Bass In Yo’ Face: a Gathering of the Low End

Every year in late April, I make my way down to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. To me, it is the best music festival in one of the very best cities. A place where one can spend all day and night eating the best food, listening to some of the greatest musicians and checking out wonderful art. However, all the fun aside, I am there for one purpose: to shoot live music. Leaving my wife and young daughter home in New York City for two weeks doesn’t make this trip a vacation. It’s work. And my goal is to come home with at least a handful of exceptional and hopefully unique images. The reality is, that’s much easier said than done. With so many photographers all shooting the same shows this can be a real struggle.

One day In early 2017, I was walking home and passed an advertisement in the window of a Crunch gym in New York City. This ad inspired me to create The Different Drummer Project, (which you can read about here); something that allowed me to do something a bit more creative than just capturing musicians playing live on stage or hanging around backstage. It also gave me the chance to give back to a city and its people that mean so much to me. By working in conjunction with The Roots of Music, a wonderful organization that works with children from New Orleans, I devised a plan to help raise some money and spread the word on their efforts.

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The Different Drummer Project group photo (Tue 5/2/17)

After the success of that first year, I started to think about building an actual body of work beyond the live images that I’ve become known for. This led to my second project–Six String Slingers,( which you can read about here)–a group of diverse local New Orleans-based musician friends and guitar players. Two amazing historical gatherings of over 40 musicians each time. Could I keep this up?! I was certainly going to try. The question was what instrument would I focus on next?

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Six String Slingers (Tue 5/1/18)

Ever since I was a very young kid in the early 1970s, I have been obsessed with music. In college, I started to explore the world of Blues and Funk/Soul/R&B. This, of course, led me down the Mississippi River from Chicago to New Orleans, and inevitably, to the music of The Meters. I feel lucky that in the late 80s I was able to see them when they started playing out live again. And I’m blessed that I became friendly with the legendary bass player and one of the creators of Funk, George Porter, Jr. It was George who made the decision for my third project easy. Just like the first year when  Zigaboo Modeliste to joined the drummers, and last year when Leo Nocentelli joined the guitar players, I wanted another member of The Meters in this year’s shoot [Sadly, I’d like to note that I’d considered doing the keyboard players. But I knew that Art Neville and Dr. John were not in good health. And by late July, both had passed.]

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The original Meters  @ Howlin’ Wolf (Sat 5/5/12)

Having settled on bass players, I needed to start putting together a list. At the beginning of January, The Revivalists played the Beacon Theatre. After the show, I was talking with their bassist, George Gekas. He told me how much he enjoyed my first two projects, and when I told him that I was leaning towards doing the bass players, he offered to be of help with the younger players around town. In late February, I sent out my first research email to five of friends whom I consider to be among the established “old guard” of New Orleans players: George Porter, Reggie Scanlan of The Radiators, Tony Hall & Nick Daniels of Dumpstaphunk and Robert Mercurio of Galactic (my “baby” of the group).

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Reggie Scanlan with “Mean” Willie Green [participant in The Different Drummer project]: Monkey Wranch The Hall at MP (Thur 11/17/16)

Headcount Participation Party Highline Ballroom (Mon 11 5 12)_November 06, 20120257-Edit-Edit-2-EditNick Daniels & Tony Hall of Dumpstaphunk: Headcount Participation Party @ Highline Ballroom (Mon 11/5/12)

Galactic Tipitina's (Sat 5 4 19)_May 04, 20190209-Edit-EditRobert Mercurio: Galactic @ Tipitina’s (Sat 5/4/19)

Porter was the first to respond. “The first name on that list should be George French and Peter Chuck Badie should be at the top of this list,” he told me. These were the names of the real true “old school.” George French was Porter’s mentor and I definitely wanted to try to honor the request of the greatest bass player I’ve ever known! (Side note: I once heard that Porter was playing a gig and French showed up and Porter just kind of froze up…which seems impossible to me…maybe it’s just a made-up story).

Next up. Tony Hall. Tony was my MVP when it came to names and contacts. His initial list contained 29 names! Not only did he add more over the next few months, but he also kept in close touch for updates on who I had reached and who had committed. Tony felt strongly, as did I, about making sure the players who had worked the clubs and recorded the soundtrack of the Crescent City for decades were represented.

