Up, up and away! [The Up balloon project]

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Sometime late in the Spring, I was talking with my daughter, Julia Summer about Disney films. I mentioned the Pixar film Up knowing that she had never seen it. I consider it one of their finest films. But I think the beginning with Carl’s wife dying is a bit heavy for little kids. (I know it made me cry at 41!). I explained to her how Carl ends up on an adventure with Russell when he ties a lot of balloons to the roof of his house. And just like that, another one of my crazy ideas was conceived: The Up Ballon Project.

With summer fast approaching, I jumped on Amazon and ordered a disposable helium tank and 50 balloons. I shipped them out to the freight house in Seaview on Fire Island. My plan was to create at some point in the summer a series of photos of Julia and her friends getting carried away by a large bunch of balloons.

As is always the case, the summer mainly got away from me. Between Golden Hour family photo sessions and too many wonderful days and nights spent relaxing away from the craziness of New York City, the last week of August was upon us and I still hadn’t cracked the seal on my helium tank. Not to be deterred, I informed the parents of all of Julia’s friends that Monday, August 27th was our day! We would meet on our deck around 5pm for a famous Millman BBQ of hamburgers and hotdogs and then walk onto the beach to take the photos. Unfortunately, we had already lost several families to end of summer events. But we had ten kids and that was good enough for me.

My wife Robyn, Julia and our friend’s daughter Finley blew up all the balloons and tied the colorful ribbons onto them. [Editor’s note: if you think 50 balloons is a lot…it’s not! And by the time you blow them up, you’re lucky if 46 survive. But more on this later.] Also, if you think one of my famous BBQs has ever gone off on time you’re crazy! Anyone that knows me well, knows that socially I function on “Millman time.” I raced to get all the burgers and dogs done for the ten hungry kids in order to avoid any meltdowns (Yes, my child is usually a “leader” in this area). And then a very sweaty me rushed the group up to the beach before we lost the good end of day natural light. In fact, it was completely cloudy which makes for great even lighting. But this also meant my window of opportunity was growing smaller even quicker! And then we got to the beach…and found that, as was the case for most of the summer of 2018, the wind was blowing strong out of the South. This means that if you stand with the Atlantic Ocean behind you, all long hair, clothing…and balloons are forced forward into the camera making people look like Cousin Itt from the Addams Family

I pulled an audible. The kids were running around on the beach, chasing each other, jumping off the lifeguard stand or attempting to get their feet wet before any adults yelled at them. It was all falling apart and this was my last free night of the summer! I gathered everyone. And back we went, up the steps to the other side of the dune and our street. The top of our street happens to be one of the higher points on the island. This afforded us a little buffer from the wind. What I lost was the blank horizon that I envisioned for my background as well as the “sand between the toes” feel I wanted. Yes, the wind was still pushing the balloons a bit. And ultimately, 40-some-odd balloons is not quite the correct number for what I wanted to do. But I considered this to be the first part of my great experiment in paying tribute to a favorite film. And like the magic of Walt Disney and Pixar’s digital universe, I was able to have my retoucher multiply the balloons to make things look a bit better. You can tell me what you think.

One final note: Like many of our friends who live out on Fire Island and spend day after day on our beautiful beach, we are constantly cleaning up trash brought ashore by the tides. And all summer long, I am jumping into the ocean to swim out and bring ashore balloons that are floating around before ending up in the stomachs of one our sea-living neighbors such as a turtle or dolphin. The balloons are especially awful in late June around the time of school graduations. For this project, I created a loop at the end of the ribbons for the kids to put their hands through. And I instructed them all to hold on tight and not let go. (I was not foolish enough to think this would be enough.) I tied about twenty feet of yarn to the end of the loop. And then ran that back to our deck where one of the adults held onto it even though we tied it to the deck railing. [This too was digitally removed by my retouch artist.] And yet… the very first kids to go let go! The balloons got tangled in the trees. Luckily we got them out. (This was all one more reason why I wanted to do this on the beach.) My main reason for writing this is to inform you that there are great organizations fighting hard to clean up ocean debris. You should look into them. A few of my favorites are 4Ocean, Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy. There are clearly a lot of charities to give money to. But if you enjoy clean water, time at the beach with your family and have a few extra dollars to give, please make a donation to one of these or any other group that’s fighting to clean up the awful mess we’ve made of our planet. And next time you buy helium balloons, please consider disposing of them by popping them and throwing them into the garbage.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Gooble Gobble.

And if you’re thinking about family portraits, please feel free to get in touch. We can leave the balloons at home…or we can order two or three helium tanks and have an adventure of our own like Carl, Russell and Dug!!!

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48 hours of Bat Mitzvah Photography

Thursday at noon, I head to JFK to fly to New Orleans where I spend two weeks covering all things Jazz Fest. It’s my one “working vacation” of the year. A time away from the family when although I am eating, dancing and smiling ear to ear, I am making images of musicians on stage and off every day, all day and all night.

 

But before I could fly down to the Big Easy, I had to take care of a few more of my local up and coming “Rockstars.” From 3pm on Friday when I met Ayelet and her parents in Soho at The Arlo Hotel to do her pre-Bat Mitzvah photo shoot through Sunday at 3pm when I left Madison on the hood of a yellow cab on the corner of 72nd Street and Third Avenue, I captured three young women with one thing in common: Bat Mitzvahs!

