The Independent Ear

Building a Truth Revolution

Brothers Zaccai and Luques Curtis, from Hartford, CT, spent some of their earliest music matriculation at NEA Jazz Master Jackie & Dolly McLean’s visionary Artist Collective in Hartford. Since that time they’ve played with such notable artists as NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri, Donald Harrison, Brian Lynch, Papo Vasquez, Jerry Gonzalez Fort Apache Band, Sean Jones, Orrin Evans, Francisco Mela, Etienne Charles, Cindy Blackman Santana, and Ralph Peterson. Additionally they co-lead their own Curtis Brothers band.

As recording artists they’ve taken things into their own hands, founding and building Truth Revolution as their recording home. Stretching out beyond their own recordings, they’ve engaged both young, emerging and master level musicians to record on Truth Revolution. The Independent Ear is always on the lookout for enterprising artists, so we recently posed a few questions which the brothers answered collectively.

Luques and Zaccai Curtis Luques and Zaccai Curtis


There’s a certain sensibility one gets from the name Truth Revolution of your record company. Where and how did you come up with that name?

Originally, the name comes from my publishing company “Truth Revolution Publishing.” When we first started the label I started branding my own compositions with that never expecting it to be anything else. When we started to release other music it was suggested by multiple people that we use the name Truth Revolution as a brand.

Today “Truth Revolution” for us represents a revolution in music. Providing a way for Jazz and Latin Jazz artists to get their music recognized without breaking their banks and backs.

Given both of your busy playing schedules, is this a two-man operation or do you have partners?

We have partners and contractors that we work with heavily. Without them, the daily operations would never be completed in timely fashion. All of our staff here has been doing such an awesome job so shout out to the TRR crew!

How long had you been thinking of launching your own label, and what was your planning process?

When we first thought about it (around 2005) there wasn’t much of a plan. We gathered as much information from our predecessors that had their own labels and formally launched our label in 2009. As time went on we grew and more people became involved. The evolutionary process is not over and we have so much in store for the immediate future.

In your website descriptives, under “Why The Name?” you say your relationship with artists “…is based on a partnership agreement.” Given that agreement of partnership, since you put out the records and those attendant responsibilities, and besides a commitment to great artistry what are your expectations of artists whose recordings you release?

The partnership differs between each artist/project but isn’t limited to us working on just CD releases. All of the artists on our label have our trust and we have theirs. Working on live shows, videos, building a fan base or recording is mutually beneficial toward both us and the artist. We are invested in them and trust them to carry the brand while they trust us to keep fighting for their music to be heard.

Talk about some of the artists you’ve recorded and why you chose to record those particular artists.

We have been lucky enough to be trusted with the production, distribution and branding of the greatest musicians of the Latin Jazz idiom like Mitch Frohman and Ray Vega. Working with them is such a blessing because we learned so much from their releases and their patience will be forever appreciated. Our earliest releases(besides our own Curtis Brothers music) by Kris Allen and Giovanni Almonte were for sure trial by fire and they are still working with us in many respects. Our latest releases by legendary percussionists Little Johnny Rivero and Ralph Irizarry have been very well received by Latin Jazz fans around the world and allowed us to connect to that network which we love being a part of. Vocalist, Orice Jenkins as our youngest artist, brings such a bright light to our catalogue. There are so many great recordings on the label currently and we could write about each one but the pride and joy of the company is the amazing release by [bass master] Andy Gonzalez ‘Entre Colleges.’ He’s been one of our mentors as young students of the music and has, in recent years, become ill. That kind of collaboration is what we live for and I know 2017 will be even better!



