Fifty Shades of WTF?

I couldn’t resist. So yeah, the Fifty Shades of Grey tripe is becoming a movie franchise, and it has a shiny new trailer.

Of course, people are going gaga over it.

I swear, I must be a pod person or something. Really. Because I just cannot see any of that as “sexy”. I cannot see anything about Christian Grey as a character that would make it noteworthy, except for the fact that he’s a fucking sociopath.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get this straight: abuse is not sexy. Not even if it’s written to try and be sexy. Abuse is abuse, and abuse should not be tolerated, whether physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, you name it.

I read some of the book, but I stopped in disgust. Can someone please tell me how any of that is different from Twilight? How is the dynamic between Christian and Ana any different than Edward and Bella? Both are incredibly unhealthy, and in both cases, the male half acts as a predator chasing prey. In Twilight, it was Bella for being human and having the blood scent that affected Edward like heroin. Not even kidding, look in the books – “You are like my personal brand of heroin” was the phrase used. And Christian targets Ana because she’s a virgin, ergo naive, ergo he can do with her as he feels like and “mold” her into his ideal partner.

And people think it’s sexy? That it’s a good portrayal of the BDSM scene? Good lord, folks, if that’s what you think is sexy, I truly wonder about how satisfied you are in your own sex lives and what your ideas are about men respecting women. Because that’s just some seriously unhealthy shit that I’ve skimmed through in that book, and by no means am I a prude.

One of my best friends is heavily in BDSM, and she’s a sub. I also chatted up a professional dominatrix at a bar – yes, I live in NYC, you never know whom you’ll meet where. From the opposite side of the submission divide, they both told me that in the BDSM world, no one in their right minds would treat anyone the way Christian treats Ana throughout the series. BDSM hinges very, very, very heavily on consent. Hell, 99% of all sexual relationships hinge on consent. What Christian does treads into the territory of rape; I do not recall Ana consent to much of what he was doing with her. And don’t let me hear the “if she doesn’t say no that means yes” crap – hell no. If you’re in bed with someone and you aren’t blind or deaf, you will know very well when someone wants you to continue.

Really. I can’t understand how this shit got this popular, in both series’ cases. I will not pay money to even a street bootlegger hocking DVDs to see this crap. I mean, really. I know Americans as a whole are still very Puritanic when it comes to sex, but…really, folks, give me a break. I have read all of Twilight on a lost bet, so I know how to get through shitty fiction. But if it fails the Random Page Test in about two paragraphs, then I can’t help you there.

I really, honestly cannot understand how people, especially women, think that this shit is sexy, romantic, etc. I can’t. Granted I’m not exactly a “romantic” in the strictest sense, but I have a certain standard of behavior I expect in a relationship, based on this little thing called respect and this other thing called common sense. Except I’m afraid it’s not so common.

Really? This is made into a movie?

Then I guess fiction really has gone to shit.


On Hitting the Three-Oh and Milestones

In one of my “thinking” moods, I realized that yes, I’ll be celebrating a “milestone birthday” next year. Well, so people call it, in any case. I use quotations because, really, I’ve not put much emphasis on age or lack thereof in the past.

Considering that when I entered my twenties I was coming out of a convoluted and rather sheltered upbringing, the past ten years alone have been an eye-opener, start to finish. Not easy at the best of times, but necessary. Let no one say that the real world is not a worthwhile teacher; often, it is the best teacher one can have. Certainly, it was mine.

It’s all about how you apply the lessons you’re presented with.

One very, very major thing I learned is to adjust your goals, or the means to approach them, as you go. If you can’t get to your goal after repeated attempts, it’s perfectly fine to re-evaluate it and adjust it as it needs to be done. When I was 20, I wanted to be taken care of and comfortable. I learned that I shouldn’t necessarily have to rely on other people – parents, husband, etc. – for that. I still want to be taken care of – but this time, by myself, first and foremost. Did I accomplish that? Within reason, yes. Do I have more to go? Yes.

What I started thinking about is what “being 30″ actually means in today’s world. Just the larger spectrum of things.

When I was growing up and later, when I went to college, I was taught, as were most of my peers, that by thirty, you’re supposed to have “settled in and settled down”. What does that mean? It meant a career path that, after college, you now had about 7 or so years to get settled into, a career path that brings you enough income to have a place of your own. By 30, if you’re not married and have a kid or two, you’re usually told (if you’re female) that your “biological clock is ticking”, regardless of whether or not that’s true.

That’s what I kept seeing ahead for myself when I was in school. Then I actually had to ask myself: what of this do I want? And turned out that quite a lot of the expected script for being in one’s thirties did not at all appeal to me.

And, well, you know me. If I see an opportunity to do something the way I want, I will immediately go for it, doubly so if I know in advance that it will make me very happy.