 

Ayelet is the friend of Chloe. Chloe is the daughter of good friends of mine. And Saturday was her Bat Mitzvah. Before I could get ready for a full day with Chloe at Temple and her party, I went downtown on Friday to work on making images with Ayelet she could use for her party in June. Her mom was hoping we would shoot them on the roof of the hotel. But I had warned her in advance that wind and bright sunlight could be factors. They were. I immediately pulled the plug on that idea and told them not to worry. Trust in me and I will make something happen. We headed for the side streets near the hotel. But not before making use of a simple plain charcoal gray wall in the hotel with wonderful natural light. From there we hit the streets. And I do mean hit the streets!

Saturday morning, I met Chloe and her family at The Village Temple for some images of her reading the Torah before her service and family portraits at the temple. After a little under an hour, I left them to enjoy their big morning. When I next caught up with them, it was the evening and we were on the edge of the meatpacking district in what was once the famous Nell’s nightclub. The Up/Down was transformed into a shimmering party of silver and gold for Chloe’s family and friends to party on a Saturday night in New York City. And they even got to enjoy a famous Black Tap milkshake to end the night!

With only a few hours’ sleep, I was up and out yesterday to meet Madison and her mom to work on her portraits. Of course, nobody considered that it was the Greek Independence Day Parade AND Earth Day and she wanted to shoot on Madison Avenue and in Central Park. But most important of all, she wanted to make a taxi image. Once they finally found a place to park, we scuttled over to the corner of 69th Street and Madison Avenue to make an image with the street signs (her Bat Mitzvah is on June 9th…6/9). An important factor on these shoots that I always try to explain to the parents is the position of the sun in the sky. If it’s not a cloudy day, then you really need early morning or late afternoon in order to get that great “Golden Hour” sunlight. This allows for softer skin tones, no harsh shadows or blown out areas in a photo. And Noon on the City streets was not giving us anything close to that. I convinced them to let me walk them into Central Park where I knew we could work with some of the architecture (I simply love the many wonderful and unique arches around the park as well as the trees and flowers that have finally started to bloom after the longest winter in recent memory). And although I was a bit worried about the strong midday sunlight hitting the city streets, as we walked them back East towards their car, we got Madison her New York City yellow cab image.

All of that in two days. Not bad. Now it’s time for one final concert tonight with my friend Aaron Comess of Spin Doctors’ fame featuring a few great special guests in singers Joan Osborne And James Maddock at The Blue Note and then it’s time to pack up and head to the land of brass bands and po’ boy sandwiches! Remember, my motto is “Anyone Can Be a Rockstar.” If you have some young ones who you want to make some great images of, please feel free to reach out.

 

[Dance to the beat of a] Different Drummer

Sometimes things come together in the most curious of ways. As a photographer, I am always seeking out interesting things to shoot. I love capturing musicians live in concert. But coming up with an original idea and controlling the situation as you make images is so much more satisfying.

Whether you are the infamous Mick Rock (who can be seen in his new documentary), the legendary Annie Liebovitz, or her former assistant, the in-demand Danny Clinch, a specific project can be so satisfying. My friend Michael Weintrob came up with a project called Instrumenthead that’s a wonderfully fun concept. I highly recommend checking it out. Michael is one of the people who over the years has consistently told me the importance of having a “passion project.” In fact, another old friend of mine, Jordan Matter, came up with a fantastic one known as Dancers Among Us that has brought him wide acclaim. Jordan & I were waiters together back in the mid-90s in New York City, and it’s amazing to see where he’s gotten to.

My brain is usually working about four steps ahead of my body. This means lots of ideas come and go as quickly as projects started by my five-year-old daughter and me. (This drives my wife crazy as she cleans up in our wake). I’ve been looking for one idea worthy of becoming its own entity for quite some time.

Around the beginning of 2017, I was walking home from the gym in Midtown. As I walked up First Avenue, I passed the Crunch gym just before the Roosevelt Island Tramway. In the floor to ceiling front window was a black and white poster of women in an exercise class jumping in the air spread eagle, with something in their hands. They were all wearing plain shirts except for one in the back. I thought hers said “Different Drummer.” And as I kept walking, I thought to myself, “How clever, dance to the beat of a different drummer.” And clearly, they had drumsticks in their hands for some sort of crazy cardio drumming class or something like that. I walked less than another half block when I said, “I need to get all the drummers in New Orleans together during Jazz Fest and make an image like A Great Day in Harlem. I can’t tell you exactly how the one image led to me thinking of the other. But somehow that’s what my brain came up with.

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Color version of the advertisement for Pound workout taught at Crunch Fitness

Like with most ideas, I did nothing. I mentioned it to my wife Robyn in passing. She thought it sounded cool, and I moved on. But a few weeks later it was still on my mind. I decided that nothing ventured, nothing gained. I sent an email during the second week of February to four of my favorite drummers: Zigaboo Modeliste, Stanton Moore, Johnny Vidacovich & Nikki Glaspie. I figured the best thing I could do to legitimize my project and show how much I care for the musicians in New Orleans was to try to raise money for an organization like The Roots of Music or The New Orleans Musicians Clinic.

Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste is the “King of the Funky Drummers.” The man is a founding member of the Big Easy’s most famous (and original) Funk band, The Meters. Over the years, Zig and his wife Kathy have become good friends of mine. I couldn’t imagine doing something like this in his hometown without him. In fact, nearly every drummer I could think of inviting to the potential shoot was directly influenced by Zig’s incorporation of the second-line grooves into Funk.