SEC ID Cover Booklet







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Whisper Not Benny Golson

Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson
by Benny Golson and Jim Merod
Temple University Press

Saxophonist-composer Benny Golson exemplifies the jazz life well-lived. He developed a distinctive sound on the tenor saxophone, one that has become more smoke-infused and slightly burry with age. He has written a compact but potent body of jazz standards (think “Whisper Not,” “Stablemates,” “Along Came Betty,” etc.). He successfully crossed over to television and film scoring. He has avoided some of the pitfalls of the jazz life; scandal has thoroughly whiffed in attaching itself to one of the true gentlemen of jazz. Now in his 8th decade he continues to be a vital presence on the recording and performing scene, picking and choosing his opportunities wisely. And that life is well-chronicled in this informative new volume that is more memoir than traditional autobiography. Benny and his collaborator Jim Merod have chosen not the traditional cradle-to-maturity autobiographical approach, but the approach of detailing key touchstones in Benny’s evolution, detailed with great humor and with no obvious bitterness or axe to grind, in a way that his intimates will recognize as the reflections of one of the more genteel masters to have ever addressed this music.

At first reading one might be tempted to point fingers at his writing collaborator for a tendency towards the occasional (but forgivable) florid language, as exemplified by Benny’s rather over-the-top detailing of his endearing, head-over-heels reaction to meeting and subsequently courting his beloved wife Bobbie. But if you know Benny, recognizing his conversational style and his gentlemanly demeanor, you recognize that’s pure Benny Golson. (I recall an email I received from him once in which he prefaced his note by saying “I was thinking of you in a most intense way today.”) Here’s an example from his loving recollections of his dear friend John Coltrane. In a chapter recalling two whom the chapter refers to as “Unrivaled Aces” (Sarah Vaughan and Bill Evans), recalling Miles Davis‘ monumental “Kind of Blue” recording and his saxophonist-compadre’s participation, is this somewhat wistful passage: “There was a time in my life when I wondered what might have transpired if, in some counterintuitive but angelic way, Philly Joe Jones had recommended me instead of my dear pal John for Miles’ quintet. I am deeply, ironically aware that despite the world’s absurdity and evil, most of the important events that define reality are shaped with rare tact and surprising finesse.” That’s pure Benny Golson, a man who in a different incarnation might have been an English language professor at Yale.

Though he takes – at the very most – only modest credit for it, Benny Golson is definitely one of the architects of the jazz institution known as Art Blakey‘s Jazz Messengers; if for no other reason than his indelible contributions to the Blakey book, “Whisper Not,” “Along Came Betty,” and particularly his touchstone “Blues March.” The passage on how he convinced Blakey that he needed a march – of all things! – in his book is priceless. Here’s another example from Golson’s first week with the Messengers: “During our week at Cafe Bohemia I noticed that Art’s repertoire didn’t include any strong, self-identifying arrangements. I also noticed other things that bothered me. After a few days, I decided to talk to him about my concerns. Looking back, I cannot believe I said the things I decided to say to him.

“I confronted Art during an intermission with a series of extremely presumptuous observations. I began something like this: “Art, you should be a millionaire.” How’s that for a bold opening? It got his attention. Somewhat taken aback, Art responded openly. “A millionaire, what do you mean?” Never could there be a less defended chin for my next jab. “With all your talent, you should make much more money.” (Somehow I learned how much this group received for the week at Cafe Bohemia; the money was terrible.) Next, I told him his lack of punctuality was atrocious. “You leave the bandstand for a fifteen-minute intermission and disappear sometimes for an hour. At the beginning of the night, you and other members of the group are frequently late… in fact almost always.” Art was totally attentive, so I plowed ahead. “You’re undependable and unreliable. Art, you’re a risk for anyone who hires you.”

“Art’s eyes widened in disbelief. “This green upstart punk is saying these things to me,” he must have been thinking. “Who is this kid?” But he let me go on. “I heard Small’s Paradise never wants you to work there again, because you were late all the time. Is that true?” A pause and then his admission: “Yeah-h-h, I guess so.” I pressed on with my lecture. “Procrastination cannot be a way of life,” I informed him. “In the long run it makes things more difficult and hinders aspirations. It is selfish, since other musicians are almost always involved.” I blathered on, assuming Art would be aghast at my remarks. But he was looking at me with interest, apparently unoffended. Did I really say such a preposterous, self-inflated thing to this giant of an artist? But Art took my critique absolutely seriously, and meekly asked me, “What should I do.” Art Blakey wisely took Golson’s good counsel!

