!
I have fond memories of late night drinks with John at Take Five, where he would tell the most extraordinary stories of working with jazz history’s finest - many hilarious, many eye opening, but above all, stories full of the best of humanity. This morning I took a look through my image archive to post a few frames of John. I shot numerous photographs of him over the years but it is probably the times he arranged exclusive access for me to photograph some formal portraits of Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins & Wayne Shorter that resonate most. Once each session had finished, we two had to grab the obligatory selfies.
Thank you John.
Also, whilst sifting through the photographs, I unwittingly discovered an unexpected amount of John interacting with cakes, yes cakes! Cakes for a number of his birthdays and key Serious & London Jazz Festival anniversaries. Blowing out candles, posing by, and generally being a celebratory cake ambassador! Clearly another one of John’s many talents :-)
Very coincidentally, and without knowledge of his deteriorating health, John came up in conversation 2 weeks ago whilst I was having a catch up call with another freelancer Tim Hand We agreed that John was one of the ‘good guys’ we’ve both worked with.
John will be sorely missed by myself and his many friends and work colleagues. I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Ginnie and daughter Kate.
RIP John Cumming.