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.


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?


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.


Blowing the trombone.

I used to say that when I was working really well that I could hear music in my head. Musicians that I know say that when they are playing really well, they see color and images in their head.

I suppose that this image is the combination of both. And, my attempt to get music and vision out of my head and into a format that you could see it.

That’s probably what all art is, except I don’t know that for a fact.

The picture. Three images; layered, adjusted and enhanced. That part of the process has become fairly simple. It’s the selection and culling process that keeps it very interesting. For me. Hopefully, for you.

A musical portrait.
A musical portrait.

More fun. In the streets.

Music, brass band, joyful noise. On a Sunday. In Central City. I think the pictures speak for themselves. So, I’m not going to write much more. But…

As always. Or, for a while longer.

I’m sure that you know by now. But, just in case got to Storyteller on November 4. You’ll see all the details.

A little drum fun.
A little drum fun.
Trumpeting away.
Tromboning away.

In the neighborhood.
In the neighborhood.

I thought that if could enhance a picture to give it a sense of urban grit, I could enhance other subjects in the same manner. I could give you a better sense of my intent. It’s easy to document a subject. It’s not so easy to give you a sense of really being there. Or, of feeling the subject.


Off I went. Into the bowels of my photo software.

The first picture was easy. It’s more or less the same sort of thing I did yesterday. That I do from time-to-time. I managed to photograph the social club’s banner prior to the second line propped up against a building in the neighborhood. That added a little life to what could simply a location picture. A scene setter.

I’m not so sure about the trombone player. When I photograph brass players up against an open sky with backlighting, I sort of see them glowing and sparkling. The light takes me away. The music takes me away. The sense of just being in a parade transports me to some other place. There has never been a second line parade that hasn’t made me feel good. Even in a pouring rain. In very hot weather. Terrible humidity.

Technically speaking, working in a backlighted situation is hard. Sometimes I can’t really even see well enough to focus. All that sunlight bouncing off that polished brass is hard on my eyes. It’s hard on my lenses. The camera’s software. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t know what to do with all that bright, reflected light. I’m pretty sure that I don’t.

Did I get it? Did my work in post production help the picture?

I’m not sure. There’s sparkly stuff all over the place. That feels right. There is also some of the gritty stuff that you see in my location work. That also feels right. It’s that kind of neighborhood. The glow also feels right. But, still…

Oh. One more thing. There’s this. I’ll keep you updated.

Ray Laskowitz: Krewes, Clubs, Indians and Brass


Glowing brass.
Glowing brass.


Brass Bands. The heart of a second line. Maybe the heart of most events in New Orleans. Although they may look a little loose and chaotic, these guys work a lot and can play in minutes. No on street rehearsals. No sound checks. No second chances.They just pick up their instruments and play. Music. Big brass music.

This is Hot 8. They are high in the ranks of brass groups. They get around. They tour. They record. They bring New Orleans music to the rest of the country.


Chaos. Music. Tradition.
Chaos. Music. Tradition.

Yesterday. Easter Sunday.

Four second lines. One was a funeral for a Mardi Gras Indian. One was a brand new parade. Two were anniversary parades. This one happens to be the 20th Anniversary Original Pigeon Town Steppers and Ladies Pigeon Town Steppers. The TBC Brass Band made the music.

The tuba starts it. The drums fill it. The trumpets and trombones call it out.

The music.

Then, they come out the door. Dancers. The King. The Queen.

Chaos. Noise. Loudness. Movement. Motion. Color. Music. Celebration. Crowds. Smiles. Dancing. Tradition. Ritual.

People start with the parade. They start walking. Some drop out. Others drop in. New bands join along the way. They take breaks. They keep going until the reach their final destination.

It’s the heart and soul of New Orleans. It always was.



New Generation Social Aid & Pleasure Club Second Line Parade.
New Generation Social Aid & Pleasure Club Second Line Parade.

Another Sunday. Another second line parade. I wasn’t going to go. I thought I was needed at home. I thought it was too cold. And, too foggy. But, I was nagged into it. How was I nagged into it? I was asked. That’s a riff on a line from the old M.A.S.H. television show. Henry Blake, “How did he find out?” Radar, “He got it out of me.” Henry Blake, “How did he do that?” Radar, “He asked.”

There you have it. I’m pretty easy. Apparently.

This parade is one of many that are held on just about every Sunday once the weather cools off in October and through the months we like to call winter. This one was held in Central City. It was run by The New Generation Social Aid & Pleasure Club along with the Nkrumah Better Boys. The theme for this year is: “Last Chance to Dance.” I’m not sure what that’s about since there will be another parade next Sunday. In case you’re wondering, these parades usually start at noon or 12:30 so that many of the folks who participate can attend church services.

The picture. F8 and be there. I haven’t written that in a long while. I just means to put yourself in front of the action and take the picture.


There was more to it this time. I was testing a brand new camera. A Sony A7. It is mirror less, just like my little NEXs. But, it has a full frame sensor, and a lot of other upgrades that make it an excellent professional working camera. It’ll take some getting used to, but it felt natural and comfortable in my hands. The focusing speed is very, very impressive and even with a somewhat lesser lens, the images are sharp as a tack. Why is this camera important? The full frame sensor. It’s the size of an old 35mm piece of film as opposed to what most DSLR cameras use, which is an APS sized sensor (smaller) or the size of the sensor that most compact cameras use, including the newer Nikon J series, which has a sensor the size of your pinkie fingernail. Why is this important? The bigger the size, the more light the sensor can capture and the better the quality of your picture. Simple. Or, something like that. Combine that with a small bodied mirror less camera and you have something very special. Yeah. I know. That was all pretty nerdish.

The Swing Dolphins working out a jazz standard.
The Swing Dolphins working out a jazz standard.

Before I really get into this, I just want to make a suggestion. This picture is pretty subtle. You  might want to open it up to its largest size to what’s really going on. The heart of the picture is captured in the reflection.

So, the story goes like this. I like music. I like jazz. But, I don’t like either enough to stand in big crowds and very hot summer days long enough to really listen. But, I read and heard about a band from Japan. A Japanese youth group was invited to play at Satchmo Fest earlier this month. You saw the second line parade that walked to honor Louis Armstrong. That was just little event during a three-day event. It was the most important to me for a lot of reasons. But, I thought the Japanese band sounded interesting. Luckily, they played an after-fest gig right on the levee of The Mississippi River. So, I went to listen to them. And, of course, to photograph them. They were pretty good fun. They played jazz standards. They were well rehearsed and they were focused on what they were doing. Unfortunately, the audience was tiny. Maybe 25 or 30 people heard them play. That’s too bad. They also had to compete with a freight train that passed about 50 feet away. They just smiled and kept playing.

I really didn’t do much to this picture in post production. There was no need to.