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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Behind the Lens With...

Behind the Lens With Chuck Koton

By Published: July 9, 2012
Your favorite musician(s) to photograph:
The late, great alto saxophonist Frank Morgan
Frank Morgan
Frank Morgan
1933 - 2007
sax, alto
was my favorite musician to shoot because he was an extremely expressive human being. Frank and I became friends and, though I'd always apologize for constantly pointing my camera at him, he'd reassure me and tell me to go ahead and shoot whenever I wanted.

Did you know...
that until about 15 years ago, I was too shy to barely mumble "nice gig" to a jazz musician? But then I became friends with the late, great jazz drummer Sherman Ferguson. Sherman and I met at the Jazz Bakery between sets. He'd seen me shooting, and asked if I had any good shots. Well, eventually, we'd hang out and I showed Sherm some of my jazz images. He liked them and encouraged me to get on the staff at All About Jazz. The rest is history and I'll be forever indebted to my man, Sherman

Your favorite jazz story:
Sometime around 2005, I was at the Jazz Bakery for the fifth night of a six-night engagement by Pharoah Sanders. Every set that week was transformative; Pharoah was blowing with as much intensity as ever.

Well, as the second set began, Sanders called up another tenor player who joined him on stage for what would be one of the most fiery tenor encounters I'd ever seen. Yet, I didn't recognize this bad sax man. Who could it be? Pharoah surely wouldn't invite just anybody to join him on stage. When the set ended, I waited by the exit to try and speak with this mystery man. Eventually, he came out from the dressing room and as he approached me I introduced myself and told him how much I enjoyed his performance. I embarrassingly apologized for not knowing who he was. Then he told me his name, Azar Lawrence. I was flabbergasted. I had heard Lawrence on McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
's compelling live recording, Enlightenment—I even had his own Summer Solstice—but I hadn't heard his name in decades.

From that moment on, I made sure not to miss any of his performances. Lawrence was beginning his return to the top of the jazz scene, a summit he'd already reached by the time he was 21 years old. Since that time, Azar and I have become good friends and though he is once again performing all around the US and Europe, I rarely miss any of his West Coast performances. I recently returned from a 2012 Bay Area benefit for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. Azar even gave me a preview of a cut from his upcoming CD, which he recorded live at the Jazz Standard this past winter. It's a killer. I don't think there's anyone out there blowin' with more power and emotion than my man, Mr Lawrence!

View more Chuck Koton photos at All About Jazz

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