Other rich chapters in this book include Benny’s vivid recollections of his difficulties, and ultimate delights, in breaking into the Hollywood studio scoring world, as well as his admiring reflections on film and television personalities who played important roles in his odyssey, including a particularly warm chapter on Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and his lovely experience with them making their film “The Terminal.” Chapters 21-25 comprise Part V of the book, titled Amazing Friendships on his key relationships with Quincy Jones, Harry “Sweets” Edison and Dizzy Gillespie, his homeboy Philly Joe Jones, plus chapters on Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, and Dinah Washington (including a hilarious passage on the oft-married diva’s unsuccessful effort at seduction, and Curtis Fuller and The Jazztet.

Whisper Not is deeply complimentary of these and a plethora of jazz greats and personalities who’ve touched Benny Golson’s life, from his Philly homies Coltrane and Jimmy Heath, to Peggy Lee, Mickey Rooney, and Redd Foxx, to Sonny Rollins and Muhammad Ali. Benny Golson is definitely not one to tell tales out of school; there’s nothing remotely gratuitous in his recollections. This is a warmly enjoyable, humor-laced jazz memoir that thoroughly eschews any sense of linear approach, and in this case that’s not a bad thing.

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More on a journey of South African jazz discovery

Recently we published Ron Scott’s review of the 2017 Cape Town International Jazz Festival (scroll down). Ron was able to extend his journey into the heart of jazz in South Africa and here he shares his insights into jazz in the country which we have long held as possessing one of the deepest, richest jazz musician cultures of any country in the evolution of the music.

By Ron Scott
While recently visiting Cape Town, South Africa I had the unique experience of going on a “jazz safari”. It was listed as one of the tourist attractions that one could book and pay for online. Seemed like the perfect opportunity for a curious New York City jazz writer.

The cost was only $99 which included meeting two of Cape Town’s prominent jazz musicians at their homes, having a home-cooked dinner with one, as well as two private concerts by each, and a discussion. Ironically, after paying for this tour, the notice popped up that I would be emailed the address of where to meet my guide on the specific date. Hmmmmmm.

As the day of my jazz safari grew closer, I still had no address or time to meet. Well, I became a little nervous and called the number at the bottom of the website. They checked my information and gave me all the necessary information.

The next evening, I took a cab from the hotel to the meeting destination about 10-15 minutes away. I met the tour guide Michael Letlala. He was very cordial and definitely knowledgeable about the Cape Town jazz scene. Oddly, there isn’t much of a jazz scene in the bustling city but he knew all the musicians and where the live shows took place.

Hilton Schilder2

Our first stop was to the home of pianist and composer Hilton Schilder. His wife had prepared a delicious traditional dinner for the three of us. While eating we discussed his career as a musician living in Cape Town. Schilder’s music connection began with his great grandfather, who was a gypsy guitarist during the 1800s in Cape Town. His father was also a musician and had the distinction of backing such artists as Peaches & Herb, Oscar Brown, Jr. and Percy Sledge. “All my cousin’s kids and my grandchildren also play,” Shilder proudly stated.

Schilder is a multi-instrumentalist, who plays guitar, bass, percussion,drums, cello and flute. “All of my cousins and grandchildren play instruments,” said Schilder. He performed with Blood, Sweat & Tears in the 1960s and played at the prestigious London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. He says he was inspired by Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Donald Fagan (of Steely Dan), and Brazilian musicians. He was also an active member of the District 6 Museum Band (which performed in Hong Kong).

After dinner he stepped a few feet away from the table to the piano and began playing one of his original compositions written for his wife. During their 53 years of marriage, he has composed 40 pieces for her. He playedy’Cannonball Adderley’s “One for Daddio” (from his Something Else album on Blue Note). His three-part composition “Dwarf, Giant” is a haunting piece of a conversation between a dwarf and giant with two instruments, the flute and violin as the giant’s voice.

