Music, inside out.

Before the fall.

A story about a musician.

I’m not even sure how to tell this story. It’s a story of greed. It’s a story of stupidity. It’s a story of loss. It’s the story of Ervin Mayfield.

Trumpet playing Mayfield was one of the pillars of the New Orleans jazz community. He is a Grammy winner. He is one of about five top trumpet players in a city that has a trumpet player on every corner.

In my picture, he is talking to his audience in Central City. He’s holding his instrument in one hand, and knowing him, he’s smiling as he talks to his musical fans. He is an outgoing guy.

Later, the roof fell in.

As it stands today, he has been indicted by the grand jury of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. It seems that he and his partner Ronald Markham, steered about $1.4 million from the New Orleans Public Library’s Foundation Board to themselves between 2011 and 2013. He also spent thousands of dollars in donations on travel expenses that were not connected to library business. He spent money on items like a 24 carat gold-plated trumpet that cost $15,000. Or, $2,000 at Harrah’s Casino, $23,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue. He spent thousands of dollars at big New York City hotels including a breakfast bill for over $1,300 for two people. That’s a lot of food. trust me. We like “hot cooked breakfasts.” We could never spend that much money in a hotel dining room.

This whole thing is sort of an old story, but the trial is coming up after many delays, so I thought I’d tell it to you. I’m sorry to do it.

But.

It’s a New Orleans thing. Corruption and the city go hand in hand. Congressman Bill Jefferson was found to have $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He had no idea how it got there. He’s in prison. Mayor C. Ray Nagin — the mayor who went nuts on television in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — is in prison for fraud and a couple of other charges.

Corruption appears at every level. Once, when I first arrived in New Orleans, I needed a city business license. I was told it would take at least six weeks to process. But, the clerk said, if I needed it quicker it could be processed in one day with a fifty dollar cash payment to him. When I complained to his boss, he shrugged his shoulders and called it an “expediting fee.” Indeed. I expedited it right out of the city. I registered my business in Jefferson Parish, where it still lives today.

New Orleans has always been a rough port city. If you are “from here” you know the stories. You also know that many of those little illegal side businesses are coming to an end. If you read what I had to say about all the newcomers to the city you would think it is all bad.

It isn’t.

There’s a flip side to that. They come from places where the city government actually works without bribes. Where potholes are repaired before they can swallow a car. Where the water company is actually efficient. Where people don’t worry about crime taking place in your front yard.

So, the very people who are tearing at the fabric of New Orleans culture are also demanding government transparency. There’s two sides to every coin, isn’t there?

On one hand, I want to protect our culture. The Mardi Gras Indians, the Baby Dolls, and every social and benevolent society matters to me. So do the street musicians, the brass bands and the kids who hope to follow them. It’s one of the reasons I moved to New Orleans, and one of the reasons I came back after Hurricane Katrina. But, I’d be willing to trade a little of that for a fully functioning city government. For safe streets. For solid infrastructure.

It must be my age. I probably didn’t think twice about most of this when I first arrived. Now, I do. I’d like to see our street repaired and repaired before I die. Of old age. At ninety. That’s 25 years. Is that too much to ask?

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Music everywhere.

Music takes me everywhere.

I live in a city made of music. I live in a city made of ancient culture. I live in a city full of food. They all seem to be struggling.

Musicians can barely earn a living. You see some amazing musicians playing on the street. Some are in between gigs. Others are scraping by.

The folks who are the culture believe the city makes about $900,000,000 a year off of their cultural pursuits, which is killing them. That’s a lot of money. But, tourism is our only real business.

And, food. Our food is great. But, at our current rate of restaurant expansion there seems to be one restaurant for every 300 of us.

Something has to give. Or, not.

The biggest issue might be the newest of comers. The ones who want to gentrify everything. The ones who don’t like second lines on Sunday because they create a racket. The ones who came here for all the stuff I’ve written about… for years. But, when they get here they want the city to be just like the place they came from.