So right now, with my age mark about to hit the three-oh, I realize that, apart from the fact that going your own way in life is truly the best thing any human being can do for themselves, that my peers have been lied to by the sheer virtue of being given a LifeScript(tm) to follow. By shoehorning themselves into a scripted, predictable, society-expectation-molded way of life, they have effectively given up any real freedom that they could’ve had. I mean, think about it: an average Joe USA will go to school, take a job to pay the bills, get married and have a kid, and then work work work because kids are expensive (which is one of those things no one tells you) and tries to pay off mortgage and student loans (because you can’t live without debt these days, which is another thing no one tells you). Yes, it’s what’s expected of him. This is how thousands of people across the country live. Not once do they question this script. Not once do they step back and see that they are roped into working longer and longer hours for the same pay to make payments on the house they almost never spend time in. Their time is invested into the job. They come home, exhausted, and then they come home to have to work again on their relationship – because it does require work – and their children.

Likewise for women. They’re told to go to school, get a job, get married, have kids. And then what? Exhaust themselves twice over being an employee and a mom? And face social guilt and everyone getting judgey on them because they aren’t doing X or Y per the script? Come on. Moms and non-moms get it all the time about how they’re not doing X enough when in reality, they’re running themselves ragged with X and Y, but no one mentions Y. Work, come home, parent, be a spouse. Where’s the “rest” aspect to this?

What sort of freedom is this? What sort of freedom does this script allow?

My twenties were marked by analyzing that script, and every other social directive my peers and I have been spoonfed, and realizing – harshly in some cases – that I am just not capable of doing that to myself. I felt most at home when I was traveling: to my friend’s up in Cape Cod, on a plane to my first cruise, on the railroad to explore a new city… Travel was where I felt most at home. Even though right now, at a bit older than 24 (when I started traveling for real), I grumble and grouse at the early wakeup calls to my flights, I can never deny that this is what I was born to do: gallivant, explore, photograph, tell stories of my adventures.

The other major realization that I feel coming with my thirties is the responsibility that we are all given, to take care of ourselves and ours.

My health has been a thorough misadventure. But it’s also been a great learning experience about what does and doesn’t work with my body. As it is, I have tried the whole “lose weight” rigmarole. Once my thyroid got its meds, the weight started coming off rapid-fire. When it stalled, I tried WeightWatchers, only to plateau and regain everything I lost when my body hit starvation mode: WW relies largely on fiber and vegetables as a filler, and completely disregards that lipids are an essential part of any diet (a half an avocado is how many points?!). It’s great for getting into healthier eating habits, but for long-term weight loss, it fails. I went back to WW after I regained the weight, only to yo-yo again. So I decided to scrap all “weight loss” plans and just enjoy my workouts for the endorphin rush, and eat as I please.

Know what happened? My health thrived. My blood tests kicked out their first “perfect score” in about a decade. I stopped feeling like my stomach is a bottomless pit waiting to be stuffed with food; I stayed with my habits but re-introduced avocados and the occasional potato. My appetite became a lot less “must eat everything” and a lot more “fuel up, stay full through day”.

We get only one body. Only one health. We can’t change bodies when this one has outgrown its usefulness. Our primary responsibility is to know when to focus on you. Your health, your well-being, your living. And if you’re in the position where you have to be a caregiver – then taking care of that person’s health is also on us.

I’m not talking about kids.Not just about kids, for my parent readers. I’m talking about the people who are around you. Parents, if you’re close to them. People who took care of you, who may be needing care in return. Myself, I had to come to close terms with my mother’s retirement, not just as the end of comfort – and let’s face it, so far I’ve been lucky enough to be comfortable while living with her – but as the beginning of my slow takeover as the household provider. I’ve seen it coming, but now’s the time to actually stop looking and start doing. My mother is looking forward to her retirement and not working, and maybe just possibly doing a little travel in her own right. And other things. And financially, I know that she and I need to start working together financially; this way I can sustain us, and she can enjoy some peace in her retirement without having to go broke.

That’s responsibility. That’s shared responsibility. And moving into my thirties knowing how to handle that, frankly, is something I feel very proud about.

All those milestones that people put into the standard LifeScript(tm), they are milestones only in the context of the people who set them. For people who graduated high school and then got married and had a couple of kids before they hit thirty, any other sort of life is unimaginable, especially if they see everyone around them doing the same. To them, that’s normal. That’s the script. So they will set the same milestones for their children, regardless of how their children feel. So many times I see stories online of X person being the first in their family to graduate college, and behind the stories of people supporting their goals, I find myself always asking, “And how many naysayers are around X right now saying behind their backs that they don’t see the point in college and X should’ve just gotten married and stayed in town?” Because for those people, X’s accomplishment, momentous on the scale that they’re the first ones to graduate in their family, just doesn’t make sense because it breaks the norm. It doesn’t fit the script. They don’t know what to do with it, and in all things human-natured, decry it.

Let them.

In my experience, the people who try to pull you down for your achievements are wholly incapable of doing what you’ve done. So let them bitch. Define what your milestones are for yourself.

Most people wouldn’t think that “taking care of their mother” is a milestone – for me, it is. My mother had pulled me out of a fair few sticky situations, and I see it as a return of debt to make sure that her retirement isn’t fraught with financial worries, and a point of pride that I have a plan to do so, and can follow through with it. Most of my peers don’t quite see contributing to an IRA as a milestone – and in that regard, I wholly understand them; there isn’t enough income to go around when you still have loans to pay. But the fact that I have saved my first thousand dollars for retirement despite my otherwise deplorable spending habits is a great thing. It’s a thousand dollars that I won’t have to bust my hump for after a certain age.