He introduced me to the clarytone, a small instrument also known as a nose flute that he often brings into his varied performances. Hilton Schilder has recorded 38 albums as a leader and sideman with three solo piano albums. Most recently, he performed in Orbits the only full-pledged jazz club in Johannesburg (which is similar to the New York City jazz clubs Birdland and the Jazz Standard).

Following, a great home cooked dinner, a jazz conversation that stretched from America to Cape Town, and a live performance it was time to leave for my next jazz rendezvous.We were off to visit another Cape Town jazz musician, the trumpeter and composer Fezekile Tempi aka “Blackie” as his many friends call him. I was immediately introduced to his wife (who had so kindly set up snacks and drinks for us), and his friend who stated, “I just came to hear the music,” and his cousin the guitarist Latch Mdingi, who would later accompany him during a performance.

Like his musician friend Schilder, Tempi was happy to meet a brother, who happened to be an American journalist and jazz fan. He explained that he was self- taught.”When I was young I always watched musicians playing and when they stopped to eat I would go up and touch their instruments,” said Tempi. “Sometimes they chased me away but sometimes they talked to me about their instruments and showed me their techniques.” He explained it was the spirituality of Pharoah Sanders’ album Karma (Impulse!), with the now legendary song “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” “[that] moved me to jazz.” During apartheid and Hugh Masekela’s self-exile, his albums were banned in South Africa.


“My first love was Dizzy Gillespie, then Miles Davis, Roy Hargrove, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and Clifford Brown was a master,” said Tempi. “But I really like Wynton Marsalis. Personally, I am still trying to discover myself as a musician.”

Due to a lack of jazz clubs in Capetown musicians have to be flexible. Tempi has played in a host of theater company productions that included tours of Denmark, France and the Netherlands. The trumpeter has two bands; a jazz band and an afro pop band. “Here in Capetown it is expensive to keep a band,” said Tempi. “The life of Capetown musicians is the most difficult in the country.”

Tempi’s cousin Mdingi is also self-taught and began playing guitar at age 12. He says his main influences were Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and George Benson. The first tune the duo played was the CD title tune “Love & Peace,” an original by Tempi. It had jazz rhythms with a traditional Capetown flow, mid-tempo in the spirit of Hugh Masekela with guitar flurries.

“Writing songs isn’t the problem it’s recording them,” said Tempi. His recording Love And Peace “Ta Blaques” (his own independent recording) is an impressive voyage of Cape Town rhythms with a jazzy flow. Throughout he plays with bold flavored tones.

Upon visiting South Africa it had never entered my mind I would have the honor of interviewing Schilder and Tempi two well-respected jazz musicians on the Capetown scene and beyond. And their live performances were incredible. It was a unique experience that I will always remember.

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Jazz excellence in the Green Heart of Italy

Our recent experience at the 44th annual Umbria Jazz reaffirmed the excellence of this annual event, as reported in this review in DownBeat magazine:

But the experience was so excellent we simply couldn’t leave it at that! This was our fourth experience at Umbria Jazz, though the earlier trips had come in the late 80s/early 90s, certainly time for significant change in the event. It should be noted that Umbria Jazz founding artistic director Carlo Pagnotta has consistently been a tall, stoic, keenly observant spectator at many of the great festivals in the U.S., including Newport, Monterey, and Chicago. Just how keen his observations was apparent as soon as we arrived at the top of the hill in Perugia, the lovely old provincial capital of the Umbria region.

