A Tribute to Jaye Alper

Jaye Alper, a dear friend of the Caffè Lena community, passed away last month after a valiant fight with illness. Many will remember Jaye from Caffè Lena’s 45th Anniversary celebration when she attended and supported our History Project exhibition on site at the venue; Jaye kindly donated the image of Bob Dylan made by her father Joe Alper that now hangs above the staircase at Caffè Lena. But long before that, Jaye herself appeared in her father’s photographs.

Between 2008-2010 the Joe Alper Photo Collection LLC together with the Caffè Lena History Project uncovered and identified over 6,000 images Joe made at Caffè Lena between 1960-1968 that had been stored in their original negative state and relatively unseen for over five decades. Jaye’s husband Edward Elbers tenaciously digitized the material, revealing incredible images of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, John Hammond and dozens of others in performance and in candid, behind the scenes moments. But another intimate thread moves through the collection – Scattered through the contact sheets are images of the Alper children; family moments of early childhood documented alongside the earliest  moments of folk singers’ careers. The images are a testament to Joe’s thoughtful eye, taking in his surroundings as he traversed the worlds of his home life and his life as a music photographer, and often the two would blend together. A search for “Jaye Alper” through the Caffè Lena Alper contact sheets reveals images of Jaye in thirteen sheets, together with John Hammond, the Beers Family, Alix Dobkin and Bob Dylan. The images seem to reflect Joe’s admiration for Caffè Lena’s ability to bring a community together to experience music democratically and collectively, with little distance between performer and audience. They seem to speak also to Lena’s desire to bring a familial sensibility to her venue, where all were welcome – photographers, children, and performers alike.

In the last four years despite her health struggles, Jaye remained a steadfast supporter of the Caffè Lena book project. When we met in person and reviewed plans to select Joe Alper’s images, Jaye brought her keen attention to detail, her humor, and years of work experience as a library teacher and media specialist to the table. In a recent email she wrote: “Hi, Jocelyn– Thanks for this full and exciting report on the book progress! I’m very glad to see it moving forward so well! It’s great to hear about how you are approaching the book and I appreciate the process you used to look at the collection and make your design decisions.” Her thoughtfulness and enthusiasm put wind in our sails and helped to move the project forward.

I smiled when I came across this image – a photograph of Jaye curled up in a chair, reading a book.

We’ll keep this image of Jaye in our minds as we move forward on the book project, hoping to make her proud.

We miss you, Jaye.

1 Comment

  1. Jeremy Bloom
    Jun 11, 2012

    Oh! So sad! Jaye was such a sweet person, and far too young… :(

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