Ron Hudson: Jazz on the Focal Plane
Hudson has a special fondness for drummers. He is one. While living in Monterey, he and a vibe-playing neighbor had a quartet-piano, bass, drums and vibes, which performed around the area, including in local military establishments and officer's clubs. The quartet was wild about vibe master, Cal Tjader, and emulated his style. The goal was to keep the music danceable.
When asked about his drumming today, Hudson says, "I'm not a very good drummer by any means because I don't practice enough. You know, it's one of those things like anything else; you don't practice, you know. I have more fun talking to drummers. I do know how to talk drums. I just don't know how to play them. Hudson counts among his friends, Joe LaBarbera, who occasionally gives Hudson a free drum lesson.
Hudson's list of accomplishments is long and remarkable. His work has been featured in four books; Monterey Jazz Festival, Forty Legendary Years, A Paradise Called Pebble Beach, A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz, a biography of Buddy DeFranco and Take Five, The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. Hudson has done photography for album and CD covers, most recently for Dave Peck's Good Road. He's illustrated numerous album covers and also designed the poster for the 30th Monterey Jazz Festival. He has shown at numerous festivals and galleries across the United States, and his work is regularly displayed at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley in Seattle. Hudson will is a featured photographer at All About Jazz, and plans are in the works for shows at a couple more festivals this year. The "to-do list is endless.
Hudson has taken perhaps over twenty thousand shots. Of those, he estimates that he's captured about a thousand images. There were many I was curious about. Being a singer myself, I had to ask about his photograph of Ella Fitzgerald. He took Fitzgerald's photo at the Waikiki Shell in 1980. Fitzgerald was either "coming from or going to Japan and had breezed into Honolulu for the show, which Hudson describes as "a little loosey goosey . The band Fitzgerald was performing with was "somewhat neophonic and there had been no rehearsal. It was a bit of an off night. This was Hudson's one and only time to shoot Fitzgerald.
Another photograph I asked about was an ethereal looking image of Count Basie sitting at the piano. This one was taken through one of the aforementioned "holes from backstage at Monterey. Basie is at the piano, head down, with a wonderful light around his head. Hudson said that when he originally developed the proof sheet, he did not initially seize on that particular image. His aesthetic was for a more portrait style of shot. While reviewing the proof years later, however, his thinking about the image changed.
There are a few shots that have eluded him, one being of Karrin Allyson, of whom he has had difficulty capturing an image to his liking. There are also a few Hudson has not captured at all. In his words, "I've made some mistakes. Hudson and his friend and writer, Rick Carroll, were backstage at Monterey drinking brandy while Eubie Blake was onstage. Hudson knew he needed to get out to the stage and start shooting, but he was having a good time with Carroll and decided to finish his brandy first. This decision proved to be a bad one. "I finished my brandy. Ube finished his set and I never got a shot of him. Now he's gone.
There are many artists he still has yet to capture. They are on his "hit list, as he calls it. The day after our meeting, he had plans to attend a performance of Seattle vibraphonist, Susan Pascal. "Hopefully, if the light's right, I'm gonna get a shot. I would really like a shot of Susan. I think she's an outstanding player.
I asked Hudson about the state of jazz today and which up and coming artists he has his eye on. He seems to have quite an affinity for Benny Green, whom he has photographed many times, including when Benny was a 15 year-old playing at Monterey with the California High School All-Star Jazz Band in 1978. "It was a Sunday , Hudson recalls. Hudson recently took a photograph of Green and his first piano teacher, a gentleman named Bill Bell. Hudson is also enthusiastic about a young pianist, Eldar Djangirov, whom he was introduced to by Gerald Wilson at Monterey two years ago. The Japanese pianist, Hiromi, and her trio are also Hudson's radar.
Hudson's own future is looking bright and busy. He is opening a show at City Hall in Seattle on April 1st. It will coincide with National Jazz Month, which is sponsored by the Smithsonian. The focus of the show is Seattle Jazz Artists and will include local luminaries Dave Peck, Diane Schurr, Thomas Marriott, Ernestine Anderson, Anne Drummond, Chuck Deardorf and more. The show is sponsored by John Dimitrou and the nonprofit Pacific Jazz Institute at Jazz Alley.