After crossing the Atlantic from JFK to Rome, and a two hour bus ride to Perugia, the first stop was our eagerly anticipated residence for the ten days of Umbria Jazz. Previous trips to the festival included lodging in the comfort of Hotel Brufani, one of two hilltop Umbria Jazz headquarters hotels. Breathtaking hilltop vistas on all sides is part of the experience of Perugia, and here we’re talking about a city to rival Pittsburgh and San Francisco in its elevation. For this trip we had carefully selected an Airb’nb residence, one that we hoped would provide a more expansive sense of the city and more of a “home” environment than most hotels can offer. Once we met our very agreeable host landlady, we were delighted not only to find that our Umbria Jazz residence was a mere 5-minute walk (albeit uphill with loaded suitcases and carry-ons – burdens lightened by a quickly-hailed taxi) from the bus station, which itself was just steps away from the escalator over the hill to the center of Perugia. Even more delightful, our residence was in a beautiful secure building in a quite lively but quiet neighborhood chock full of inviting cafes, good restaurants (is there a bad restaurant in Italy?), and enticing boutiques. Once inside our doors we quickly surmised that we had indeed bowled a strike with this residence; spotless, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, full kitchen, living room area and balcony-with-a-view… all for less than the price of a hotel night!

The immediate impulse was to climb on that escalator and experience anew the anticipated delights on Corso Vannucci, the beautiful pedestrian street at the top of Perugia which serves as Umbria Jazz central. But first let’s check out our little balcony, with its inviting folding chairs and small table perfect for some relaxing arrival beverages! Needless to say the surrounding hill vistas were splendid, with a birds eye view of the surrounding streets, and the hilltop Etruscan-era architecture. Not to mention the fact that upon opening the balcony doorway we were greeted by the agreeable sounds of jazz wafting down from the garden stage at one end of Corso Vannucci above; so clear and resonant was the music that it became apparent upon hearing a lead singing voice that we were experiencing the agreeable sounds of our old friend and soulful baritone Allan Harris, whose band was slated for a festival-long residency. Here’s that view:
Balcony View

Gazing up the hillside at the distinctive Etruscan-era doorways of an ancient building just off the Corso, the mind wandered back to part of the original motivation for coming to Umbria Jazz back in 1987. I recalled having been charmed by a deeply poetic account in the Village Voice of Stanley Crouch’s mid-80s Umbria Jazz experience, vowing immediately to add this festival in the fabled “Green Heart of Italy”, a part of the country about which I knew little – compared to age-old tales of Rome – but which sounded so splendid in Crouch’s telling. Adding to that motivation, my mother in-law is a first generation American born of Sicilian parents who’d landed at Ellis Island. So the motivation towards Italy seemed inevitable. And now here we were on our fourth occasion, this time more deeply imbedded into the actual community courtesy of our comfortable rental.

Climbing the escalator to the top on day one, the eyes inexorably wandered all ’round taking in whatever unimagined changes had occurred in the ensuing years to the wonderful vista of Corso Vannucci. Befitting such an old place, thank goodness the changes were purely cosmetic – a new boutique here, a couple of street side cafes there, and mainly a number of Umbria Jazz alterations since our previous journey. It didn’t take long to be impressed by changes Carlo Pagnotta and his colleagues had made to the overall Umbria Jazz design. As I remarked in that DownBeat review, Umbria Jazz has now fully embraced the sensibility of a true people’s festival. Corso Vannucci had always been a teeming pedestrian street during festival time in our experience, but the effect has been heightened by several aspects. In addition to the nightly concerts, now there was a stage in the garden park area right at the top of the escalator. Additionally the park had been invitingly festooned with refreshment vendors, one of two Umbria Jazz merchandise boutiques on the Corso, a midway with a historic retrospective of Umbria Jazz posters, with the performance stage at one end of the garden park, Hotel Brufani at the other. At the other end of the Corso, in the piazza adjacent to its striking, ancient fountain, was another free stage with afternoon and evening performances for the people. Not certain how long this evolution had been underway but the change of feeling was remarkable from our most recent visit in the mid-90s.

Corso scene

In our past experiences each early evening – which in those times was the start of Umbria Jazz concert time – had been ushered in by a strolling brass band, including several traditional imports from New Orleans. As evolution will have it, Umbria Jazz now has its own Italian brass band for those daily 6:30pm marches, a raucous unit known as Funk Off. And when they weren’t parading, entertaining buskers were playing sets at several ports in and around the Corso, keeping the street vibe lively throughout the day and evening.