As I started to flesh things out, George Gekas proved to be a man of his word. He also in contact; asking who I had and offering up lots of younger players. And with the added assistance of my good friend Myles Weeks, who I first met when he was starting out and playing with Eric Lindell, and his list of jazz players, I was able to compile a list of true NOLA bass talent.

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Myles Weeks: Eric Lindell @ Fitzgerald’s (Berwyn, IL- Sat 2/1/14)

On April 5th, I sent my first an email to what would be a total of approximately 60 bass players and managers, many in the jazz and blues scene, many of whom I knew personally, and some of whom had recommended to me by fellow bass players or managers who are part of the NOLA community.

The subject line was: “Bass In Yo’ Face- an invitation to a historic gathering of the Low End.”

It began as follows:

Who: all the Bass players associated with New Orleans

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

Where: The Roots of Music- 2624 Burgundy St. New Orleans

When: Tuesday, April 30th at 12:30pm (this should take about an hour if everyone can get there on time)

Why: to honor those of you who make the world dance with thumping, popping, picking, bowing and strumming

The email went on to explain the purpose of the project and how honored I would be to have each one of them participate.

In twenty-five days, I reached out to approximately 60 players. In particular, I was thrilled to have two women agree to be part of the day. Amina Scott & Jessica Wright are wonderful young upright bass players. I was honored that both James Singleton and Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall and its Jazz Band were willing to participate. I was even able to make George Porter happy by getting George French there (although I was never able to get in touch with Peter Chuck Badie). Sylvester “Snap” Andrews came down. This local legend actually taught Nick Daniels how to play!

Clockwise from top left: Amina Scott & Jessica Wright, Ben Jaffe & “Snap” Andrews, George Porter Jr. & George French listen to Chris Severin

By the time Tuesday the 20th came around, I was feeling a bit more relaxed than I had in the first two years. But pulling this off every year is not easy. When you’re aiming to get over forty working musicians together mid-afternoon during the busiest week of music in New Orleans, you never know what’s going to happen. And this year I was contending with an additional hurdle. The Roots of Music had moved to a new facility shortly after we wrapped the Six String Slingers in 2018. The old space had provided ideal cover for an outdoor group photo shoot in a town known for its weather extremes. But the new courtyard had almost no shade and the little that it did have, was rapidly disappearing as the sweltering mid-afternoon sun moved West. Quick work was going to be necessary. So, for the second year in a row, I hit Popeye’s for chicken for the players.  One thing I learned last year, courtesy of local legend Deacon John, is how important it is to provide fried chicken! So, all my gear and roughly 80 pieces of chicken in hand, I headed to the new spot.

It was a bright sunny day. And it was HOT. And I was equal parts excited and tense. This shoot has been high-pressure from year one–so many of the musicians are on tight deadlines to get in and get out to their other commitments. So after handing off the chicken and asking everyone to sign in, I just started shooting in the courtyard until the sun completely shifted.

Clockwise from top left: Sylvester “Snap” Andrews, Reggie Scanlon, Ben Jaffe, Albey Balgochian, Cornell Williams & Dewey Sampson

When a few people started saying they couldn’t stick around; I called an audible and moved to the front side of the building to get the group photo done. It wasn’t ideal but it was the only place in the shade. Did I mention how hot it was?! With a little patience, I got everyone assembled and made my main image. And with barely time to catch my breath, I was back at it making the individual portraits on our “new location” against the brick wall in the shade.

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As always, working alone makes it almost impossible to document anything happening around me while I shoot portraits. But I do keep my eyes open and try to grab the occasional image of the players hanging out. This part is important to me on a personal level. Many of the musicians I’ve included over the past three years have commented to me that this experience is unique. Generally, musicians that play the same instrument rarely get a chance to socialize within their group, and so they frequently ask for a picture with their friends or idols. It’s hard to describe the emotion of taking these particular shots. Getting those small group images really helps make the day extra special.