Right now, very safe to say that I look at fiscal responsibility as a major part of growing older. It took me a long time to get smart about my money, even more surprising the fact that I work in accounting. But that is also how I got smart about what’s mine: I worked on other people’s books, finances, companies, and looked at what they were doing, and began to see how to apply it to myself. I am not where I want to be, but I am a ways ahead of my peers at this moment, and if there’s anything I can do to help them out, then usually I do so. Knowledge is the thing that pays it forward.

As I gear up for being a “thirty-something” in New York, I’m also setting new goals for myself. First goal is to just relax – reasons obvious. Second goal: to not spend so much time working and/or being alone; like it as not, human contact is an essential thing, and my friendships do need cultivating. And third goal: get myself to where I can, in fact, think seriously about buying a house. If student loans are the only thing standing in my way, then I need to figure out a way to up the ante and get them paid off now.

I’m still not too sold on the idea of having a “personal life”. Maybe it’s because I am too busy, maybe I’m just not wired for it, but I just don’t see myself with long-term companionship at this stage in time. Still. I just don’t see it. If I think of a weekend, then inevitably, there’s my camera, there’s an event, and there’s a ticket to a bus/train/flight to get there. And the way I see it is thus: if over the next five years I do not meet anyone who is worth carving out the time for, anyone who will make me say, “This one is special, different, worth my time and efforts”, then I will resign myself to the single life for good. I don’t see myself ultimately staying alone – so my intuition says – but I certainly don’t see myself dating anyone with my adventurous, photography-chasing, music-indulging life being what it is, and I am a realist above all. I don’t believe in “the one”, I don’t believe in Prince Charmings, and I certainly don’t believe in settling down. But if in the first five years of my thirty-dom I don’t meet anyone – then, you know what? Works for me A-OK if I’m a solo flyer. I can build a hell of a life for myself by myself. After all, I’ve already gotten a good start on it.

Bring on the Thirties!


Enough already.

Yes, I’m still pissed off about the Jazz Fest West cancellation, and I’m even more pissed off because I’m seeing the same R&B’d-out lineups happen at other festivals too.

I am very much over staying quiet about what’s bothering me in this industry, and I am well aware this might make me unpopular in some circles. Know what? I’m past the stage of giving a shit. I would rather stand for what I feel is right and stand alone than follow a crowd when the crowd is heading in a direction I am not okay with.

If you see yourself or your event in my writing, then lace up the shoe and wear it. I won’t retract a single syllable, nor will I issue a single apology to anyone whom I may offend/piss off. So don’t even bother writing to me about it. I am expressing my sole opinion, and if it’s unpopular or if it pisses people off – that’s fine. Maybe it’ll get people to think a bit, too.

I do, however, hereby make a pledge that, with the sole exception of Capital Jazz Festival, which has consistently put on an event that’s balanced across all three major genres that it offers and openly acknowledges as offering – jazz, soul, and funk – I will not put one red cent towards a festival or event that over-dilutes its lineup with R&B and continues to bill as a jazz festival.

I will not buy tickets to a diluted event. I will not offer my photo services, even to the detriment to my own income. I will not attend, not even on a guest list.


Because I have truly had enough, and I do NOT support what’s happening to the festival lineups. I am not okay with it. I am definitely not okay with it. Nor are quite a few people I know. I enjoy Capital Jazz because Cap makes every effort to ensure that all genres get equal weight.

I have witnessed Newport Beach Jazz Festival morph into something I barely recognize in the space of the two years since Scott Pedersen had stopped being in charge. I have borne witness to what happened with radio station playlists after Broadcast Architecture came on the scene and “architectured” the playlists to where my own beloved CD101.9 had become an unpalatable loop before its demise. I saw what happened after CD101.9 flipped. I saw clubs and venues that were known for having a variety of contemporary jazz suddenly begin saying, “There’s no market for jazz” when it had previously been a fairly consistent stream of their revenue. You may have seen it in your cities too, that same chain reaction: a station becomes unpalatable, people stop listening, them boom! it flips, then suddenly the local events dry up because everyone parrots that “there’s no market” – when their market is still right where it was, but it’s just not being catered to anymore because the radio ceased existing and prior thereto, the lineup got so homogenized that it became just plain boring.

And I am seeing the same pattern emerge with festivals with the demise of Jazz Fest West. The past three years, lineups got diluted more and more with R&B. Now JFW collapsed. How much do you want to bet that this has given every naysayer who said, “Jazz is dead” at the radio station shutdowns more fuel to the fire? How much do you want to bet that everyone who had trash-talked jazz before will now have additional grounds for doing so, because not even the jazz festivals are truly jazz festivals anymore in lineup? This is all only adding to the extremely mistaken impression that jazz, whether straight-ahead, smooth, acid, whatever, doesn’t carry an appeal, when few things are further from the truth.

Before people say that jazz is dead, let’s first check that that isn’t deliberate.

