An Appreciation: Devon Wendell and Don Heckman Remember Tony Gieske

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Tony Gieske
Tony Gieske

Tony Gieske was right there amongst the greats that I grew up worshiping. He had photographed, Interviewed, or reviewed the masters like John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie to name just a few. His stellar career spanned over half a century.

As a student at NYU, I used to go to The New York Public Library and read his terrific interviews and articles for The Washington Post, The New York Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and The Hollywood Reporter while listening to the great artists he covered on my walkman. Tony’s humility, love, and seemingly limitless knowledge of jazz came through in his writing. He also stayed current on the jazz scene.

Many years later I was blessed to be able to be a colleague of Tony’s while working for Don Heckman and The International Review Of Music.

I got to know Tony while covering The Playboy Jazz Festival for Don and iRoM. He was an unassuming, charming man who was running all over The Hollywood Bowl taking amazing photos. He’d ask me who I was covering for the day’s program and then I’d see him in front of the stage snapping away. Most of the photos on my articles, Q&A’s, and reviews were taken by Tony. His photos always captured the fire of the performance.

I told him in 2011 how much of a fan of his I had been most of my life. He thanked me very humbly. I knew he loved Dizzy Gillespie and played cornet and I mentioned that I’d rather be playing trumpet like Dizzy, Fats, Lee Morgan, or Freddie Hubbard (All of whom he had witnessed in person) than play the guitar. He said with that one of a kind smile; “You know your stuff. I can tell by your writing. You could learn the trumpet fast.”

And then he was off to take some more photos. I felt elated. He had read my stuff.

He never boasted or bragged about his prolific career. He just smiled and kept doing what he loved. Tony Gieske will be missed and he will always be loved by musicians and the musically obsessed like myself.

* * * * * * * *

By Don Heckman

I’ve been around writers, photographers and editors all my working life. But I never met anyone who combined the roles of writer/photographer any better than Tony Gieske did.

Tony Gieske
Tony Gieske

I was familiar with his work while we were both deeply involved with the ’60s music scene in New York — Tony at the Herald Tribune, me at the Voice and the NY Times . Our paths crossed frequently in those ever-exciting years. And we quickly discovered that we had similar approaches to our writing and reviewing, founded on the fact that we both had been, and occasionally continued to be, professional musicians.

Like Tony, I believed that music critic/reviewers should be trained, experienced musicians. And his reviews continually triggered responses from the musicians he reviewed, expressing their pleasure that their work had been covered by someone who “got” what it was they were doing creativel.

In recent years, we ran into each other after we both relocated to L.A., where Tony worked for the Hollywood Reporter while I wrote for the L.A. Times.

In more recent years, I was proud to have Tony as a regular contributor, as a reviewer and a photographer, for my International Review of Music blog.

His writing style – with its literary qualities, his deep understanding of the music and his constant sense of whimsical humor – were among the best-, most frequently-read posts on iRoM.

And while you’re reading some of his reviews, be sure to look closely at his photos. We have many contributing phographers for iRoM, and Tony was one of the most unique. Like the great French photgrapher Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tony believed that a picture should be taken at “The Decisive Moment.” With jazz artists, capturing the “decisive moment” is vital, and no one did it better than Tony Gieske.

Add to that all of his warm, engaging personal qualities, ever-present even on the most stressful job environments, always quick with a jibe, eager to discuss some inside aspect of the music we were hearing.

Tony passed away Saturday after a long illness. He had been missing from the music scene for many months dealing with his malady. It was never quite the same without my dear friend. And it never will be.

Tony Gieske was one of a kind.

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