Clockwise from top left: Nick Daniels III greets George French, Kerry Lewis & Ben Jaffe joke around while recreating a photo from their high school yearbook, Young friends Eric Vogel, George Gekas & “Elmo” Price, Old friends Mark Brooks, Nick Daniels III, Tony Hall, Chris Severin & Donald Ramsey, Robert Mercurio & Noah Young check out Jack Cruz‘s bass, Roland Guerin & Marc Pero, George Porter Jr. makes sure everyone knows who George French is

I still have my annual list of regrets. Jazz Fest is a perfectly imperfect moment in time each year. Between the crazy New Orleans weather in the late Spring and the non-stop shows every day for two weeks, it is almost impossible to make things work for everyone. And even when people can make it, they sometimes have very small windows of time to participate. But there were so many great moments in the limited time I had. I captured George Porter and his hero, George French together. I was even able to get three Georges together–The Revivalists’ George Gekkas between the two legendary elder statesmen. Somehow, I didn’t get individual portraits of either Porter or French–although, the image of them laughing is probably my favorite of the whole day. I made portraits of each of the Dumpstaphunk bass players, Tony Hall and Nick Daniels, (who were of great help to me in getting the list of players together). But somehow, we failed to get one of just the two of them together. James Singleton  left before I got to shoot anything of him alone. He is one of the greatest players in that town. And a very cool cat.  His work with Astral Project is out of this world. So I was thrilled that he is represented in the group photo. The same can be said of my friend Dave Pomerleau of Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes. Finally, at around 3:30pm, I made my final images of Charles Moore, brother of the local legend Deacon John Moore.

Bass In Yo Face (Tue 4 30 19)_April 30, 20190385-EditGeorge Porter Jr. & George French enjoy a laugh???

Bass In Yo Face (Tue 4 30 19)_April 30, 20190401-EditThree Georges: Porter, Gekas & French [not a law firm]

Unfortunately, time constraints and prior commitments result in missing shots that I really wanted to get.  Cassandra Faulconer was out of town. So was my buddy Carl Dufrene Jr., who spent many years playing with Anders Osborne. Sam Price of Honey Island Swamp Band had a midday slot at the same Threadhead Patry that Porter needed to get to. Calvin Turner, who played with Marc Broussard (and others), is now a New Orleans Police officer and couldn’t get off work. And sadly, Amina Scott showed up just after the group image was done. And I never did get in touch with Peter Chuck or Daryl Johnson of Neville Brothers fame.

However, what I’ve learned over the course of three years is that this is an incredibly special opportunity for me. I am beyond grateful to all the musicians who continue to show me their love and respect for my work when they volunteer their time when they should probably be at home resting (if they don’t actually have a gig to be at ten minutes later). And I am thankful that I was able to connect with The Roots of Music team who have been extremely helpful and so happy to have me championing their amazing cause. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. It was a little challenging, but ultimately, I think we made another great group portrait.

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Bass In Yo’ Face

Back row: Cornell Williams, George French,Jeff Tyson, Myles Weeks, Jerry “JBlakk” Henderson, Charlie Wooton, Albey Balgochian, Martin Masakowski, Kerry Lewis, Donald Ramsey, Chris Severin, Mark Brooks, Andrew “Elmo” Price, Stephen Bohnstengel, Matt Booth, Robert Mercurio, Dave Pomerlau, Phil Wang, Paul Boudreaux

Middle row: Sylvester “Snap” Andrews, Roland Guerin, Reggie Scanlon, Charles Moore, Mike “Bass” Ballard, Dewey Sampson, Jessica Wright, George Gekas, Rene Coman, Jack Cruz, Eric Vogel, Ron Johnson, Tony Hall & Ben Jaffe

Front row: Tony Gullage, Nick Daniels III, James Singleton, Max Moran, George Porter Jr., Marc Pero & Trey Boudreaux

This year’s shoot took the same amount of time as the year before, But with some self-control, I cut down my click count to around 1900 on two cameras (Nikon D4 and Fujifilm X-T3). And now, it’s been seven and a half months. A project like this I can only work on in fits. I need time and space to really decide what I like and what I don’t. I’ve culled it all down to around 260 images. As always, I used my wife, Robyn for a second opinion. And ultimately, I came up with 144 images of the 41 bass players related to the Crescent City.

(Note: there were too many great images from the day to include here. But you can check out the gallery on my site. Which you definitely should. Especially if you don’t see any individual portraits of your favorite players.)