Let me also remind you that I was behind the scenes in trying to put on a festival event – as a bookkeeper. This was an eye-opening experience to the very harsh realities of the business aspect of the music business. I know full well that without securing a major sponsor, it’s next to impossible to make the event happen. Yes, you do have to play politics too, whether you like it or not. Market research becomes a lifeline. And the event I was working on just couldn’t pull the sponsorship together. Jazz Fest West, however, had financial and media backing that the event I was working on just didn’t have and couldn’t get. Whatever JFW’s cause of demise actually is, I still firmly stand by my previous hypothesis that the lineup was a huge contributing factor to its collapse. They had the sponsors. They had a long-standing rep to fall back on. They had media presence and advertising, even in the post-collapse climate. But the lineup had changed in recent years and it just wasn’t the lineup that Jazz Fest West was known for in the past. The damage is done.

Whether or not the festival will make a comeback, I don’t know. But jazz is something people travel quite a ways for – I’m not referring to myself here, but rather folks from Europe who would board a flight just to hit up a jazz festival in the US – and if they look at a lineup and say, “Not worth it”, what do you think they’ll tell other fans?

Whether local to the fest or to their country, in today’s world of social media and word of mouth, how would that affect ticket sales for that particular event?

Don’t tell me there’s no new artists to put on a fest with. There are plenty of new artists, but the challenge is weeding through them. It used to be that the radio stations had done that quality control for us. Now who’s doing it? Who’s the quality control? If the audience doesn’t see or hear a new artist, then how do they even know the new music is out there? The Internet is drenched in new musicians; how do we weed out who the good ones are? Online radio stations and interviews are only one piece of the puzzle; the real determinant of success is the live show. Spaghettini’s is a historic launchpad of jazz talent of all hyphen-jazz iterations possible, but Spags doesn’t have to operate alone. Newport Beach of 2012 and prior had a separate stage for up-and-coming artists, and if you may recall 2011, a young kid with a tenor sax slightly bigger than himself came out on the side stage, then onto the main stage with Dave Koz, and kicked some serious ass on both. You may know him: Vincent Ingala? A Spags regular who packs the house each time? Look at where he is after that 2011 Newport Beach event. And he got there without the jazz radio climate; this was all in the aftermath of the great shutdown, and he got where he was because Scott Pedersen took a listen to his debut album, all of which being self-produced, and decided that this kid had a shot. He could’ve so very easily booked Eric Roberson, who’s a pretty well-known soul singer, in Vincent’s stead, and drawn in a slew of R&B/soul fans. Instead he kept an all-jazz fest and launched a career.

There are many more like Vincent. I would rather they get a shot at a festival timeslot as opposed to, say, Stephanie Mills, whom I can say a lot about, and so can other artists. I would rather that Chicago, NYC, and other major cities had a Spaghettini’s all their own to launchpad this new talent. If I had the capital and the time, I would gladly go to Philadelphia and reopen Zanzibar Blue, have that be the East Coast version of Spags.

The bottom line is that the music business is a business. A cut-throat, merciless, opportunistic business that, the more I think about it, is no less competitive and brutal than the real estate market in NYC. I worked in that market, and if I had to choose between music and real estate, I would ask if that’s even a real choice. Excepting perhaps that music has a lot more benefit than lease signings for small closet studios, the two industries require a lot of business moxie, in nearly equal amounts.

Five years ago, I made the decision that I was going to keep the jazz world as a permanent part of my life, and first thing anyone told me was, “Music business is 10% music and 90% business” and since I first heard that I. Got. Schooled. in what that really means. I cannot even tell you the importance of the business aspect of this industry when it comes to the festivals. Nor can I understate the importance of knowing one’s audience and appealing to them. New audience nearly always finds a way into the event, but the importance of knowing what the audience is looking for cannot possibly be overstated.

This is all. about. business. 

The proverb “penny wise, pound foolish” carries a lot of weight in nearly all service-based industries. Music performance is, at the core of it, a service-based industry, and it is very much subject to that rule. If you’re R&B-ing out a lineup of a festival as a way to put butts into seats, ask yourself how long that will last for if, as a consequence thereof, you’re putting off your long-term jazz attendees. Yeah, you’ll have bigger attendance numbers – for how long? If you have a high ticket price to meet your break-even point a little faster than you would at a lower number, you’ll get your sales from the people who want to come for the new lineup – but not from those who can get the same/similar/more desirable lineups cheaper elsewhere, and who aren’t likely to come back as a result. What’s more important: short-term revenues or long-term longevity? Faster time to arrive at break-even point? These are all decisions that every event planner, of any event, of any genre or sort has to make. Jazz festivals are only one example. And each and every one of them is a business venture. Make absolutely no mistake of it. Yeah, cold, but that’s what it is. Don’t think that the music is the primary motivation. Business is business, and business is first.

So let’s actually look at things in terms of sheer consumer-based economics. We, the consumers, need to make clear our expectations of what we want from our entertainment. If the promoters deliver, okay, great. If they don’t, then don’t be shy about seeking it elsewhere. This is how changes are wrought. If you are not okay with something, staying silent will only ensure that your demand is not adequately met.

Jazz Fest West is a cautionary tale to a lot of festivals, and whatever reasons it has collapsed for, my observations completely notwithstanding, it all needs to go to serve as a preventative example, so such a collapse can be avoided in the future.