Of course, the newcomers have added a lot of stress to the housing situation. Many of the culture bearers rent, they don’t own, their homes. Their landlords see big money and sell their homes out from under them. They leave the old neighborhoods. They usually head upriver. They come home for whatever their festivals happen to be. They don’t admit this of course. One Baby Doll lives in Natchez, Mississippi. That’s a long drive for one event. Yet, she does it.

So.

There was a meeting between a lot of the culture bearers and the city this week. The city claims that they want to protect them. Losing this ancient culture means significant tourism losses. I missed the first meeting. I’ll make sure I’m there for the next one. Based on newspaper reports, a lot of issues got side tracked. I’ll see what I can do to address some of those issues. Unfortunately, for me, this might be a case of good intentions being the road to hell.

The picture. Music really is everywhere around here. I passed these buskers on the way to someplace else, as I do with a lot of my subjects. I made some clean shots of them playing, but the guy passing by seems to add something to the picture.

 


Reflections.

Too much.

Either I’m working much slower, or I’m working much more. Or, both. Either way, I can’t seem to keep up on my posts. While I’ve edited and processed my raw files, I’ve got a long way to go until they are ready to be seen.

So.

This is an image that I made on my phone, with the intent of posting it to Instagram. I like the picture just fine. In fact, I like it a lot. It just wasn’t my thinking to post something on Storyteller that I captured quickly via phone.

No worries.

One parade today. The Krewe of Barkus. The dog parade. Yes. The hounds in this house like to go even though we are no longer krewe members. I like to photograph dogs and their people so it works out just fine. I’m not sure how far we’ll walk with the parade as it winds through the French Quarter. Wall to wall people, except the center of the street where the dogs and their people walk.

You know what I wrote about crowds. And, me.

No matter. There is plenty to see and photograph without getting squashed in the Quarter.

My plan — yes, I have one — is to finish the edit of about 900 pictures and get them ready for you and my agencies, who need a specific kind of picture. I’ll do this tomorrow after the dogs on parade.

Anyway.

This picture was easy. See it. Check its reflection. Try to stay out of the picture. (I didn’t succeed.) Push the button. It’s almost like two pictures for the price of one. It helps to have multiple tuba players with well polished instruments.

Happy Mardi Gras.

 


If I was any closer.

I got a little too close.

I was working with a 10mm lens. That’s how close I was. I could have helped the musician in front play his tuba. I didn’t mean for this to happen. But, once I broke through the rope, well… let’s just say, I really broke through. I sort of trapped myself. I couldn’t get back outside of the rope. I could only move forward with the band. That would normally have been great, but the crowd was sort of too crowded.

Apparently, it kept growing. By the time the second line made its way back to Claiborne Avenue under the interstate, it looked like a big jazz funeral for somebody who is near and dear to the community. I wasn’t there. From where I was working I couldn’t double back.

I know this from posts on Instagram and on Twitter.  I get very little love there. I guess I should post directly, and I should take off my watermark so anybody could use my work for free. No matter what people keep saying about sharing, like it’s caring, I still think it’s image theft. They say that helps you get your name out there. Cool. I wonder how many photographers have generated paid work from getting “their work out there.”

It’s one thing to share your work to a closed system like WordPress. It’s another to share your work so far and wide that nobody knows that it’s your work. Watermarks are very easy to remove.

Anyway. That wasn’t the point of today’s discussion. The real point was the email I mentioned to your yesterday.  I can summarize it fairly easily. It all came down to “Why am I here?” I don’t know the particular answer, but in general I think we are here to serve somebody, either formally or informally. That can mean all sorts of things. For instance, a young parent serves his or her children by helping them to grow in a good human being. Or, you may serve somebody by doing a task for them. To a larger extent, politicians are here to serve you and me. But, they forget that. The list, like the road, goes on forever.

There were a lot of other particulars to my friend’s email. Some are silly. Some are serious.