I rarely think of any “Part Threes” being any good (certainly not The Godfather Part III or Die Hard With A Vengeance). But once again, I think I really accomplished something special here. New Orleans is a magical place. But it really exists in its own little bubble. So too many of these people are unknown to the world. My hope is that this series helps to spread their names as well as inform people about the wonderful work done locally by The Roots of Music with the city’s children.

Now it is once again time to sit back, relax and start thinking about Part Four. I have a few ideas and have already planted a few seeds. But I’m curious, who do you think I should focus on in 2020? You can leave that comment for me below.

P.S.- All of the images from The Different Drummer ProjectSix String Slingers and Bass In Yo Face are available for sale through those hyperlinks. 50% of all profits go to The Roots of Music (You can also learn how to get involved by clicking here).

P.S.S.- If you are interested in simply donating directly to The Roots of Music, you can do so by going here. In the top right corner, click “Donate” and if you don’t mind, under “Purpose of Donation,” please put: Marc Millman’s Bass In Yo Face project

 

Where It All Began- A Tribute to Duane Allman & The Muscle Shoals Sound

A Black & White gallery of soundcheck images

On Wednesday, November 20th, 2019 Scott Sharrard led a cast of musicians in a tribute the late great Duane Allman on his birthday. The evening focused on Duane’s work in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, particularly at Fame Studios as a sideman before he became truly famous for the band he formed with his brother Gregg.

I ran out to Brooklyn Bowl for the soundcheck hoping to make some portraits of the players. But with so many musicians and so much music to rehearse in just one soundcheck, that never came to be. Instead, what I was treated to was an intimate “concert” while they worked through the songs. What I’ve put together below is a set of images capturing everyone during the “work in progress” phase of the day. All the images were made with my Fuji X-Pro2 camera and either my trusty 35mm f/1.4 or the 56mm f/1.2 lenses. Also included are links for two videos showing a little bit of what happens “behind the curtain” at a soundcheck/rehearsal.

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Vaneese Thomas & Scott Sharrard sing “The Weight”

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“The Weight”

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Peter Levin on the Hammond organ

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Vernon Reid “Wild Horses”

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Lisa Fischer & Brett Bass “Wild Horses”

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Vernon & Lisa “Wild Horses”

[first of two highlights of the evening]

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Scott  Vernon & Tash Neal “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats”

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Tash “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats”

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Junior Mack “Loan Me A Dime”

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Scott & Junior “Loan Me A Dime”

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Scott “Mean Old World” from the Acoustic Set

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Scott, Tassh & Duane Betts “Please Be With Me” from the Acoustic Set

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Duane “Please Be With Me” from the Acoustic Set

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Scott & Robert Randolph discuss covering Herbie Mann’s “Push Push”

[second of two highlights of the evening]

As promised, here are two videos shot on my iPhone XR during the soundcheck:

Wild Horses feat. Lisa Fischer & Vernon Reid rehearsal

Happy Lucky 7th to My Home Away from Home: The [reborn] Cap Turns 7

I wasn’t here for the night it reopened. Bob Dylan wasn’t allowing photographers and I stayed home. A mistake for sure. But in my role as House photographer for the Capitol Theatre, I have covered a lot of amazing nights in the seven years since.

There have been some interesting nights. Bo Burnham filmed a Netflix special. There was Jam The Vote to help raise money for Headcount before the last presidential election. Debra of America hosted a benefit to raise money for their charitable organization that featured an amazing band: Warren Haynes, George Porter Jr., Joe Russo, John Medeski & SkerikCentral Park Dance has put on its annual performance of The Nutcracker.

The Grateful Dead‘s legendary bass player, Phil Lesh started a year-long run of shows at the venue which turned into a permanent “residency” of sorts. I was lucky enough to suggest to the venue’s owner, Peter Shapiro that I should document at least one night each time he came through and if the lineup changed, more than one night. This has led to an endless number of incredible musicians passing through the stage doors to play the music of the ultimate jam band. And of course, the annual March birthday shows and Halloween runs are always something extra special.