I firmly assert that no festival with a majority R&B lineup that continues to bill itself as jazz, anywhere in the world within a plane’s reach, will get a penny of mine. Capital Jazz continues to get my patronage because they had consistently put on an all-around balanced lineup and have been straight-up about their jazz-and-soul mix from the beginning – and continue to keep it balanced. I already see my friends, long-time jazz lovers all, stop attending regular festivals because the lineups have no appeal anymore. They’re doing no more and no less than what I’m doing already. What I’m doing is being vocal and vociferous as to the reasons why. I’ve already seen a swathe of radio stations die out. I don’t want to see a swathe of festival shutdowns to follow, but I will also not put a penny of my money to support something I don’t believe in.


Again: let’s have a JAZZ festival.

So I wrote about Jazz Fest West

Today I checked out another CA festival that I remembered had an excellent balance of artists, most of whom were jazz. 

NOPE! Nearly 90% R&B/soul. 


This is exactly what I was talking about in my last post. If you’re going to have a majority R&B festival, call it as such. Call a spade a spade. If you get better numbers putting on an R&B fest, then call it an R&B fest, but don’t expect your regular jazz fans to show up there. They are not looking for mostly-R&B. They’re looking for jazz. 

Again, with feeling: If you want half-jazz and half-R&B, leave that to Capital Jazz Fest. That’s their signature brand, and they made it work, because that is what works for their listener base. But if you’re in jazz country, make it a jazz festival.

Before anyone starts saying how “jazz is dead”, let’s just stop and make sure that its not being actively killed in the first place. Because what I’m seeing, I’m starting to wonder if it’s deliberate.

We all saw what happened with the radio stations, but here’s a little-known fact: remember NYC’s CD101.9? No format that had followed the original smooth-jazz format ever made anywhere near as much money as CD101.9 had in its heyday (not the post-Chill 101.9; I refer to the real thing of the early 2000s, when the programming director knew what the hell needed to be done). Not one. The listener base was and remains loyal. Most people who listen to the right pieces in smooth jazz – and I am not referring to Kenny G here; sorry, Kenny – usually love it and stay with it. Even my rocker friend loves jazz, but I had to first introduce her to it. It would’ve been a lot easier if CD101.9 was still around, but, of course, Emmis Broadcasting had to try and “make a profit”. And CD101.9’s flip had directly led to the wholesale collapse of other jazz stations. Why? CD101.9 was one of the bigger players in the jazz radio game.

And know this: Broadcast Architecture wholly contributed to this disaster, especially since CD101.9 had hired them and the resulting “lineup” directly led to the collapse. When CD101.9 went chill, people quit listening to it. 

And now, the jazz festivals are doing the same thing: they’re flipping their formats to R&B, and driving away their loyal base. Then, dollars to donuts, they turn right around and say, “Jazz is dead” – well, here’s the thing: stop killing it!!!  Times will change anyway; and if jazz had endured a century since its inception, then trust me, it’ll endure for another hundred, but not unless every promoter and radio station – online, terrestrial, stream, upload, podcast, whatever – actually sustains it and actually appeals to the people who like it. And you’d be amazed at how many people love jazz, or can love jazz, if they are actually reached out to.

Guess what: just because people don’t have a terrestrial jazz radio station anymore doesn’t mean they ever stopped loving jazz. 

More to the point, CA actually has jazz radio. It’s more than what I can say for other parts of the country that were subjected to the flip. And radio does count for a lot. If you go to the Birmingham, AL jazz fests, the crowd turns out in force – because they have a jazz station, in part, and because they love a festival. Seabreeze Jazz Fest in Florida – packed every year, why? They have a station. Jacksonville Jazz Fest, Florida again – great turnout, each time. NYC’s vineyard series in Long Island, the Smooth Jazz New York cruises, the Midtown Groove series – guess who attends them? Anyone who’s ever heard CD101.9, and not just the baby boomers. Berks Jazz Fest? Their jazz station just made a comeback; next year will be packed to the rafters, and it’s already one of the biggest all-jazz fests of the East Coast. 

Oh, and while I’m at it? Let’s once and for all dispense with the ludicrous notion that only baby boomers can enjoy smooth jazz. Bullshit. I’m not yet 30 and I love this music – why? I had the great luck of listening to the early CD101.9. I see all ages of people attend the Blue Note gigs. Same for BB King’s. Same for the Smooth Jazz New York shows. Dave Brubeck’s shows had four generations’ worth of an age spectrum in the audience. Acoustic Alchemy – same thing. JJ Sansaverino brings in a mostly my-age crowd and I can promise that they will be looking up other jazz artists after one of his gigs. Don’t give me the crap of “young people can’t enjoy jazz”. If they could have a station where they could actually, you know, listen to it – well, then I’m sure you’ll see a lot more college-aged kids at your fests. 

Also while I’m at it: the next person who tells me there’s no new artists in jazz will be smacked upside the head. Is Phil Denny a ghost, then? Is Curtis Brooks imaginary? Will Donato? Chase Huna – granted, he’s a youngin and only local to CA, but the boy can play. So can Vincent Ingala, and he is barely old enough to drink. Generation Next isn’t a figment of my imagination, last I checked. There is plenty of new blood, and people not hearing them doesn’t make them any less real, nor does playing something slightly different make them less real.