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Zigaboo Modeliste- Rhythm of Valence Street @ Chickie Wah Wah (New Orleans- Thur 5/1/14)

Stanton Moore is the drummer for Galactic. Besides playing for this jam band with a funky edge, this New Orleanian plays Jazz in his own trio, has worked with Tom Morello and Corrosion of ConformityThe Midnite Disturbers (local brass-based all-star band) and two of my favorite “super groups” to come out of the Crescent City: Dragon Smoke and Frequinox. Through my friendship with Eric Lindell a fellow member of Dragon Smoke, Stanton & I became friendly. Over the years, I have worked with Galactic many nights.

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Stanton Moore- Dragon Smoke @ The Mint (Los Angeles- Wed 12/7/11)

Johnny Vidacovich, a/k/a “Johnny V”, is a true New Orleans jewel and legend. A jazz drummer by training, he played with local legends Professor LonghairJames Booker (check out the great new documentary), Mose Allison, and  Alvin “Red” Tyler. Stanton is a direct disciple of this master. And for years, Johnny has led the Thursday night show Uptown at the Maple Leaf Bar, in the Carrollton neighborhood, where a revolving cast of players including George Porter Jr. of The Meters join him. Most importantly, the man has a heart of gold and is one of the ultimate characters you can meet while down there.

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Johnny Vidacovich- George Porter Jr, Henry Butler & Johnny Vidacovich @ Schimanski (Brooklyn- Sun 9/24/17)

Nikki Glaspie is not a New Orleans drummer. And she is the only female drummer I am friendly with [something I find a little sad]. She is also probably the most badass drummer I know. When Nikki pounds those skins everyone in the room is mesmerized. This Berklee College of Music alumni has toured the world with Beyoncé, been a member of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and leads her own band The Nth Power (Earth, Wind & Fire for the new millennium). She is tough as nails and sweet as sugar. And I really wanted her to be part of this gathering.

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Nikki Glaspie- The Nth Power @ Oak Street Block Party (Wed 4/29/15)

Within hours of hitting send on my email, Stanton was the first to respond enthusiastically. “Marc, very cool. I love that idea! I sit on the Board for Roots of Music so donating funds to them would be great…” He went on to say he would start to put together a list of names. The following day Nikki replied, “Marc!!!!! This sounds so amazing. I can reach out to all the drummers I know, no problem. Let’s make this happen!” However, Zigaboo and Johnny were another story. Both of them have their lovely wives handle all their business affairs. Kathy Modeliste and Deborah Vidcovich have been very good to me throughout the years (it doesn’t hurt that both are big fans of my little redhead daughter Julia). It took about a month to hear back from Kathy, at which point she told me that Zig had committed to a handful of events for the festival period and wouldn’t be able to attend. This significantly deflated my balloon. To me, Zig was “The Man.” But I didn’t let this get me down. I made a mental note to keep them in the loop and see what happened if I actually got this crazy idea off the ground. Johnny remained MIA. I knew I needed to work on Deb. And a week before I headed down for the festival, she replied to let me know she would have him wherever I needed him to be.

In the meantime, I had the blessings of Stanton and Nikki. And thanks to Stanton’s introduction, I had the backing of Anne Messer, the Executive Director for The Roots of Music. Anne told me that we could do the shoot at their facility in Tremé (the former McDonogh 35 High School). This crazy idea was becoming a reality…IF I could get a list of drummers and percussionists together…and IF those musicians would agree to join me…and then show up at the exact time necessary to pull this off!

On April 3rd, with a list of thirty-one names including my “Original Four” (minus Zigaboo who I left out for the moment), I sent an email with the subject line “A Different Drummer: a Project to Benefit The Roots of Music” with my fingers crossed. It started as follows:

Who: all the drummers & percussionists we can get together

What: an epic photo to help benefit The Roots of Music

Where: 1331 Kerlerec Street (The former McDonogh 35 High School in the Treme)  Enter from Columbus Street

When: Tuesday May 2nd at 3pm (this should take less than an hour if everyone can get there on time)

Why: to honor those of you who make the world bob their heads & shake their rumps

If you don’t personally know me, then hopefully you are aware of my photography. Regardless, you have been included on the list for this email because of conversations between me, Stanton Moore, Nikki Glaspie & the staff over at The Roots of Music.

Every year when I head down to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, I try to think of something new to capture. But this is the first time I had a “grand vision.” Walking down the street in New York City a little more than a month ago, I was struck by the idea of gathering those that are literally the backbeat of the Big Easy. I thought that in the tradition of the famous A Great Day in Harlem photograph (attached for anyone who doesn’t know of it), we could gather as many of the drummers and percussionists from the City’s brass bands, Rock players, Funkateers, Jazz players. And then I thought that since it is Jazz Fest and there are many musicians who make the annual journey and are now very attached to the local community, we could invite them as well.

I wanted to give this project a little more importance. I first learned of The Roots of Music about eight years ago. I think it’s goals of keeping the children of New Orleans off the streets while teaching about the city’s rich musical heritage is truly inspiring. And I thought that we could make an image of everyone gathered together (and maybe some smaller groupings) to help raise awareness of the organization as well as to hopefully sell the image to raise some money.

Thanks to Stanton’s introduction, I have spoken with Anne Messner & Trey Monaghan at the organization. We have agreed to try & gather everyone on Tuesday, May 2nd at 3pm at the Roots’ practice field in the Treme. If people are willing to commit, we can do this in under an hour. I wanted to do it Tuesday to leave a day for “recovery” after the first weekend of the Festival (and possibly leave us Wednesday as a “rain date” just in case). I thought that 3pm is late enough to give people time to sleep in if they need the extra rest but to also make sure people can get to sound checks. And I have offered to donate 30% of all monies raised to the organization.