I’ve been blessed to shoot some of my favorite musical acts like Robert Plant, Neil Young, Jeff BeckCounting Crows, Jane’s AddictionTedeschi Trucks Band, Al Green, Black Crowes and the late Chris Cornell. But the list of incredible musicians and comedians goes on and on.

To honor the past seven years, This is a gallery of just some of what I consider my best images from the venue. Many artists aren’t represented. And some artists are represented numerous times. All that mattered to me was that the images, including several of the fans, showed off how special that room and stage are. I hope you enjoy looking through these 130 images as much as I did when I culled them from my archives.

So here’s to the first seven years of the “rebirth.” And here’s to Peter and his team bringing us another seven, and then another seven…..

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Phil Lesh & Peter Shapiro- Phil Lesh’s 77th birthday Capitol Theatre (Wed 3 15 17)

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Capitol Theatre stage crew- Wilco Capitol Theatre (Wed 2 3 16)

Six String Slingers [and Bloody Knees]

It is a widely-held belief that sequels are rarely as good as the original, fewer still are even better (maybe The Godfather II or The Empire Strikes Back), and most are much worse (see Fletch Lives or Speed 2: Cruise Control for details).

In 2017 I gathered together more than 40 New Orleans drummers and percussionists for what I called The Different Drummer Project. The main concept was to take a group photo that would be a tribute to Art Kanes historic image “A Great Day in Harlem”.  Proceeds from the sale of the photo would be donated to The Roots of Music, a non-profit educational and music mentoring organization aiding underserved community children in New OrleansThis project was the most rewarding shoot of my career, and I was determined to tempt the fates and create a sequel as special as the original.

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The Different Drummer Project (May 2nd, 2017)

Late in 2017, I began to dream up the concept of Part Two. I wanted a group that was as talented, dynamic, and fun to work with as the drummers had been. When it came time to arrange my trip to the Big Easy to shoot the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, part of my planning would need to be centered around the benefit project, which meant answering the question, “Which instrument will get its chance in 2018?” The answer would come quickly.

The electric guitar has become an iconic object. Jimi Hendrix made love to his and set it aflame. Pete Townshend smashed his. Eddie Van Halen tickled the neck of his. Keith Richards only used five strings on his, while Don Felder used twelve. And Jimmy Page took a violin bow to his Les Paul keeping us all “Dazed and Confused.” Staging the shoot in one of the music capitals of the world would offer access to literally dozens of the most talented players alive thus 2018 would be the year of the guitars–The Six String Slingers.

I began in much the same way I did with the Different Drummers project. I started my wish-list with the guitarists from the NOLA scene with whom I am closest: Eric Lindell, Anders Osborne, Tab Benoit, Dave Malone & Billy Iuso. I knew that I wanted them all in the final image and I knew that I could count on them to come up with more names. Given the unfortunate lack of female drummers in last year’s photo, this year I was determined to include some badass female guitarists. Mia Borders and Samantha Fish immediately came to mind.

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Eric Lindell @ Blues Tent (Jazz Fest- Sat 5/4/13)

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Anders Osborne @ Gentilly Stage (Jazz Fest- Sat 5/5/12)

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Tab Benoit @ Hiro Ballroom, NYC (Fri 2/10/12)

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Dave Malone with Fishead Stew @ Maguire’s Ocean Beach (Fire Island, NY- Fri 8/16/13)

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Billy Iuso & the Restless Natives @ Brooklyn Bowl, NYC (Thur 6/21/12)

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Mia Borders @ The Cutting Room, NYC (Fri 1/11/13)

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Samantha Fish @ NOLA Crawfish Fest (Tue 5/1/18)

Eric, Anders and Dave were immediately on board. Billy, unfortunately, was already booked to play a mid-week set at NOLA Crawfish Festival. Anders gave me a few leads. Dave got his brother Tommy Malone of subdudes and made sure his “partner in crime” from The Radiators, Camile Baudoin, was on board.

Things were starting to come together. I had gotten my friends–now I wanted some of my heroes (I’m sort of a starry-eyed kid in that way–getting Zigaboo Modeliste to show up for my Drummer shoot the year before was a huge thrill).