So again: don’t ever, ever tell me that jazz is dead. Not as profitable as it was 15 years ago, possibly, but dead? Hell no. 

I have just had it up to here with the naysayers. Enough is enough is enough.

And folks, if you’re reading this and in agreement? Start writing letters, emails, make phone calls, whatever you need to do. Nothing is going to happen unless the people are told that something needs to happen. So start actually telling them. Because good gods, we all know this can’t continue.


A Little Lesson in Photo Etiquette

So on my last shoot, I got into a quick chat with a bassist buddy of mine, who actually did me a major solid mid-show. I crept up by the gear cases near the stage to try and get a nice clean shot of the keyboardist, and, with absolutely no obligation on his part, the bassist stepped aside and waved me a bit forward to stand by his amp for a cleaner shot. I’m very grateful for that favor (and yes, the shots were fabulous), and as a result we got to talking about photographer etiquette at concerts.

I think it’s high time I did a comprehensive post about it.

Make no mistake, guys: being a photographer is a job. If you think that all it is is someone “taking pictures for a few hours”, you’re deluding yourself by even formulating that thought. Pictures require processing, which takes hours. And Photoshop? Not a cheap software at the best of times. Lightroom, if that’s all you need? Not free either. Photographers who are at the top of their game also invest thousands of thousands of dollars into their equipment, which has to be the best on the market. I recently bought a lens the price tag of which still makes me cringe – that’s after a discount – and it’s only one of three such lenses that I will need to invest in to have the gear bag that I require. I’m not even talking about the cam body that I am thinking about investing into; that alone is making my wallet ache. All of this adds up to a ton of money. It would, honest-to-all, add up to $20,000 if I want to buy the gear and software that would complete my “best of” gear bag, and that’s half my annual salary. This is what it takes to be a pro photographer, so next time your photog gives you a bill, you pay it and be glad it’s not double the amount.

And the thing about concert photography is that you have no idea what you’re walking into, far as lighting conditions go. So when you’re shooting a concert, if you’re lucky enough to have a vantage point that lets you capture all the good angles easily, you’re ahead of the game. But, if you’re like I was at my regular shoot, maneuvering around a stage, then you would need to get a little creative.

But, regardless of whether or not you’re front row at a theater or floating around on a boat-concert gig, here are some do’s and don’ts for my fellow concert photogs:


- Use flash. Regardless of whether or not the venue allows it, it’s always distracting to the musicians. No one likes a flash going off in their faces. You know how everyone complains about someone blinking right at the shutter click? Well, this is what happens when the flash goes off; your brain wants to move to protect the retinas from flash burn. Because, as someone who had a flash of someone else’s camera go off right into my own eyes one time too many, I can tell you, flash burn is no picnic. Worse in dim lighting. So how do the musicians feel when that flash goes off?

Remember: if you go into Program (P on your camera) and tweak your flash compensation and ISO a little, you won’t need the flash in a concert shoot. If you worry about grain, then there’s an Exposure control adjustment in Photoshop where the Gamma slider will eliminate a lot of that grain. Or, conversely, you can go overboard on the grain and do a stylistic little thing with it. In my experience, in a well-lit stage (Blue Note as an example), grain is at a minimum even if my ISO is set to 6400 and I’m shooting with my f4 rather than my f2.8.

- Block someone’s view. Never, ever, ever get in people’s way. To be blunt, your ass isn’t transparent. The audience paid to watch the musicians play, not your behind trying to maneuver for a good angle. Mind the people around you. It’s plain and basic courtesy. If you want a closeup, pop on a telephoto lens; otherwise, down in front.

If you want to change positions, do so quickly. Dodge out of the way of the audience, get to a spot that will let you have your angle with the least amount of hassle from the people sitting close to where you want to be, get the frames you want, and vamoose. But under no circumstances are you to block people’s way.

- Cop an attitude with the musicians. The musicians are the one earning the money for everyone, including themselves, and indirectly, that includes you. They come first. Respect what they’re doing. As a courtesy, before the show, ask them if they’d like any particular frames shot of themselves. Don’t act like you’re all that and a bag of spicy Doritos because you have a camera. You’re working too, but so are the musicians: they’re the ones giving you material for the production, for your portfolio, for your practice, etc. They come first. Never forget that.

- Cop an attitude with the production. If they hired you, this goes triple. Never bite the hand that feeds you, under absolutely no circumstances. Productions, artists, fellow photographers – each and every one of them has a blacklist. You don’t want to find yourself on it, and the fastest way to find yourself blacklisted is to act like a jerk.

- Cop an attitude, period. You may be good, but there’s always room to improve. Never forget that photography is a learning process, like all art forms inevitably are. If you walk around like you’re all that and a bag of chips, then you better show that you have the portfolio that backs the attitude – and you still better take that down a notch.

- Expect anything”extra” as part of your photo gig. Usually, most hired photogs are treated as part of the band – discount drinks, food, comped admission, etc. – but this is definitely not the case universally. Many clubs or festivals will just give you an okay to shoot, but they’d expect you to pay your own admission, food, drink, etc. Bands can guest-list you, or photo-list you, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be allowed to partake in the band discount on food and drink if they do so. Or that there even is a band discount. The important thing is: do not expect special treatment. Ever. If you get it, great, but never lose sight that unless you have a Staff lanyard, you’re another audience member with a camera.