From the silly side, comparing your photo gear to someone else’s gear. I always say that it doesn’t matter how much gear you have, it’s how you use it. Besides, in travel situations, too much gear slows you down. It forces unnecessary fumbling around while the picture leaves.

Some were more serious. The rapid decline of his physical health while he was in a place that is known to have horrible air quality with large airborne particulates.  Scary. If you are around my age or older, think real hard about going there. For sure, there are ways to train yourself for certain events. In sports they talk about getting in baseball shape, or football shape. If I were doing a photo tour that required a lot of walking, that’s how I’d train. There is really no way to train for bad air quality. Bring a mask an oxygen bottle I guess.

Anyway, that was my story for yesterday.

On a housekeeping note. Mardi Gras parade season sort of starts with a walking parade on Saturday night. The Krewe of Chewbacchus. As you might guess from that name that it is on the weird side. It is. It’s fun. It used to be held on a day with other parades. It grew so big and so unwieldy, that the powers that be moved it up by a week. It is more or less an unofficial parade that became popular.  I’ll be out there. I’ll do my best not to cripple myself for the rest of parade season.

Then it really begins. Mardi Gras parade season. I’m still trying to figure out how to photograph it. For the past few years I worked at the start so I could make somewhat unique pictures. Unique became same and now I’m trying to figure out new locations and more commercially useful pictures. It’ll come to me in a dream. Or, in the shower.


Brass band out there.

They came out to play.

And, so they did. If a second line starts and rain falls in the middle of it, everybody keeps going unless the rain starts blowing sideways and upside down. Anything else is just a drizzle to them. And, us.

There’s a lesson in that. Don’t be denied.

There’s a lesson in that too. Here we are on the tenth day of January and I’m already reading about people who are starting to lose their way in 2019. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the leadership in The United States just isn’t up to the job. I watched both speeches last night. Afterwards, we all said the same the same thing. “That’s a half hour of my life I’ll never get back.”

For other people, the year started out terribly. People got sick. People got fired. A friend died.

You know what? That’s life. As John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Suck it up. Pull up your big boy and girl pants and move on. In a war long ago and far away, when something really bad happened, the African American troops used to say, “Ain’t no thang. Drive on.”

Drive on, indeed.

For anyone who thought that just because the calendar flipped from 2018 to 2019 things were going to get easier, disabuse yourself of that notion. This may be the hardest year yet. Hopefully, when we come to the end of it, all the hard work, suffering and some pain will be worth it. Maybe. Maybe not. We may have another year to go.

This is your “Come to Jesus” speech for today.

Now, don’t make me come out there and give it again. Heh. How many of us heard something like that when we were growing up? If you were like I was, it was a daily occurrence. Or, it was this variation. “Just wait until your father comes home.” Or, “Apologize to her right now,” said with a stamp of your mom’s feet after you did something to your sister. I’m just talking here. I wouldn’t know anything about that. Heh. No. Not me. Never. Heh.

The picture. It’s a couple of weeks old. I’m trying to photograph second lines, but post them less because I’m not sure that you understand them. That’s what the numbers say, anyway. When I make good picture  — something like this one — I know you understand music, I’ll post it. Besides, the guy playing his trumpet right at me is my pal on the scene, Kevin. He likes seeing his picture. He’s a musician. What do you expect? It proves that he was out there. For that matter, it proves that I was out there.

Website update three. I have two more things to do. Figure out how to make my portfolio be found and accessed easier. And, figure out how to attach PayPal to those images. I want that to be seamless so that when you want to buy or license an image, you don’t even have to contact me. Did you read that? YOU. BUY. LICENSE.

 


Two trumpets, one musician.

This is a fine example.

An example of not letting pictures marinate long enough to see the good ones. The subtle ones. The slightly hidden ones.

As you know, I photographed the Dumaine Street Gang second line a week ago in Treme. I showed you a few pictures, moved into my comings and goings and thought I was done.

Oh no.