Part of our routine on several evenings included attending 5:00pm performances at Teatro Pavone (including a couple of rich performances by the 13-year old piano phenom Joey Alexander and the brilliant Italian trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso, and a rewarding Italian conservatory orchestra performance of Duke Ellington‘s “Such Sweet Thunder” suite (all reported in my DB review), replete with some strikingly dramatic Shakespearian readings. Following the 5:00 concerts we’d cop a table at the street side cafe just outside the theater entrance for some refreshments (highly recommended on a summer evening: Campari & soda), just in time for Funk Off’s promenade. Two of the Corso’s traditional venues were the venerable Teatro Pavone, a post-war era opera house seating about 500 midway down the Corso, and Teatro Morlachi at the other end. Added to those two familiar Umbria Jazz venues are not only the two free stages at each end of the Corso, but also matinee museum performances and assorted restaurant performances, including at the highly-recommended Ristorante Taverna (order the ravioli with truffle sauce), which hosted a couple of Tuck & Patti’s week of performances.

The afternoon/evening free offerings represented a delightful Umbria Jazz people pleasure, with inviting performances which engendered quite the joyous daily/nightly scene. Early one evening a group of us following one of his week of performances, vocalist-guitarist Allan Harris and his lovely wife-manager Pat, and his fine drummer Shirazette Tinin joined us at Dempsey’s tavern for some refreshment. As we were leaving one of the bartenders, who’d been introduced to us as an Afghan immigrant, told us he couldn’t wait to get off work so he could experience the festival, shoot some video and post it to friends & family back home in Afghanistan. Asked who he planned on seeing that evening, he said it didn’t really matter, on the street it was all good; the glories of a free jazz festival experience!

The next day, exiting our exceedingly pleasant rental, instead of heading slightly down the hill to climb the escalator to the Corso, we determined to take a back street, encountering numerous inviting shops, restaurants and scores of afternoon strollers climbing the ancient steps of the street. We quickly made a mental note to check out one particularly inviting restaurant full of street side tables, happy patrons and lovely plates of food. Here’s that restaurant – which has a literary theme, replete with menus craftily inserted in antique books, and just below that one of its scrumptious dishes: since we were in prime truffle region, several plates of pasta with truffle sauce were consumed on this trip!

Pasta dish

Much love emanated from the music, as reported in my DownBeat report (link above), most of which detailed exceptional nights at the Arena Santa Giuliano. The Arena, a 6,000 capacity open air space which in ambience resembled the feeling, though not in terms of the physical space, of being in the Arena at Monterey Jazz Festival. In fact, the evening billed as “Funk Night” and featuring George Clinton and Cory Henry & the Apostles followed the only downpour of the week, eliciting chill winds that carried one back to equally brisk nights in the Arena on the Monterey Fairgrounds. Each evening’s main event was a ticketed 9:00pm hit on the Arena stage, a mere five minute stroll down the hill from our rental. Highlights, again as reported previously in DownBeat, included a Ron Carter-Pat Metheny duo performance, the trio of John Scofield, Brad Mehldau and percussionist Mark Guilliana, blues night with Buddy Guy, Kamasi Washington, Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling, Cory Henry (the skies were threatening and sans umbrellas we missed George Clinton), and a Chick Corea performance billed as “Homage to Heroes” with a heroic quintet featuring Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney, Christian McBride, and Marcus Gilmore, and we were quite impressed with the Nigerian-British vocalist Ola Onabule, who opened for Diana Krall. Here’s the Arena scene in between nightly sets (that’s Suzan Jenkins standing to the right in the foreground).