At the top on my wish-list was Leo Nocentelli, the guitarist in the seminal Funk band, The Meters. Leo and Meters band-mates George Porter Jr., Art Neville, and Zig were essentially responsible for my obsession with New Orleans music, dating back to my college years at The University of Michigan. And two of the other “elders” of the NOLA music scene, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Deacon John Moore, also topped my must-have list. Walter is one of the kindest, most soulful blues players around. And in a city full of characters, few are more colorful than the 77-year-old John Moore, who has played at every single Jazz Fest since its inception in 1970. I didn’t know how tough it was going to be to score Leo, Walter, and John, but I was up for the challenge. It turned out to be tricky in varying degrees.

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Leo Nocentelli with The Meters @ Orpheum Theatre (Sat 4/29/17)

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Walter “Wolfman” Washington @ Instruments A Comin (Tipitina’s- Mon 4/29/13)

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Deacon John Moore being inducted into the Tipitina’s Walk of Fame (Mon 4/29/13)

The Wolfman ask was the least complicated. I know Walter’s manager Adam Shipley from his work with the Soul Rebels Brass Band. Adam was kind enough to connect me with Walter’s girlfriend, Michelle Bushey. They told me that as long as they could make it in time to their set later that day at Louisiana Music Factory to premiere his new album My Future Is My Past, Walter would be there.

It was more challenging getting Leo. Reaching him meant getting in contact with his wife and personal gatekeeper, Pesucky. I knew Leo a bit but I can’t say that we are close friends. After receiving no reply to several shoot-related emails to Pesucky, I started to get nervous. One night, out of the blue, my cell phone rang. It was Leo. He wanted to know what the project was all about. I explained the concept of the project and its charitable mission, and that, of course, I would also let everyone involved use the images themselves. Leo told me that he considered me to be one of the “baddest photographers out there” and that is why he reached out. That blew me away!  I told him that he was one of the “baddest” guitar players ever and that I was very honored for him to think of me like that. He also said that he had been around long enough to know when someone was being a “straight shooter” and that he believed that this was a project from my heart to do something positive for his community. Leo was on board!

Getting John Moore was a little trickier and somewhat more interesting. Dave Malone and others suggested calling the New Orleans Musicians Union, of which John, it turns out, is the President. Several calls and messages got me nowhere at first, but my persistence ultimately got him on the phone. I didn’t think he knew me, so I introduced myself, explained the project and waited to hear what he had to say. After what seemed like a very long pause…he asked if there “would be any whiskey and fried chicken” and then he started laughing. I laughed right along with him, but explained that since this was an event to raise money for a children’s program, and that Roots’ facility was, in fact, one of the city’s high schools they had been given to use post-Katrina, alcohol seemed like a bad idea, but fried chicken definitely didn’t seem out of the question. Deacon John was in!

Many times, dealing with musicians means dealing with managers. From the start, the one manager that I knew I needed on my side was Rueben Williams, Tab Benoit’s best friend and manager. He also manages Samantha Fish, Jonathon “Boogie” Long and Eric Johanson. As they say in local parlance, “we been knowing each other a while.” Rueben came through for me big time.

Three others that were extremely helpful were Zack Feinberg of The Revivalists, Paul Sanchez, and Spencer Bohren. Zack’s girlfriend Anne Messner was the Executive Director for The Roots of Music. Zack already knew all about the project and he was able to connect me with a group of younger players that I didn’t really know much about. Paul Sanchez is really known more as a singer-songwriter than a guitar player. But if you’ve ever seen Paul live, you know his Taylor acoustic guitar itself is almost legendary. Paul graciously came up with more names and made those connections for me. Spencer is another wonderful player from around town. I originally met him through another friend, the great Texas Blues player Anson Funderburgh. Like Paul, Spencer came up with lots of players. I thank all of them again for their help!

One thing I knew I wanted from a city known for its gumbo of musical influences was a large variety of different-style players. And while so far that was happening nicely, I did not have any connections to Jazz players, or to several of the city’s old guard Blues players. And I needed to get to those people.

On March 26th,  I sent an email to approximately 25 guitar players and managers, many in the Jazz and Blues scene, whose names had been suggested to me. The subject line was: “Six String Slingers: A Project to Benefit The Roots of Music.” It began as follows:

 

Who: All the Guitar players associated with New Orleans and the “Jazz Fest scene”

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

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

When: Tuesday, May 1st 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 dance with your picking, scratching and fingering

That email went on to explain the project, and to let them know that they had each been recommended by other NOLA musicians and/or managers and that I would be honored to have them participate.