My final work flow is to run through the outtakes just in case I missed something. Then, I add  any further selected images to my archives.

This time?

Not so fast, buddy.

It appears that I missed five pictures. Five pictures that you might like. Five pictures that my more editorial agent might like. Five pictures that are just too many for me to miss. Miss one. Miss two. That’s okay. But, this was like I was culling with one eye closed.

Anyway.

Here they are. They are more graphic than documentary. That’s just fine. The top picture really caught my eye. Normally, you don’t see one musician playing two trumpets. You still don’t. Two trumpet players were facing each other. In the street.

The bottom picture is another one that made me wonder what I was doing all last week. I wanted to catch the mass of brass. Something like that needs a subject, like the man in the foreground happily playing away. It helps the building in the background is painted a light shade of purple.

In many ways, this is a weird set of pictures. Even though brass bands working the streets are a little chaotic, they generally face in one direction. You know, like a band walking down the street. These guys are all over the place. They are facing each other. They are off on the side. They are turned in every direction. I guess this is what happens when you crash a couple of bands with extras who normally don’t work together.

All brass. All light.

One more thing. A good thing. The dog who sees stuff is a full-blooded Cocker Spaniel. She came with an AKC registration. She’s also a rescue dog. The person who owned her passed away at 85 years of age. We scooped her up. She was never really trained well and often ate food near the table.

She’s smart as she could be. Training was easy. We make homemade food. Every dog loves it. But, she never had a bone. Ever. I felt terrible. Every dog should have a bone. I’ve tried in the past and she didn’t know what to do with it.

Tonight. We had really thick double cut pork chops. Nice, thick solid bones. I put one near her and walked away. Pretty soon she was tasting it with her tongue. Then she started it nibbling at it. Now she’s laying down happily chewing away at it.

Yipee.

Every dog should have a bone.


Coming out.

It’s the energy. In hot or cool weather, it’s the energy that drives second lines. It’s the energy that creates minor miracles for me. If you hear the music, smell the cooking, get pulled into the din, there is no way that you won’t come alive.  You’ll sway to the music.  You’ll dance. You will feel better than when you arrived.

Eventually, you’ll feel tired. But, it’s a good tired.

It’s a funny thing. When I first started coming out, I had no idea of what I was looking at. I just liked the color. The energy. The people. Eventually I learned a few things. I met a few of the people who make second lines go.  Even so, I don’t know everything. I will always still be learning and meeting new people.

I do know the customs and traditions. At least I know them enough not to get in trouble. As I was told many years ago, if you are new on the scene present yourself. You have to know to tradition. You have to know the people.

For me, that’s the same thing as travelling to distant countries, whose traditions are not western. I read about people who get into all sorts of trouble because they compare our way of living to their way of living.

It doesn’t work.

I could tell you all sorts of stories about that. They never happened to me because I’m pretty mellow. But, the things that I’ve seen. Whew.

I’ll tell you one story. I was leaving Thailand, so I went to the airport to check in. Another American was at the window next to me. In those days you had to pay an airport tax. Today, it’s tucked into your airfare. It was 50 Baht. About the equivalent of USD $1.50. No big deal. The guy at the other window started yelling at the agent.

She was horrified.

Then, he started cursing the king and the corrupt country. Now the gate agent was pleading with me, with her eyes, to help.

I did.

I tried to calm him down. I told him what the price was in US currency. I told him that in Asia, screaming gets you nowhere fast. I told him that if he kept attacking the king there would be huge trouble

Trouble came in the form of two heavily armed Thai soldiers.  They handcuffed him. They were about to turn on me when the gate agent told them in Thai language that I was helping her and I was being kind. The soldiers nodded and put their hands together in a “Y” to thank me and to apologize. Oh, “Y’ing” looks like folding your hands in prayer.

They took him away, kicking and screaming. I don’t know what happened after that. But to insult the King in Thailand is to bring all sorts of hell upon yourself. At that time, the king was loved by all Thai people. I knew him as a really good photographer and jazz musician. He played clarinet in a New Orleans style.

