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A Camera's Eye View: Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2009

By Published: August 29, 2009
Melody Gardot: Theatre Maisonneuve de la Place des Arts, July 1, 6 pm

Gardot was one artist that I seriously dreaded photographing. Based on a session last year, the absence of light made it nearly impossible to extract anything beyond a silhouette, which I tried converting to black in white. Lost cause!

Gardot has a beautiful voice and knows her audience. They are fiercely loyal and participants created a near total silence, as if in a spiritual s?ance.

The lights went down, the crowd quieted and the cameras rose in the total darkness. A voice appeared at the microphone and began to sing a prayer. Not wishing to trample the silence, the surrounding scrum of mixed lenses eyeballed one another, nervously hoping for another opportunity. Fortunately, Gardot rose to a workable spot of light and picked up the guitar. I have learned from long experience never to take residence on the left side for a right handed picker—the microphone stand will slice an artist to bits.

Gardot sings, and sings beautifully. Her recording My One and Only Thrill (Verve, 2009) is wonderfully detailed and the songs are gorgeous. The words tell stories and the stories connect.

Eventually, Gardot bent upward towards the light and brought about a near miracle. Her complete body was bathed in strong accentuating light. I read the creases in her shirt and facial mannerisms, but most importantly for the photographer, I heard the tear in her voice negotiate with the eyes.

I followed Gardot through a series of phrases, watch as she breathed, then raised her head and delivered another spellbinding line. My hand stayed firmly planted and clicked in rhythm just when I felt an emotional peak was met. I never depress the shutter until I feel the music, words, emotion and energy have sorted the material out.

Esperanza Spalding: Jazz Dans La Nuit, July 2, 10:30 pm

This is another venue in need of balanced lighting. Two large posts stand on guard inside and very little space along the perimeter to plant a mono pod.

Spalding is the flavor of the day. She has momentum, a big jazz vocabulary, great looks, style, personality and virtuoso command of the acoustic bass. She also resides musically in the future. She is as hip hop as needs be, as funky as the instrument allows and mainstream when suggested.

At the opening of the concert, the stage went black, and all that could be heard or seen were the hum of amplifiers and red bulbs blazing near the volume knobs. For the photographers, it was another one of those helpless moments. Just as emcee Katie Malloch finished her intro, the darkness lifted and a modest level of light shone across the sprawling bandstand.

Spalding jumped into action. The opening piece was funk according to jazz principles. She danced and sang around the microphone, and it was a challenge of major proportions to keep her in view. I knew that many images would blur, so rather than exhaust my prime position, I held back until Spalding picked up the bass. I assumed she wouldn't stray far from that location, but "Crack!" "Bang!" She was at it again. It was all in the body—the connection between wood and flesh. In Spalding's hands, the bass seemed as if it was part of her birth cycle—the last item to be dealt with in the delivery room. From her top hand wrapped around the highest region of the fingerboard down to where the fingers rip at the metal coils across the mid section, they stretched and prodded, freeing volumes of ecstatic purposeful notes. Spalding plays like an athlete. It's not your average twenty-minute workout—this is nine innings with no relief and four quarters of full court intensity.

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