The final group came together fairly easily, as there was a bit of a buzz after the prior year’s gathering. I felt good about doing this for the kids and also for all these players. And I think for many of them it felt nice to be asked, to be included. In fact, however, the real irony was that actually, it was I who was so flattered that they would give me “less than an hour if everyone can get there on time” in the middle of the busiest week of the year in New Orleans for any working musician!

The days between the responses to my email and Jazzfest quickly dwindled until it was, finally, shoot-day. After an early morning appointment with my local chiropractor, Michael Lechleiterto get “reset” after the first long weekend, it was off to Popeye’s. After all, I had “negotiated” with the Union for some fried chicken, and I had to deliver on my end of the bargain! I walked in and asked if I could place a large order. The counter-woman politely pointed out their combo specials.  I told her I needed to feed around 40 adults and asked for 80 pieces. She asked for her manager. Approximately 30 minutes later, I was headed back to a friend’s home where I had been staying to gear up for the shoot, while the fried chicken stayed warm in his oven. I still owe him an apology for making his lovely home smell like a fast food joint – I think it might still smell today! But by 1:30pm I was on my way down the road to get ready.

I really wasn’t sure exactly how many players would show up. I hoped for around 40 like the year before, and my communications had led me to believe this number was realistic. (Ian Neville had actually even shown up a day early by mistake, and after a brief text-clarification, he promised to return the next day.) As I walked into the school courtyard there were already a few guys there. Alvin Youngblood Hart was waiting. So were Paul Sanchez and “West Bank” Mike Doussan. Then John Fohl, one of the City’s great under-the-radar players, showed up. Still a full hour before “call time”, I started shooting some portraits of people as they arrived. As I had suggested in my email, almost all arrived with a guitar, and just about everyone was eager to have their own mini-portrait session with me.

What quickly became apparent, though, was that I was not going to have the opportunity to capture the more candid moments of interaction between everyone before the group photo if I concentrated only on these portraits, so I did my best to keep peeking over my shoulder to try to capture a few of the more intimate, unguarded moments. One of my favorites caught three of the elders from the city’s Blues scene, Mem Shannon, “Little” Freddie King & “Wolfman”, sitting together catching up. Boy, would I have loved to hear THAT conversation!

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Some of the people were more than willing to really ham it up and help me create some fun portraits. A few of my favorites: “Wolfman” pretending to sink his teeth into Leo, and Leo then choking him in return; and Deacon John taking a seat, opening up his guitar case like he was busking, and Tommy Malone and Paul Sanchez immediately coming over to throw money in it. Of course, the biggest comedian on the “set” was Dave Malone. And the images I made of the Malone Brothers and of Dave & Camile of The Radiators were not only humorous but also had a real soul to them. One pair is brothers and the other pair is “brothers from another mother” whose relationship goes back decades. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Reuben had come through with all four of his players, and I made some wonderful images of Tab, Samantha, “Boogie”, and Eric Johanson joking around.

I also got a few more of the fun combinations. Old friends Anders & Brian Stoltz of Funky Meters fame; Brian, June Yamagishi and Ian Neville; Cranston Clements with Jamie Lynn Vessels & the great Jimmy Robinsonand a few of the “young guns”–Peter Murano of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Zack Feinberg, and Paul Provosty.

With Anders, June & Seizo Shibayamain, I had foreign-born artists who have made New Orleans their homes. Jazz players were covered by Jimmy, who was joined by Jonathan Freilich, John Rankin, and Carl LeBlanc, who showed up on his bike with no guitar (so that’s how we made his portrait). And Jamie Lynn Vessels, Samantha Fish, and Mia Borders added the much needed “girl power” to the gathering.

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Everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun. However, I was now two hours into my “less than an hour” shoot! It was time to gather the troops and make the group portrait.