Anyway.

These are some of my favorite pictures from the Good Fellas second line that started on Earhart Expressway. You may be wondering if the name has anything to do with the famous aviator, Amelia. It does. We are a little flying oriented down here. Our airport is called Louis Armstrong, but the destination code is MSY, after an early aviator — Moisant — who crashed in a pasture and was surrounded by scarred cows. That’s where the airport is today.

I made these pictures by just walking around until the second line started. As I’ve said in the past, after a while the actual second line feels a little similar to earlier work, so I try very hard to make something different, or unusual. Of course I photograph the main event.

I invite you to open the little pictures. There is good stuff going on in each of them.

Through the front door.
Dance, dance, dance.


YMO Second Line.

One every Sunday.

Sometimes.

The Young Men Olympians second line parade was postponed because — you’ll love this — their shoes didn’t arrive on time. Missing shoes caused scheduling problem all down the line.

They made it out on Sunday. The second line was worth the wait. Six divisions, composed of groups who joined YMO. One division was made up of the children. You’ll see that later this week. It’s enough to say that, man, they could really dance. Almost enough to make me considering making videos.

For me, personally, it was an interesting day. I started photographing from almost the minute I got out of my car. I walked with them for a long ways. Most telling, I didn’t have my usual hurts and pains. I felt so good that I didn’t even need my usual recovery time. Of course, everything tends to equal out. I slept way too late today. Now I’m racing to catch up.

Oh well.

The good news is that I also feel pretty good today. My exploring dog was patient and was rewarded with a very long walk. All still good.

The picture. Not much to say. It’s just straight photojournalism. No improvements were needed. Notice my choice of genre. I didn’t use street photography because that term has become so broad that it has become meaningless. Crowdsourcing isn’t always right.

 


The band plays despite the heat.

Brass bands.

You know me. There is something special about them. The minute that I hear them,  my poor hip and back feel better. I move easier. I move freer. I move faster. I dance with them. I am more flexible. I am convinced my pictures are better than usual.

I’ll get to the pictures a little further down, below the tuba picture.

A musician friend of mine who lives in the Pacific Northwest once described brass band music as being chaotic.

I suppose.

What do you expect? The musicians first heard the music on the streets. It’s very likely that they learned to play their instruments in high school. Different high schools for each of them. And, they rarely rehearse. The members come together on the street right before the second line begins. If they don’t have enough members on the scene, musicians from other bands show up to fill in the gaps.  Cell phones are working overtime.

Yeah. They all know the same songs because the music is among New Orleans standards. But, each of them might play a song slightly different. Yes. That breeds chaos.

That’s just wonderful. After all, at her best, New Orleans is the home of wonderful chaos.

Isn’t that what many of you come to the city for?

The tuba starts it. Always.

The pictures. I think you have to be in the middle of something to be able to make the best pictures. These pictures were made with a wide angle lens or a very short telephoto… like 70mm. The scene sort of envelopes me.

I have the same theory about music. I never use ear buds. Even when they are free. I sometimes use over the ear cans, when I have to be quiet or I want to hear a certain detail. Mostly, we just have a bunch of speakers that put us in the middle of the music. We can hear. We can share.

I feel the same way about pictures. Standing on the sidelines is the same way. Sometimes you have to. And, that’s fine. I don’t imagine the NFL would be very happy if photographers worked in the huddle or the line of scrimmage.

But, when you can you should try.

It’s a whole different sense of place. For me. For you.

This works even with travel pictures. For instance, I recently saw a picture of Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Everybody makes a picture like that. Then I saw one from inside the steeple. Whoa. That was something. I imagine getting permission takes some time and effort. That’s tough enough. But, what if you want to work around golden time and blue hour. Good luck. But, oh, what a picture.

That has me thinking. Hmmmmm.

The drummers pound out the beat.