All I need from each of you is:

  1. Can join us for sure
  2. T-shirt size (something I am considering)
  3. An agreement not to spread the word to the general public. I would love suggestions for any drummers or percussionists. But in the interest of time, I don’t want to have too many extra people hanging around. And we don’t want the photo taken by lots of others as that will dilute the value of the project.

Thanks so much for your time. I hope you can be part of what may one day be considered a historic gathering. I look forward to hearing back from each of you. And If we have never actually met face to face, it will be a privilege an honor to shake hands for the first time in May.

As my good friend George always says “Is it Jazz Fest yet?!”

Warmest Regards-

Marc Millman
Photographer/Visionary

And then I waited… only a little while before the replies started to come in. My man Eddie Christmas was first. And as I would with several others over the next month, I shared a list of two dozen more names I had with no contact information. Derrick “Smoker” Freeman was right behind Eddie. Then Eric BolivarSure enough, it was the guys I knew best from NOLA who got right back to me. The percussionists Michael Skinkus was next saying he had a conflict. The next morning the great Doug Belote, who I didn’t even know other than by his impressive resume, told me he was in.  On the 5th Russ Broussard wrote to say he had a conflict (but he thought it was in April). Ultimately, Russ would get MVP status for helping with several of the names I had no luck tracking down on my own. He also helped out rounding up a whole bunch of drummers I had no connection to. Later that day, the great Shannon Powell said he was in (Ultimately, he was a “no show”). With a name like Shannon’s I really started to feel like I was onto something. The following afternoon, Terence Higgins, or “Big T” as I call him, wrote to say he had a rehearsal scheduled (this was for the Little Feat “Waiting for Columbus” tribute show at The Saenger Theatre.); however, he was going to try and be there. I was grinning ear to ear.

Over the next five weeks I sent a weekly reminder. I added and subtracted names as I heard back from people. This all started to seem crazy. I was texting with older guys like the legendary Herlin Riley and Benny Jones Sr. from Treme Brass Band (either they didn’t have email or at least I never got one for them). I was calling others. And of course, I was still out shooting Bar & Bat Mitzvahs on weekends and concerts all week long while spending as much time as I could with my five-year-old daughter and my wife, since the annual Jazz Fest trip takes me away from them for two full weeks. By the time I landed at Louis Armstrong Airport on April 28th, I was five days away and really questioning myself.

The first weekend of Jazz Fest flew by. Bands all day at the fairgrounds and shows all night all over the city. Monday came and it was day one of the NOLA Crawfish Festival thrown by my friend Chris “Shaggy” Davis a/k/a NOLA Crawfish King.” I was fielding calls, texting on the run, and checking my email as quickly as it would refresh. I was tracking guys down at gigs, grabbing one of the first New Orleans drummers I fell in love with, “Mean” Willie Green, at Tipitina’s. I cornered him backstage after his set with the New Orleans Suspects at the annual Tipitina’s Foundation’s Instruments-A-Comin’ benefit (I convinced him to come, but only if I got him a ride since he doesn’t drive…almost every young player volunteered to be Willie’s Uber for the day).  Herlin told me he probably couldn’t be there because he was taking care of his sick elderly mother. I still hadn’t heard back from Zigaboo, but had started emailing Kathy to keep them in the loop since this was no longer a “pipe dream.” And I still had Deb guaranteeing she would have Johnny V there.

I won’t lie – by the time I woke up on Tuesday morning it was hot, sunny, and humid, and I was scared. I was positive the day would be a bust. I spent an hour on the phone with Apple since my brand-new MacBook Pro was failing (this is a big part of why it has taken six months for you to finally see these images). I was a man on the edge. I actually told myself that if this failed I was going to change my flight and fly home the next day. At 2:25pm I drove over to The Roots facility in the Treme. I pulled into the rear parking lot and saw a few guys sitting on the hood of a car. From this moment forward, my memories become a little fuzzy. Eddie Christmas and Jermal Watson were there. Possibly “Smoker” as well. I remember thinking that it was nice to see some familiar faces. But I also wondered if I was going to get more than four guys!

I jumped out of my car, grabbed my Think Tank roller bag and said hi to the guys in the lot. They told me there was someone else inside. Since I hadn’t been able to come and scout the property [never a bad idea], I quickly made my way inside, as the high afternoon sun was cooking on the open lot and brick exterior of the old school. A passageway led me to an interior courtyard with ample shade and beautiful plants. Besides a few of the kids from the program, the first person I saw was Frank Bua, Jr. from The Radiators. I was going to need a lot more bodies to call the day a success. But to see a member of one of the city’s longest standing and most famous Rock bands gave me hope. Frank and I started talking. He was telling me about his restaurant outside the city and how he almost brought me some gumbo. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see bodies starting to amble in. One way or the other, this was happening.

By just before 3pm, there were around a dozen guys there. It still felt a bit “light” to me on a headcount. But I had some great drummers there. Higgins had shown up with a day-glo orange & blue practice drum pad in hand. Jeffery “Jellybean Alexander from Papa Grows Funk had materialized, after never responding to my attempts to reach him. Stanton showed up on time. And Andrew Campanelli of the rising stars The Revivalists was in the house. There was Allyn Robinson, who played with Jaco PastoriusBrian Brignac from Sonny Landreth’s band, and Doug Belote.

