David Sinclair 1935 – 2019

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David Sinclair, one of the most insightful and affectionately-regarded photographers to have chronicled jazz’s covertly vivid presence in Britain, died at his home in Melksham, Wiltshire, on 25 March, at the age of 84. For over a quarter of a century, David’s eloquent black-and-white images appeared in publications from The Guardian to Jazzwise, Jazz UK and France’s Jazz Hot (with which he had a particularly close relationship), and adorned the walls of such revered establishments as Ronnie Scott’s Club.

Friendships with jazz stars including Sonny Rollins, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Hugh Masekela, and an empathy with how musicians think, honed an alertness to jazz’s spontaneities that was all the more remarkable for its triumphs over disability – dating back to the childhood tuberculosis that later made a walking stick as essential a part of his kit as his camera bag. But if hampered mobility obliged David to take up a vantage point and savour the light from it rather than duck and dive, and his own stillness often seemed to establish a revealing relationship with the animation on stage.  

HUBBARD Freddie 6

David and his wife Kathy (who had bought him his first camera when he switched careers in his fifties) toured Britain photographing rural life in the 1980s, and she encouraged and assisted all his work as a jazz photographer from 1989 on, and was in turn tirelessly supported by him through debilitating chronic illness. But if you asked how things were going, David would issue a terse update and change the subject – to why newspapers were so tight with money, or why Heart of Midlothian (his team) or Tottenham Hotspur (mine) had to be serial underachievers. A devoted swing fan (he was listening to Artie Shaw in his last hours) David Sinclair nonetheless admired the creative spirit of the people who played all kinds of music – an accepting respect that fuelled his many special friendships with players. As Jazz Hot editor Yves Sportis wrote on the news of his death: ‘We deeply love David, whose personality is in the image of his art: finesse, sophistication, originality, loyalty, courage, generosity, humour’. 

John Fordham

– Photos courtesy of Malcolm Sinclair (David Sinclair, top, Freddie Hubbard, centre)