Ron Hudson: Jazz on the Focal Plane
Hudson has seen his share, backstage at Monterey, and it's an easy place to get distracted. Hudson has observed Dizzy Gillespie warming up and has watched Louie Bellson assemble his own drums. He has witnessed some interesting pre-performance rituals and has also, at times, seen some perhaps less than flattering behavior. Hudson, however, eschews such photo opportunities. The dignity of the artists is important to Hudson. "There's a line , he says. There are even some images that he chooses not to release for public consumption. These images involve aging musicians who were ill at the time of the photograph and did not look their best. Clearly Hudson's respect for his subjects is felt very deeply.
Also backstage at Monterey are about a half a dozen "holes opening out to the stage. From these small holes, performers waiting backstage can watch the action and, as in Hudson's case, photographers can take pictures. Hudson has taken several profile shots of musicians peering through these holes. They're great shots, and he wishes that he'd taken more over the years. He has, however, obtained some wonderful onstage images from the holes.
When a photographer works a festival for as many years as Hudson has, change is inevitable. When Hudson began shooting the festival in the '70s, the press corps was relatively small, and the photographers had the luxury of settling in for the perfect shot. Now days, with the large throng of press, CNN cameras and the like, photographers must observe the three song rule. You can stay in front of the stage for three songs. If you don't catch the shot you were hoping for, you're out of luck. (Hudson shares with me that if he gets one good shot on a role of 36, he's satisfied.)
There have been other changes as well. Hudson has seen two or three festival directors come and go and has also observed that the large group of friends that assembled over the years has diminished. Some move on to other things. Some stop coming. And sadly, a few pass away. Hudson shared with me the story of his dear friend, Richard, with whom he stayed with every year during the festival. Over the years, Richard lived in several wonderful houses in Carmel Valley. Richard was a delightful host, and Richard and Hudson shared a large circle of friends. There were many fun and happy times. Richard was a popular bartender at the well-known establishment, The Covey at Quail Lodge.
One evening in the mid-90's, Richard was killed by a drunk driver while driving home from work. This was a heartbreaking loss for Hudson. He and Richard were like brothers. Returning to Monterey after Richard's death was very difficult for Hudson. He even considered passing on the festival. Ultimately, he continued going and still attends every year. However, things are not the same.
Alongside Hudson's passion for jazz is his commitment to jazz education. In his words, "Who's going to perpetuate this music? It's the kids. Hudson gives a percentage of the proceeds of the sale of his images to various jazz education organizations such as Centrum's Jazz Port Townsend. When Hudson is in the darkroom, he prints multiple images and then he asks his subjects to sign the prints. He may present an artist with two or three prints for their signature and explains that the signed images will be used in fundraising efforts for various educational groups.
Alongside his request for a signature, Hudson also presents the artist with a print to keep. This method seems to work for everyone. Each year, three of Hudson's images are raffled off at the Centrum Jazz Port Townsend, and he often donates images to school auctions like Roosevelt and Garfield High School and also to charity fundraisers.
Hudson's commitment to jazz education does not stop there. He sometimes travels with high school jazz bands as a mentor, photographer and chaperone. In years past, he has been to the Montreux and North Sea Jazz Festivals with Scott Brown and the Roosevelt High School jazz band. He also recently attended the International Association of Jazz Educators conference in New York City. While there, Hudson followed up on former students who honed their chops in Seattle music programs and are now out in the world playing jazz.
One former Roosevelt student, Jay Lepley, recently shared with Hudson that he had a "defining moment with him. While Lepley was starting out on drums, Hudson took him to Jazz Alley to see Elvin Jones. Hudson recounts Lepley's words; When I saw what Elvin was doing with those drums and the possibilities that drums have, it was a defining moment for me. I knew then that I wanted to play drums. Hudson is visibly pleased as he tells the story. The whole point of taking Lepley to Jazz Alley that evening was precisely for him to have a defining moment. Lepley is still playing drums today. Mission accomplished.