All of a sudden, a well-dressed older gentleman walked in and approached me. My jaw dropped. “Hello, Herlin Riley.” I told him I knew who he was. I told him I thought he couldn’t make it. He said he only had a few minutes because his mother was home ill. I started to feel like this whole thing might get out of hand. It wasn’t even 3pm yet. If this many guys were already there, at least a few more had to show up, right?! And most musicians are never on time! How could I take a photo of everyone and not have Herlin in it? But obviously I wasn’t going to have him for long. He walked over to talk to Jermal, Eddie & Floyd Gray III, who plays with locals like Shamarr Allen and Mykia Jovan. Then Johnny & Deb Vidacovich rolled in with that je ne sais quoi which allows everyone in their presence to immediately smile. I knew I had to pounce. I got whoever was there together and took what I’ll forever refer to as version one of the Different Drummer project.

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The Different Drummer Project: version one

A few more faces started wandering in. Joe Lastie from Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Russ Broussard were now in the mix. All the guys were socializing. Everyone was smiling ear to ear. Herlin couldn’t leave right away. Not only were the young guys coming over to talk to him, but he wanted to speak with young players like Joseph Dyson. And there was no way Johnny V and Stanton were letting him leave without a photo! And I wasn’t passing up the chance to get a pair of local Jazz greats like Lastie & Riley together. I clicked a few more frames of these little gatherings. Then I gathered everyone for version two of the Different Drummer project.

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The Different Drummer Project: version two

It was barely past 3pm. My adrenaline was kicking into overdrive. I knew things still had to build into something bigger – and within a few minutes they did. Joey Peebles from Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Willie Green, percussionist Mike DillonCarlo Nuccio, the brilliant Raymond Weber, who played with Harry Connick Jr. among others arrived. Garland Paul of Honey Island Swamp Band brought along Chicago percussionist, Rick King who regularly sits in with his band at Jazz Fest time. “Little T,” Terrence Houston who plays with George Porter Jr. in the Runnin’ Parnders and Funky Meters joined “Big T” for a drum off on the drum pad. Kevin O’Day, who formed The Midnite Disturbers with Stanton Moore, showed up (I had met and mentioned this to him as the Disturbers set ended at Festival over the weekend).

I was losing control. My one regret was not having a way to put the guys on different levels, like the steps used in the “Great Day in Harlem” photo. With all the chaos and the limited window of time (not to mention no assistant), there are a few obscured faces in almost all the groups. But I felt like I had to keep pushing forward. I called for another large group photo. To be completely honest I wanted to yell for everyone to “Shut the fuck up” because I felt like things were going to derail. The guys were all having too much fun just talking to each other. And it felt amazing to have made that happen. But I was on a mission.

I’m not a religious person. I may pray for good luck from time to time or to catch a break in the middle of a bad week, but that’s as far as my faith goes. Sometimes though, things happen and you have to question them. The guys were gathering for version three of the Different Drummer project. But the noise level made arranging people difficult. All of a sudden, everyone went silent. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding like someone obsessed with Science Fiction. But I swear that the air over my shoulder seemed to change. I moved my Nikon D4 away from my eye and turned around. And what I saw brought me to my knees. Zigaboo and Kathy Modeliste were walking towards me. The look on my face was one of confusion. They told me even on my final follow-up email that they couldn’t make it. But here was Kathy smiling and Zig pointing at me and laughing as he said, “Gotcha!” I started to cry. This was the man that I consider to be my “gateway drug” for New Orleans’ drummers and music. Zig’s playing on Robert Palmer’s “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley” alongside his bandmates from The Meters and Lowell George was what originally led me to seeking out The Meters and then The Neville Brothers. Most importantly, he was the first person I thought of for this project. Kathy told me that they wanted to pull a joke on me. I got “punked” by Zig! But best of all, Herlin hadn’t left yet! It was still before 3:30 so there was a strong chance a few more guys would show up. I got everyone back into a large group and clicked a few more frames on the D4 and my Fujifilm X-Pro2. This became the third version.

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The Different Drummer Project: version three

Herlin left after that third group image. I told everyone this wouldn’t take more than an hour and we were halfway there. The important thing was that everyone was having a good time. Not knowing what was going to happen next, I started breaking the guys down into smaller groups (or more accurately, they mainly did it on their own). I got a group that called themselves “The Cajuns” that included Allyn Robinson, Wayne Maureau, Doug Belote, Brian Brignac, Carlo Nuccio, Russ Broussard & Kevin Aucoin (I’m pretty sure that almost nobody in that group actually was Cajun). A bunch of the brass band players couldn’t wait to get together with Benny, who showed up as promised via our texts. He was joined by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s Julian Addison, Aron Lambert from Treme Brass, Soul Brass Band (along with Derrick Freeman) & Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles, Derrick Moss of The Soul Rebels and Ajay Mallery.

I won’t tell you that I was enjoying things. In the moment, I was too overwhelmed to even really comprehend what was happening. I had no idea how large the group had become. But I was acutely aware that I was responsible for something pretty special, if the city of New Orleans and its musical heritage, especially as it pertains to Jazz Fest, matters to you. The always-fun-to-be- around Brady Blade showed up in his “Sunday Best,” as he was on his way to Eric McFadden’s wedding (the two play together in Anders Osborne‘s band). Zig was talking to Joe Lastie. “Jellybean,” “Big T,” Ray Weber and “Mean” Willie had to jump into a photo with them! Unfortunately, I didn’t have Nikki there. However, I did get Stanton, Johnny. and Zigaboo. In fact, one of my favorite images of the day was those three joined by Willie. That’s four of the funkiest guys I know and love.