Arena scene

Meanwhile, just up the escalator on the Garden Stage a rotating cast of bands and artists kept the revelers happy. Performing on that and the huge stage on the piazza at the other end of the Corso were such bands as the Italian ensemble Sticky Bones, the Dutch singer-guitarist Vincent Van Hessen (who was actually granted an Umbria Jazz stage shot after impressing as a street busker), and of particular note were Fred Wesley and his funkateers the New JB’s, and the 21st century Afro-Cubano of conguero Pedrito Martinez. For his part Allan Harris proved a consistent crowd-pleaser. No stranger to Umbria Jazz audiences, Harris has been afforded the opportunity to build up a strong following at this festival, bolstered by his daily performances on the garden stage and in the piazza, with sets that varied from his funk infused intro to a fresh arrangement of “Fly Me to the Moon”, to his guitar slinging blues exploits, to a bit of reprise from his black cowboy saga “Cross That River.” One of the real treats on this splendid Umbria Jazz experience was returning from the nightly performances at the Arena and enjoying nightcaps on our balcony while catching Pedrito, Fred, or Allan’s late sets wafting down from the garden stage as if we were right there in the thick of the action. Umbria Jazz… you owe it to yourself to experience this event!

aAllan Harris
Allan Harris delivered a sophisticated brand of jazz & soul through his voice and guitar work, and a touch of his black cowboy immersion to the people on the Umbria Jazz free stages. (photo by Tim Keller)

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The keen eye of Janet Macoska: transcending genres

Book Cover
In all my years writing about music, dating back to early 70s Kent State University undergrad days, its been a pleasure interacting with many exceptional photographers, none finer than Cleveland’s own legend, Janet Macoska. A true master of the photographic art form, Janet Macoska stands as living testament to why the shoreline of Lake Erie is such an apropos home for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where she currently serves as official photographer. Another of Janet’s stations is Cuyahoga Community College, home of the Rock Hall’s archives and the Hall’s principle education institution. During my 18 years as artistic director of Tri-C JazzFest we could always count on some of the sweetest images from every festival coming from the sharp orbs of Janet Macoska, whose eye for the nuances of jazz musicians is just as sharp as her vision for her first love, rock & roll. Recently I was delighted to receive a copy of Janet’s new book All Access Cleveland and clearly some Independent Ear questions were in order for my friend and colleague.
Janet Macoska in action
Janet Macoska and Smokey Robinson
Ace photographer Janet Macoska with Rock Hall of Famer Smokey Robinson

When did you have your ‘aha’ moment and realize that photography was your calling?
Janet Macoska: As early as ten years old. Because the Beatles came to America when I was 10 years old in 1964 and I knew I wanted to be close to the music I loved and be able to tell the story of those artists as told by the photojournalist publications of the day….LIFE and LOOK. My Mom subscribed to LIFE and I loved how the photojournalists were able to “hang” with the artists offstage and tell their story through photographs. It was intimate and revealing. That’s what I wanted to do.
David Bowie, 1983
When you shoot a performance, what elements most interest your intrepid eye?
My “mission” at a live performance is to capture the soul of the performer. Native Americans back in the day were wary of photography because they claimed it stole their spirit. In many ways, that is true. I don’t believe we “steal” their spirit, but we
certainly reveal the spirit of the invidivual we focus upon….if all the energies are in alignment. The best way to do that, for a photographer photographing a musician in performance, is to be still, let the music fill your soul, and shoot when the moment is right. You only know that by losing yourself in the music and letting a higher power show you the way (sorry to sound so crazy about this). It’s just getting out of the way, and letting the music flow through you. When you do that you inherintently know the micro second to shoot. It is a 60th of a second moment. It’s reacting to the performer, the movement and the lighting.
Clarence and Bruce 1980

Which artists have you found to be endlessly fascinating subjects for your photography?
I have to say that I love musicians who are performers. There are musicians, serious ones, who are dead intent on the music but show very little soul and emotion. That’s cool. Great for the audience that loves the sound. Not great for a photographer who wants
to see emotion and soul and expression. Some of my favorite performers to shoot have been David Bowie (who was trained as an actor), Bruce Springsteen (who shoots out energy to the audience the entire time he is on stage….a blast to watch…and its the Wimbeldon of rock and roll watching the energy and love bounce back between the audience and the stage) and Paul McCartney (Paul understands the music and the performance and the connection between audience and performer….which goes all the way back to The Beatles in 1964). Jazz performers wear their art on their sleeves, for the most part, and do understand visual performance as a part of their total performance. I have always found jazz performers a treat to photograph. Because jazz and blues are so pure, I always feel that jazz and blues performers should be photographed in B&W; to show them at their most stripped down authenticity.

