Miles Davis Online Interview: Paul Slaughter

Miles Davis, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA, 1975 © Paul Slaughter.
Miles Davis, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA, 1975 © Paul Slaughter.

I’m delighted to post this interview I did recently with the talented photographer Paul Slaughter. A former disc jockey at a Los Angeles jazz station in the ‘60s, Paul went on to photograph beautiful locations around the world, dazzling architecture and some of the biggest names in film, the arts and jazz music. Especially jazz music.

I stumbled upon Paul’s work while researching for the Miles Davis Movie site. Once I discovered Paul’s shot of Miles at the 1969 Monterey Jazz Festival I was an instant fan. Each of his portfolios is worth perusing to observe the different styles and interesting subjects, but a jazz fan will enjoy the incredible images in Paul’s Jazz Collection.

Legendary names like Ray Brown, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis and Dave Brubeck are on exhibit. And of course, there’s Miles Davis.

A cool side-note about Paul, in 1984 he was the Official Photographer for the Los Angeles Olympic Committee.

Today Paul is an internationally recognized and published photographer. He specializes in location assignments and fine art photography, having traveled to over seventy-five countries. He has lead workshops at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops in his hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and his photographic collection can be viewed at his website.

It’s a great opportunity to speak with Paul about his craft and, of course, what it was like to share a creative relationship with Miles Davis.

Miles Davis Online: How did you get involved with photographing jazz musicians?

Paul Slaughter: In the late nineteen sixties I was a disc jockey on KBCA-FM, a twenty-four jazz station in Los Angeles. For my on air program I interviewed jazz greats of the day. In the fall of 1969 I started taking photographs and, of course, images of jazz musicians were a favorite subject. Sometimes I would be on assignment and at others I would photograph jazz musicians just to be around the groovy atmosphere and hear the unique sounds. I did an album cover for Carmen McRae, The Great American Songbook, and an inside cover of Miles’, “Get Up With It.”

Since I had good contacts at the record companies I also photographed pop and rock musicians, like the Jackson Five, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.

MDO: Is there something inherently unique about jazz musicians that make them such a compelling subject to photograph?

Paul: The unique features of photographing jazz musicians is their total involvement with their music, their body movement and facial expressions, the moody lighting, plus the terrific ambiance.

MDO: Is there a story behind the photograph known as Miles Davis – Monterey Jazz Festival 1969?

Paul: In 1956 I was living in New York City studying acting. A peer of my older brother, Beverly Bentley, an actress, was living in New York as well.

One day Beverly called and said, “Come over tomorrow night. There is a special friend I want you to meet.” As I entered the apartment the next evening I saw a figure sitting in a lounge chair in the corner of the dimly lit room. A raspy voice spoke, “You must be Paul. I’m Miles.” That’s how I first met the famous jazz trumpet player, Miles Davis. I was into jazz and respected Miles’ talent greatly. I don’t recall what we talked about that evening but I remember Miles was charming and pleasant. Beverly dated Miles for a couple of years.

Years later I would photograph Miles at jazz clubs, concerts and festivals in California. Whenever I spoke with him, or ran into him at a restaurant in Los Angeles, he was always friendly. While photographing at the 12th Monterey Jazz Festival in 1969 I went backstage; there was Miles, across the stage, sitting on a winding rail of a circular steel staircase.

The cross lighting on Miles was utterly magical. Sometimes a photographer is given an unexpected gift, a fleeting point in time, when a subject is lit naturally and dramatically. I snapped two frames of film, knowing the special moment would pass all too quickly. As I lowered my camera Miles, with a smile, said to me, “Hey, Paul did you get what you wanted?” Miles, like his music, “Miles Ahead” was steps ahead – he was posing for me all that time.

MDO: Who was the most charismatic figure you photographed?

Paul: There are many charismatic figures I have photographed over the years. Ones that come immediately to mind are, of course, Miles, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Charles Lloyd, Robert Kennedy, Muhammad Ali and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

MDO: Are you working on anything special? What’s the latest?

Paul: I am presently contacting publishers, to interest them in doing a photo book of my extensive 40-year photographic collection of jazz musicians. I continue to sell fine art prints of this collection. This July I will once again photograph the Fourth New Mexico Jazz Festival in Santa Fe.

See Paul’s Jazz Musician portfolio at his website:


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