Mike D got crazy for me. My two ladies, Kathy Modeliste and Deborah Vidacovich, graced my lens. Zigaboo worked the courtyard like a politician at a fundraiser. Everyone loves Zig. I captured him and Willie alone, representing the two drummers that taught me what the second line beat was about. I also got Zig with “Little T.” That image gave me two thirds of one of my dream shots for the day. I wanted the drummers from the three iterations of The Meters, but Russell Batiste Jr. was MIA. And I caught a few candid moments: “Big T” and “Little T” had their drum off, the star pupil in The Roots of Music, Lawrence Honore a/k/a “Tudda,” matching drum patterns with Terence as some of the biggest names in the game watched the ten-year-old.

Derrick Tabb from Rebirth Brass Band is the co-founder of The Roots program. Derrick and Anne showed up and joined the fun. Things really were moving very fast. And time felt like it was running out. I needed to make one last attempt to get version four of the Different Drummer project since clearly the ranks had swelled yet again. The problem was it was mayhem. If you don’t believe me, you can watch the Livestream video that Stanton made

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Forty-one. That’s the number in the final image, but I didn’t know this until I went home and opened up the files. I could have used steps or a riser (we considered going into the practice room, but the lighting was terrible). I could have used an assistant (a football coach would have been best). It wasn’t like anyone was paying attention to me anymore. They were just having too much fun. But they all came together because I had this crazy idea after seeing a photo in the window of a gym in New York City in the middle of the winter. Before I lost my chance, I captured that final version of the Different Drummer project.

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The Different Drummer Project: version four

[Back row: Rick King, Brian Brignac, Andrew Campanelli, Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander, Karl Boudreaux, A.J. Hall, Mike Dillon, Stanton Moore, Terence Higgins, Joey Peebles

Third row [mainly obscured]: Carlo Nuccio, Derrick Tabb, Raymond Weber, Kevin O’Day, Garland Paul

Second row: Ajay J.Mallery Sr., Allyn Robinson, Johnny Vidacovich, Wayne Maureau, Derrick Moss, Derrick Freeman, Andre Bohren, Joe Gelini, Chad Gilmore, Alfred Jordan, Jermal Watson, Joseph C. Dyson Jr., Floyd Gray III,

Front Row: Zigaboo Modeliste, Russ Broussard, “Mean” Willie Green, Julian Addison, Eddie Christmas, Lawrence “Tudda” Honore, Terrence Houston, Doug Belote, Brady Blade, Benny Jones Sr., Kevin Aucoin, Joe Lastie]

My mind let my body release. This was when I was able to get some of those candid images and smaller groups. And this is when almost every one of the guys in attendance came over to individually thank me. It felt amazing. More than one of the guys told me how they didn’t think this was possible to do with anyone but the drummers. That was interesting. They thought they had more of a sense of camaraderie than say the guitar slingers or keyboard players. They believe those other disciplines are more about the competition. Perhaps we shall see. If people are interested, then maybe this will be the first in an annual series. Either way though, this stands as possibly the coolest thing I have done from behind the lens.

I think it needs to be noted that there were people who didn’t make it who I wish did. Nikki Glaspie of course was absent. She was the only woman I was able to come up with even after speaking to more than a dozen drummers while pulling this together. She’s also one of the baddest and one of my favorites. But she had a rehearsal for her band’s Bob Marley tribute show. The Marley show also cost me Weedie Braimah who’s not only one of the most colorful characters you could know, but a master Djemebe player. He also would have made only the second true percussionist since Skinkus didn’t make it either. Shannon Powell never showed. He was another of the “old guard” along with Herlin, Joe Lastie, Benny and Zig that I was hoping to have. Representing every generation shows that music is something that gets passed down to the youth in order to keep that perpetual groove going. Locals like Simon Lott didn’t make it after saying they would try to reschedule other things. Eric Bolivar, who played with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Anders, got caught with a medical emergency with his daughter. My friend Will McMains who plays with Lindell made it… just after most of the “festivities” were over. And unfortunately, Russ Batiste didn’t show even after I talked to him about it twice.

There are several “out of town” drummers who I thought should be included because they and their bands are part of the fabric that is Jazz Fest every year. None of them got there even if they were in town. Schedules can’t always align. Because of that, I didn’t get to include Alan Evans from Soulive (and now The Tiny Universe), John Staten from Pimps of Joytime, Simon Allen from The New Mastersounds, Robert “Sput” Searight II & Nate Werth from Snarky Puppy, and Adam Deitch from Lettuce & Break Science.

I also wanted a Big Chief there. My thought process was that nothing speaks to the colorful, spiritual feel of this funky city more than the Mardi Gras Indians. And for me, this meant one man: Monk Boudreaux. I spoke to his nephew Spy Boy J’Wan Boudreaux after the Midnight Disturbers set where I also approached his bandmate from Cha WaJoe Gelini. I tried to get J’Wan to be part of it and bring his Dad. Unfortunately, they were “no shows.”

Ultimately, I was happy to pull off anything at all. And this turned out to be much bigger than “a little something.” I don’t pretend to believe that anyone will ever match the power and importance of the “Great Day in Harlem” image. That was the gathering of 57 of Jazz’s biggest names. I don’t think what I did is anywhere near that level of importance. To me, the Different Drummer project is about showing the love of music that thrives in the craziness that is life in New Orleans. It’s about the sense of brotherhood between these players. It re-enforced my faith in the effort I put into my music imagery. This has led to many friendships with the musicians themselves. And for a kid from New Jersey who has always been obsessed by music, what could mean more?

And finally, it is about trying to raise the awareness for The Roots of Music. Our children are the future. Raising my own daughter has made this clear to me. Keeping kids off the streets, putting instruments in their hands, teaching them to be part of something and helping them carry on the culture and music of New Orleans is a worthwhile cause. I’m hoping that people will be moved by reading about this day and interested in purchasing some of the images to raise money for The Roots. And at the very least, please look into making a donation to help them out. A little bit goes a long way.