- Get judgmental of other photographers, whether aspiring or seasoned. Fastest way to make a fool of yourself. Don’t ever get judgey of someone else’s gear. Don’t get snippy if someone else asks you about yours. See above about copping an attitude. Don’t do it. You will be the one looking like an ass at the end of the day.

Now that we got that out of the way…


- Ask in advance about clearance. Never assume that just because you’ve shot somewhere once, twice, three times, you’d be allowed to keep going as you are. I made that mistake before; a club changed its management without me being aware of it, and the new manager wasn’t so keen on photos, even if the musician didn’t necessarily care either way. Awkward? Very. Since I’m a regular there for smooth-jazz gigs, the manager did relent on me shooting, after a point, but the lesson has been learned: ask ahead. You don’t want egg on your face later.

- Case your location and arrive early to do so. If you have the good luck of getting into the venue earlier than showtime, or even earlier than door time, you have the benefit of scoping our your vantage points in advance. This can make all the difference between a bad shoot and a good one. If you’re lucky enough to walk into the venue while they’re also testing out their lighting, and the house lights are down, it’s the perfect chance to tune your camera settings to the show’s lighting setup. If you have never been there before, you can ask politely to see if you can check it out. Whether they’d let you is another matter, of course, but preparation is a great advantage.

- Make friends with the “official” photographers if you, yourself, are not hired for a shoot gig. I cannot tell you how important that is. The best and easiest way to get your chops, grow your skills, or to later get your own gig, is to start out shooting as someone’s B-Reel. In other words, assist someone. They’ll teach you a few things. And the best recommendations and references will always come from the people for whom you’ve shot B-Reel in the past, especially if your B-Reel is as good as or better than their master reel. I’m always glad to tweak the settings on someone’s rig, lend them a lens, etc. Why? It pays it forward, because I had people teach me all of those things. No one ever got anywhere without a little encouragement. If I tweak the ISO and program settings on a guy’s rig and he gets the best photos possible as a result, then I can promise you that he’ll remember that when someone asks him to tune up their cameras too, some years down the line. Pay it forward.

One of the best experiences I had was in San Diego and once before on Capital Jazz’s cruise, when I let fellow photogs borrow my 70-300 f4 lens. Why? It was the first time they shot with that sort of a range on a lens. It changed their perspective, and made them think more about what they could get out of their rigs. I consider it a job well done on my part.

- Make friends with the musicians whom you shoot, and their management, if that’s possible. They will become your clients later. They will remember the way you treat them, and your professionalism. Key word is professionalism. How you present yourself is how you will be referenced.

- Make friends with the promoters, if possible. Same reason as musicians. Always be professional, courteous, and maintain your connections. You never know what may pan out later.

- Keep an eye on what’s behind the scenes. It’s actually pretty important to know the blow-by-blow of how a gig comes about, from a business perspective. Some musicians’ contracts may require that photos of a show are contained to only certain mediums – and if you’re shooting, then you really need to know what those mediums are. Never lose sight that showbiz is 1% show, 99% biz. When you get a contract to shoot a gig, ask ahead what happens to the photos: do you get to watermark them when you distribute? Does the artist want a hi-rez set before you make it public? Does their management? How do first-publication rights play? You need to know that.

Always have a sense of ethics. I can’t put enough of an emphasis on that. How you conduct yourself and your business is how people know you. The grapevine is very real, very swift, and above all, merciless. If your business ethics are beyond reproach, believe me, it is worth the reward. Integrity does pay in this business.

- Own up to your mistakes. You will make them. It’s called being human. But what marks you is how you deal with them. You own up and own them, and their consequences. Yes, it’ll suck, but know what? Welcome to being a businessperson. Welcome to being an adult. You made the mistake, deal with the fallout.

- Always be courteous. See all of above that I said about perception, professionalism, and presentation. Courtesy plays in a LOT of that.


I won’t lie, it took me a long while to get used to, well, everything that being a concert photog entails. And again: it’s still a learning process. I’m still figuring a lot of stuff out. I made quite a lot of behind-the-scenes connections, and learned about the business side of the music world the old-school way – trial and error – but never would I get so presumptuous as to say I know everything. I don’t. I don’t think I ever will.

But what I do know, I try to make the best of, and to pass some along to the next shutterbug ahead.


On Jazz Fest West’s cancellation

Update: In light of this, plus other festivals going the same route, I decided that I’ll be much more selective about where my money goes. Enough already.

It hit my news feed not too long ago. Three weeks to go time. And while it’s unfortunate, I kind of knew it was going to happen.

Yes, jazz festivals are struggling. Even in Southern Cali, which is jazz country. However, there’s a slightly bigger player here: the festival promoters. In this case, Omega Events. And there’s a something I have a quibble with as far as Omega goes.

What I notice about the Omega Events festivals, especially JFW, is the lineup. In fact, I can’t quite call that a “jazz” festival, since the majority of the artists scheduled were R&B. The same thing was with Newport Beach Jazz Fest, which got taken over by Omega Events as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love R&B. I love Chaka Khan’s music. But please explain to me in what realm she’s considered jazz.

