Luis Olazábal photo courtesy of Sandra Abousleiman @mypinkpanthetravels ©

Not every musician plays an instrument or writes music.
Luis Olazábal used his camera to make music with images. A dear colleague and arguably the premier performing arts photographer in South Florida, Luis died in his native Lima, Peru, on June 30 of pancreatic and liver cancer. He was 52.

Luis worked for notable clients, including the JVC Jazz Festival, Sony-BMG Music, Miami-Nice Jazz Festival, Miami International Jazz Fest, Miami Light Project, Tigertail Productions, and the adventurous Subtropics Festival. But since 2004, he was the official photographer of the Rhythm Foundation, a Miami Beach-based non-profit which presents music from around the world.

We shared many moments in the back rows of the North Beach Bandshell, talking about music and musicians while taking in all kinds of shows – from Haitian music and jazz to Cuban funk, classical, gospel, you name it. He was an informed and astute listener with a great eye. It made his photographs different.
His work illustrates many stories on this blog. The picture on the header is his.

When I told him about the idea behind the blog I was starting and asked him for an image for it, he said he would think about it, and later that day he sent me some photos. The one I chose was just the second or third I saw. He had some technical objections I didn’t understand and, frankly, he wasn’t crazy about it. But I loved it, so we agreed it would be a placeholder, just to get rolling. Of course, I had no intention of changing it. His photo was, and remains, a better statement about what this blog is about than any description I could write.

That’s the power of his work.

As it turns out, Luis didn’t plan on being a photographer, but, as he was fond of recalling, on a walk on Lincoln Road, he saw an exhibit of black & white images of jazz and blues performers by Herman Leonard. Those photos, he said, “made me realize exactly what I was meant to do. At that moment, I knew that music photography was my calling.” We were lucky he did.

In a town too often dazzled by loud, shiny, and inch-deep, Luis was unassuming, truly talented, and serious about his craft. You can enjoy more of his work here.

Some day we will have concerts at the Bandshell again, and then, I hope to be somewhere in the back rows, listening and taking notes — and I know it will hit me.

I will miss him.