If you are interested in purchasing prints of any of these images, you can find them here.

50% of all profits will be donated to The Roots of Music

Limited edition numbered fine art prints of these five images are available by contacting me directly at marc@marcmillmanphotos.com

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The Different Drummer Project: version four

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Willie, Zigaboo, Stanton & Johnny 

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Herlin Riley & Joe Lastie 

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Zig, Joe, “Jellybean,” “Big T,” Ray & “Mean” Willie

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Zigaboo & Willie $375

There are a few people worthy of being thanked:

The Meters were my intro into the world of New Orleans music, and George Porter Jr. was the first musician from the Big Easy to befriend me. Eric Lindell, Anders Osborne, and Billy Iuso are three guys from the Big Easy who have been good friends to me for years now. Through them I have met countless other musicians. The Modelistes & Vidacovichs have been wonderful with me and my family. Stanton Moore was gung ho from the get go! And with Stanton’s enthusiasm and introduction to Anne Messner at The Roots of Music, this whole day was able to come together. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for allowing me to cover their amazing event. It’s why I go down to the Big Easy every year. And without the weekends on the fairgrounds, I wouldn’t have come up with a project to do while in town. Peter Shapiro for being my biggest supporter; from working for him as a House photographer at Brooklyn Bowl & The Capitol Theatre to shooting for Relix Magazine, my name and reputation have gained momentum due to his backing. Live For Live Music has backed me in getting my Press credentials at Fest for several years and has also helped to expand my name recognition. Howie Schnee from CEG Presents who has promoted shows for years supporting the musicians of New Orleans. It was at many of his New York City shows (especially back in the Sullivan Hall days) that I met so much of the great talent to come out of the Crescent City. And, of course, I can’t leave out all the drummers who took the time out of a very hectic week to participate. There was no money paid to anyone. This was a labor of love. And of course, there is my family. My mother gave me her artistic instincts. My father gave me his love for photography. My in-laws have helped out in too many ways to name. And my wife, Robyn and daughter, Julia Summer are there cheering me on and never complaining when I head out the door at 7pm and go to bed at 4am.

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My cheerleaders

 

Stretchin’ out Uptown Friday night

One of my best [and favorite clients] is Harlem Stage, a non-profit on the City College campus located at 135th Street & Convent Avenue. Harlem Stage “celebrates and perpetuates the unique and diverse artistic legacy of Harlem and the indelible impression it has made on American culture” according to their Mission Statement.

The program tends to mix music (mainly Jazz, Funk, R&B and World) with modern dance and spoken word. And there are certain artists that have established working relationships with Harlem Stage. Christian Scott, also known as Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is one of those artists. The New Orleans native is a very talented & Grammy-nominated trumpeter, composer and producer. A week ago he hosted the two night Stretch Music Festival. Each night he presented several other artists for short sets before finishing the night with his own band. I was only there for opening night on Friday.

To start it all off with Mardi Gras season upon us, Christian came out as Chief Adjudah & The Brave and presented a Black Indian ceremony in which he wore a traditional Mardi Gras Indian chief costume. This was followed by the saxophonist, Braxton Cook and then the brother/sister duo Samora Pinderhughes & Elena Pinderhughes

Here is a gallery of images from a very fun, well-curated evening in Harlem.

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Funk at 90mm

I’ve been very busy and very much behind on blogging. And with a list of year-end “wrap-up” pieces of “Best Of 2016” lists still to come, I thought this was worth a quick blog post.

I have always been a Nikon professional photographer. I love my D4, as well as, my trusty old D300s. I have taken them anywhere and everywhere without failure. And with this year being the 100th anniversary of the company, I only want to praise the company. However…

The one area where both Nikon and Canon, in my opinion, have fallen behind is in the area of mirrorless cameras. Although they haven’t produced a full-frame version, I think what Fujifilm has done, particularly with their XPro-2  and their Fujinon  X-series lenses is quite remarkable. Lightweight and rugged with sharp and clean images up to ISO 6400 .

After years of just taking one camera to shoot concerts, I started carrying the XPro-2 in addition to my D4 to most shows starting with last years Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Usually I will have the 16-55mm f/.28 (24-70mm equivalent) in addition to a prime lens for the Fuji. Then for my D4, I will have three zoom lenses covering the standard range of professional f/2.8 glass. But sometimes I like to go out and change things up. Last night was one of those instances.

I am the house photographer for Brooklyn Bowl. Saturday night, the venus hosted Jans Ingber’s Funk Fellowship. This was one of those “super groups” made up of players from around the country familiar to anyone following the Funk and jam band scenes. Two of the players are friends of mine. And with several incredibly talented vocalists fronting the evening, including Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive and Jennifer Hartswick, I was looking forward to a fun night of getting “lost in the groove.”

I decided to try and shoot the night with no more than three lenses on two bodies. So I brought a 17-35mm f/2.8 and my “go-to” 24-70mm f/2.8 for the D4. And on the xPro-2 I attached the 90mm f/2.0. Due to the crop factor involved, the lens is a 135mm equivalent if you were shooting with a 35mm camera. This meant a decent medium length when shooting from a distance and very “up close and personal” when shooting from directly in front or on the stage as I tend to do many nights at The Bowl. The 90mm is super sharp and very fast to auto-focus. And I love the skin tones of the Fujinon lenses even in low-light situations.