They say you should sacrifice for your art, and that most great art comes out of some sort of pain (although I don’t think anyone actually recommended that Van Gogh cut off his ear). But when I quickly jumped back into doing more individual shots after the group portrait, I became literally painfully aware how far in over my head I had gotten. My recently adjusted back now felt worse than it did before going to the chiropractor that morning, and my knees were killing me. In the middle of shooting Anders, he asked me if I was alright. I said, “of course.” He then motioned to my knees. I looked down to see a piece of skin approximately the size of a half dollar hanging off my left knee, looking like sepsis was about to set in. Without thinking, I tore the skin off and threw it to the side and continued shooting. Anders looked like he might throw up. But onward we went!  I had barely done portraits of half the players before the group photo, and I couldn’t tell people no.

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I was upset that Eric ended up missing the shoot after all our years of friendship and his assistance coming up with names of players. He had an equipment issue to handle before his show that night with Dragon Smoke. But as they say, “shit happens.” I do feel bad that a few Six-Stringers had to leave before I got to shoot them individually–in particular, I never got an individual portrait of Spencer Bohren, who is now fighting Stage IV prostate cancer (if you feel so inclined, there is a GoFundMe to help with his bills). And Alex McMurray came and went without me ever getting to thank him for taking the time out of his day. And the Head of the Union had to leave early, so Deacon John is not in the group photo. My intention was to shoot people in the order they arrived, but forty people, plus a few friends milling around, led to a bit of chaos. I am extremely grateful for everyone’s cooperation. Their patience genuinely overwhelmed me.

At 5:30pm on the nose, I made my last image of the day: New York City transplant and local WWOZ DJ, Marc Stone and Chip WilsonThree and a half hours, 43 guitar players, 80 pieces of fried chicken, two very dirty and bloody knees, 3300 clicks on my three cameras (Nikon D4 and Fujifilm X-Pro2 & X-T2), and I was finally done. I packed my gear, thanked the staff of The Roots of Music, and I was off. I felt that amazing release of energy after finishing something so monumental. I was exhausted, but the day was still young in Jazz Fest terms.

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Back at the house, I quickly previewed a few images. I was almost too scared to see what the group photo looked like. The prior year it had been such utter chaos that one or two guys were obscured. Getting a group of ten people to pose is hard enough. A group of forty-plus is nearly impossible. But with a little extra resolve and a slightly louder voice, I believe I actually got the group to listen and we set up a great portrait.

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The Six String Slingers:

Back row: Tab Benoit, Bert Cotton, Danny Abel, Tommy Malone, Jimmy Robinson, Jonathan Freilich, Dave Malone, John Rankin, Jonathon “Boogie” Long, Jamie Lynn Vessels, Alvin Youngblood Hart

Third row: Eric Johanson, Marc Stone, Chris Adkins, Pete Murano, Seizo Shibayama, Samantha Fish, John Fohl, Mem Shannon, Dave Jordan, Spencer Bohren, Paul Provosty

Second row: Cranston Clements, Brian Stoltz, Papa Mali Camile Baudoin, June Yamagishi, Anders Osborne, Carl LeBlanc, Mia Borders, Alex McMurray, Zack Feinberg, Chip Wilson

Front row: “West Bank” Mike Doussan, Adam Crochet, Leo Nocentelli, Les Getrex, “Little” Freddie King, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Paul Sanchez, Ian Neville, Brint Anderson

Slowly, over the rest of the year, I culled through all the images, paring down to just over 500. I showed them to my wife, Robyn, for a second opinion. Another set of eyes can be crucial when you are seeing so much of something that it becomes hard to see the differences. Finally, eight months after capturing them, I settled on 170 images of 43 guitar players related to the Crescent City. I had achieved the largely unachievable–a sequel as enjoyable as the original. And that can mean only one thing…

It’s time to start working on a project for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest. I’m knee-deep (yes, they heeled) in planning and while the subject is still under wraps,  I can tell you one thing fo’ sho’, I’m planning on making it a funky good time!

There were too many great images from the day to include here. Please take a few minutes to check out the gallery on my site. Especially if you don’t see any individual portraits of your favorite players. All of the images from both The Different Drummer Project and Six String Slingers projects are available for sale through those hyperlinks. 50% of all profits go to The Roots of Music.

 

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!!!

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 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

.https://www.facebook.com/stantonmooremusic/videos/10154779891651185/

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