Since we tend to focus mainly on jazz and jazz-related subjects in the Independent Ear, in your various photography stints for Tri-C JazzFest, what differences have you found in shooting jazz performances from your extensive work in rock photography?
Just as I’ve said, jazz and blues are authentic music. The performers are authentic. their performances are down to earth. When I photograph them I get the most authentic depiction of the artists. I like to see them in B&W. Of course, when I now shoot digital, I will shoot them in full high resolution digital….in color…but often convert them into B&W because that is how I feel and see them. Rock and roll is a blast of crazy energy from the stage, bigger than life, and the performers often are projecting that into a coliseum/stadium type venue. They are cult tilt color, as they should be. There are VERY boring rock artists who don’t feel their music matches this template and don’t perform in this manner. It is a struggle for photographers. At this point I often use the high tech computerized stage lighting to create a more interesting environment, and a more interesting photograph of the artist. Hey, but thats my job….to make it visually interesting.

Have you had any particular favorites among the jazz artists you’ve photographed, and what is is that makes any one particular jazz artist a favored subject over others?
Wow….I’ve loved so many!!! [Cleveland’s own] Jimmy Scott jumps to the front. Emotive, raw, real, singer. George Benson makes his guitar sing and you can see the emotions in his face and movement. Horn players are fun. Really, I’m a kid in a candy store!!!! Love them all.
jimmy scott 2002
How has the digital landscape changed – if at all – how you approach your subjects?
In the days of film, you had a limited number of frames on a roll of film, so you moved VERY SLOWLY. You watched and waited. You had the time to do that too because you had an entire show to shoot. Not any more. You are usually given the first three songs to shoot of a performance. So, as a photographer you suss out the energy and movement of a subject….its shorthand for a photographer (which is why it helps to have been doing this for so long)…and work out how to show that performer at his/her best. The lighting is now run by computers, so it is quicker. The photographer has to make everything in their soul and reaction time quicker. Figure out the performer. Look for the best angle. Follow the pattern of the lights in time to the music….and make magic. It’s a challenge, but its really fun. Helps if you’ve been doing it for awhile….as I tend to figure it out quicker than most.
Debbie Harry 1978
When you were putting together your latest book, what were you going for in terms of the images you pored over and eventually selected as demonstrative of your art?
Choosing the images for this book was tough in that I have shot for 42 years now……more than one million images, I’m sure. To cull that down to 152 pages was difficult. We ended up with 340 images, and obviously that was a small selection. I started with the favorites that kept popping up in my mind and heart….the artists I loved best too. My co-author Peter Chakerian, and I looked to find a cross section of selections that would cover the 70s, 80s, 90s and onward. Also I wanted to focus on particular spotlight stories. I think we gave 12 pages to the birth of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. I was shooting the process of Cleveland campaigning for and winning the Rock Hall, as well as the opening and early days through the days when I became the Rock Hall’s official photographer. As a native born Clevelander, I feel it is one of my greatest accomplishments to be the photographer documenting the artists and the history that moves through the Rock Hall. That kid in the candy store thing again….I’m the kid and the Rock Hall is the candy store!
jimmy heath B&W
What have you got up next?
(Maybe Janet Macoska’s take on the 2016 Miracle Cavaliers :))
I am the house photographer for the Rock Hall, which is always fun and rewarding and humbling. i also shoot all the live concerts at the Hard Rock Rocksino LIVE venue, which means I photograph about 80 shows a year and I have the most fun shooting these live performances!!!! The Hard Rock is family and they treat me quite well. They threw the kick off party for my book in 2015, and we produced a Hard Rock calendar. We will do another one for 2017. AND, Peter Chakerian and I have started work on a Volume Two of my book. Obviously, I have a lot more photographs and stories to share; so I’m looking forward to
assembling that book and look for publication in mid 2017.
Jimmy Page 1977

Jeff Clayton Kid Bop 2015


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