So without further ado, here’s a handful of images made with my favorite new toy and a few videos shot with my trusty D4.jans-ingbers-funk-fellowship-brooklyn-bowl-sat-1-21-17_january-21-20170106-edit

Bee Gees- Love You Inside Out

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Beatles- We Can Work It Out

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Bill Withers- Who Is He And What Is He To You

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Jill Scott- You Don’t Know

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George Michael- Freedom 90

 

A strange day in America. But a great night of music in New York City

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Wednesday was not a day that many people will remember fondly in years to come. Even if you were on the winning side of the ugly fight for the White House, it seems that we all lost a little something as a nation. Raising a four year old daughter in New York City has many challenges to begin with, so my hopes are that everything generally follows a fairly Centrist path and life goes on mainly the way we’ve known it. But in the meantime, we all need to find things other than our Social Media feeds like Twitter and Facebook or 24 hour cable news from MSNBC or Fox News.

But believe me, this blog post, like this blog is not about politics. This is about my images and the way I hope they make people feel like Rockstars onstage no matter who they are or what they do. With a good photograph, you can be transported to another time and place in much the same way that listening to an old Soul music record like Donny Hathaway Live can take you back to being a kid in your living room, listening to Dad’s albums. It’s that power of music to inspire, heal and always allow you to escape to someplace far away or long ago, which sends me off with my cameras at night in search of the next great shot.

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I shoot for The Bowery Presents who promote many of the most interesting shows in and around New York City. When I saw last month that Steve Vai was bringing his Passion And Warfare 25th Anniversary tour the the very intimate Town Hall, I knew this show was for me. As a small theater near Times Square, that is famous for its great acoustics, but also its very well-mannered performances, I expected to capture the show from the back of the room. I was very pleasantly surprised when Steve’s Tour Manager told me I could shoot from anywhere in the room. As Vai took the stage, I was on my knees in the center aisle directly in front to capture the guitar pyrotechnics up close. And between his fingers on his fretboard and the screen behind him, it was pure eye candy.

For most major performances, a concert photographer is only allowed to shoot the first three songs of the show. For bigger shows this means being ushered directly out of the building. On other nights, you have a ticket and are allowed to stay. With Sting not hitting the stage until 11pm for his late second show at Irving Plaza, I was able to stay and watch Vai’s show up until the encores. The man is truly a master of the six strings.

At 11pm sharp, Sting hit the stage at Irving Plaza for the album release party for 57th And 9th. It was his second performance of the evening. The show was sponsored by iHeart Media. He played a sixty minute set that mixed songs from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted The Police as well as his classic solo albums and his new release.

Popular music and politics have certainly mixed in the United States since the 1960s. But on this night, I was able to go out and just hear two men still performing at the top of their game, play some of their best songs. And in both cases, the audiences were lucky enough to catch them in intimate settings. For me, it was simply another night out loving what I do. And no matter what you think of the election, it still felt great to live in new York City and have the opportunity to shoot live music. That is one thing that I will always love about our country.

Burn Baby, Burn [or Nas & Jared get married]

I’ve reached a point in my life where if I’m not making images at a wedding as the photographer, then I’m most likely not involved in Wedding Photography at all. The reason is simple: most of my friends are married…with kids! In fact I’m more likely to be shooting a Bar or Bat Mitzvah of a close friend’s child. But when I do get to attend nuptials, I find it impossible to walk out the door with only my iPhone in hand. Much like the curse of being a concert photographer, I just can’t enjoy myself without a camera.

One of the most important things a photographer like any other artist needs to do is look to challenge oneself every day. So when I left for what promised to be the most unique wedding I would probably ever attend, I decided to travel small and light. But I did not leave myself without an arsenal of weapons. This made my choices for the night rather easy. I decided to take my favorite new toy: the Fujifilm XPro-2 with a 18mm f/2 prime lens. And to make sure I would have enough light, I grabbed my iBlazr. Although not a full frame camera, the XPro-2 renders wonderful skin tones and more than acceptable images up to ISO 6400. The 18mm f/2 lens allows me a wide image from essentially a pancake lens while also being relatively fast (ideal for low-light captures). And the iBlzr is one of the neatest gadgets I’ve picked up in the past few years. It would allow me a continuous source of light if needed (and it most certainly was at this affair!)

Dressed for a “Rocktail” party, my wife and I headed out the door for our 6:15 arrival time in Freeman Alley having only been given the time and location less than 48 hours before the event. Most people would find this a bit strange for a wedding. But then most people don’t know my close friend Jared. He is a world traveler and an ardent member of the Burning Man world. It was on his travels to the Far East two years ago that he met a wonderful young lady from Russia. And after a whirlwind romance around the globe, the man that many of us thought might never settle down, asked the love of his life to marry him. And none of our close friends who grew up together on Fire Island ever thought that this night could be anything less than monumental.

The alley dead-ends at Freemans Restaurant…that was not where we were going. But adjacent to the restaurant was the back entrance to The Box. And if you know anything about the venue, the Burning Man culture and my friend Jared…

My philosophy for photography is stated in the name of this blog. On any given day, anyone can be a Rockstar. Sometimes the person literally is one. Other times it is just a girl becoming a woman at her Bat Mitzvah or a little boy playing in the waves on the beach. And other times it is a couple like Anastasia and Jared who are made for this moment every single day.

I’m always hoping when I go to work to walk away with a few more than memorable images to make my clients happy. And when traveling “light” and going as a “spectator,” it feels really good to be able to give your friends and “extra” wedding present.

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Mazel tov to Nas & Jared. The effort put into the details of your big day showed. May your love continue to burn brightly. And may you keep on rockin’ for many years to come.