Thursday, August 13, 2009
Do you ever use a clock radio to wake up in the morning? Music comes on--good or
bad--& you have that tune in your head for the rest of the day? Despite the abrupt awakenings I have rediscovered several songs years after their initial popularity that way. Just as often a ridiculous jiggle jangles every raw nerve.
Music has permeated my life forever. I cannot remember a moment without it. My mother woke me humming every morning. Church choirs introduced me to my own voice. I watched Elvis Presley wriggle on the Ed Sullivan Show & the Beatles perform on that same stage years later. In an act of love my father bought me tickets to see Van Cliburn right after he won the Moscow Tchaikovsky Piano Competition.
I played jugband music, rock/roll in college &, after school, we formed a blues band. Like so many of us very significant milestone in my life has been accompanied by an appropriate song.
When I first started in this business I wanted nothing more than my lifestyle to closely resemble that of a musician.
My colleagues & I dreamed of chasing after bands & performers to document their escapades. But soon enough I
discovered so did everybody else. There was lots of competition & I was last in line.
So instead of continuing to follow all my friends I followed my passion. Jazz was my real muse. I chased every well known jazz artist for years. Still do. Dizzy, Bags, Miles, the Baron…. I befriended club workers so they would put my name on the guest lists. I snuck in stagedoors. I called radio stations just to get access.
In the early days musicians said, “take all the pictures you want.” But I was not interested in the low key, high contrast, black/white silhouettes of shiny horns sticking out of the faces of African American performers. I stalked each one & convinced them to let me make portraits backstage, in their hotel rooms, on the street & even in my studio. I made a fool of myself more than once.
Even as the collection grew & I showed the work to dozens of clients & editors, nobody cared. At first I could not give the pictures away. After years the gallery world discovered the ample body of work & I have been exhibiting it ever since.
Recently this quest took me to the Top of the Hub, a club/restaurant which hosts jazz concerts. Friends told me a quartet would be playing there. Between sets I asked the leader if I could take some pictures while he was in town. The next day my assistants set up lights in different parts of my studio. The photographs came out so well Brian McCree, an amazing bassist, used them on his new CD changes in the wind.
My career in music was short lived. But I have surrounded myself with all forms of it by using my art to channel the sounds. Consequently I have had tunes remain in my brain for years like those early morning top ten memories. A few years ago because they haunted me for so long I started to crudely peck them out on my studio piano. Brian wanted to use the images & being a true artist he paid cash for the privilege. But eventually the exchange between us became a trade. He agreed to record my music with his band & I gave him extended rights. So like Walter Mitty I have come full circle & authored my first original opus. I named the first one after my mother who recently died. Mommy Suite. A singer with Gil Scott Heron once told me music is the closest thing to heaven.