One festival that comes to mind that had successfully pulled off the jazz-R&B balance, and that’s Capital Jazz Fest here on the East Coast. And it’s wildly successful, there’s over 20,000 attendees there every year. Hell, there were more people this year than last year, and “packed” doesn’t cover it. Two separate stages, two genres, but enough going on so that people can see both and enjoy across the board. What I’ve seen with the Omega fest lineups, especially after Scott Pedersen was no longer in charge at Newport, was that they began R&B-ing out their lineups to a heavy degree, with none of the split, to where calling it a jazz fest anymore is a stretch.

Though I completely get why a promoter would want to do that, it doesn’t quite work. In fact, with those people who love the jazz genre and, like me, are willing to travel for it, it has a completely opposite effect to what was intended.

I understand that they want to draw people who like R&B as well as jazz and pad the attendance numbers, but what about the people who like jazz already? How do they feel if, instead of Dianne Reeves (just as an example) they get Fantasia? Nothing against Fantasia; she has a lovely voice, but she is decidedly not a jazz singer. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Those people who like jazz already now see this R&B’d lineup and feel that the festival had lost its touch. If they bought tix in advance, they may feel cheated. Would they still attend the fest? No. They wouldn’t. Because they feel that the R&B’d-out lineup takes away from the jazz.

Let’s make this plain: either you have a majority jazz lineup, or you stop calling it a jazz festival. Let’s call spades what they are. If you have a 50-50 balance, like CapJazz, then okay, I see that working, and the way they make it work is with the artists they invite, too. The jazz stage at Cap is packed to the gills every year, and so is the R&B/soul stage, but they are very, very careful to strike a good balance with the lineup in order to keep that. Jazz Fest West did not strike that balance this year.

Don’t get me wrong: I like soul and I enjoy R&B – to an extent – but I am a die-hard jazz lover first and foremost, and if a lineup has no appeal to me apart from people whom I can see much closer than CA, then I won’t bother getting on the plane. I definitely got turned off I saw the lineup for Newport Beach Jazz Fest 2013 and hadn’t come back since, even though in CA, it’s one of my favorite spots. Having seen the lineup for Capital Jazz that same year, I figured that if I want to see a half-R&B lineup, I’d rather go to Maryland on a $40 roundtrip bus than kill precious airline miles or my budget in flying cross-country. Cross-country flights are about $500 on average, and that’s not money I want to spend lightly. If I’m going cross-country, it has to be for a good reason. And to me, a jazz festival that’s gone R&B halfway is not reason enough, especially if I can go closer to home for that. Sorry, but not sorry. If I want a half-and-half fest, then I already have my fill: CapJazz delivers that twice a year, and there’s enough jazz and soul on both the cruise and the fest to keep me engaged all around.

And SoCal is not, I repeat is not, Capital Jazz. Nor should it be. For something that could well be called Jazz Country, it’s certainly not delivering. Let Capital Jazz be the ones who can do a half-and-half genre lineup; they mastered it and they are superbly versed at making it a success. There is only one Capital Jazz Festival – and it ought to stay that way. If CA is jazz country, then let’s see some jazz – key word jazz – festivals.

One of the best things about the Southern California music world, which kept me coming back, is that contemporary jazz is in abundance. Compared to the rest of the country, Cali jazz is doing great. More than half of the top musicians in the contemp-jazz world are all CA residents. And believe you me, it’s 100% possible to do a successful, rowdy all-jazz festival with them. After all, JazzTrax fests pull it off to fantastic effect; Newport Beach under Scott Pedersen pulled it off, the Thornton Series are amazingly well-attended. In NoCal, Brian Culbertson has his getaway in Wine Country. It’s possible. It’s doable. And if folks like me, who love that music, are looking at longtime jazz fests and seeing that calling it jazz with the current lineup is a stretch, or if there’s too many of the same people popping up too soon between fests, then they simply won’t attend.

And that’s how the chain reaction starts. Low ticket sales, with regulars not coming back, may cause sponsors to pull out. Which in turn collapses the festival.

There’s one great thing that Capital Jazz does: they poll the attendees. Every cruise, I’ve gotten an email survey that asks me whom I want to see next. And the best part is that they actually go and do  that! Most artists whom people mentioned has made it to the cruise or to the fest stages. I know I put in Michael Franks’s name down in 2012 or so, and apparently, it was a suggestion other people had too, because he was at the jazz stage this year. Jeanette Harris, Elan Trotman, David P. Stevens – I’m sure all of them were mentioned in at least one post-cruise survey, and they all made it aboard the ship.

You may argue that that’s too much legwork, but it’s necessary legwork. This is why Capital Jazz is one of the biggest festivals nationwide, with growing success, and a split lineup between jazz and soul/R&B. Because they invest that time to see what their patrons want.

Folks, the lineup is the determining factor for every festival. That’s what determines your attendance numbers. Go directly to the people on the ground to see what they would like to have in future lineups, and you are going to be that much closer to a successful event as a result.


ETA: Another festival in CA went nearly all-R&B. Oh yeah, I blew a gasket.