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Media Bar-Experience Photos

Photographer Guy Brooksbank narrative:

Capturing the Cookers

“To emphasize the unique talents, experiences and skills brought by each individual band member, it’s essential to find the artist deep in the act of creation.”

On a brisk February night, Portland and the Alberta Rose Theater welcomed The Cookers as part of the 2022 PDX Jazz Festival. If you think you don’t know the Cookers consider this, they’re touted as having over 250 years of experience in the jazz world while contributing to over 1,000 recordings. And while you might not know the names of the individual band members, you’re likely more than familiar with the names on those 1,000 recordings. Artists like Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis…you get the idea. The Cookers are the stuff of legend. The dream team of jazz.

These veterans weren’t just session musicians. Each contributed to the influential post-bop recordings that changed the trajectory of jazz. These guys weren’t simply part of the scene for decades, they, quite literally, were the scene. With all that context, honoring this band as a photographer was a daunting task – communicating through still images, the artistry and alchemy of these players whose performances forever altered the possibilities of what jazz could be – and has become.

Capturing the Cookers meant seeking out images that would convey both the sense of old masters at work, together, as well as do justice to the individual performers, who are each giants in their own right. Honoring these legends requires documenting their experience and know-how, intangibles that often defy the limited boundaries of a split-second shot.

The band’s 250 years of performance, in studio and on stage, presents visually as reverence for the art form and for their fellow artists. The deep emotion in the performers’ unrehearsed looks of admiration as they watch while a fellow band member trades fours with the drummer or crafts a solo from the chords beneath the melody says it all. They listen intently, as if they’re hearing something exquisite for the first time. It could be a knowing look to their band member, or an inward smile that suggests transcendence – a recognition that this is the only moment that ever

really mattered. These silent interactions on stage are just as much a part of the music, and just as integral to documenting the story of a performance as the music itself. It’s more proof that music
– and the musical experience – is the space between the notes.

Moreover, as a photographer documenting any performance, I feel it’s important to show what can’t be seen from the seats, an inside look provided by hunkering down with the artists stage left as they break while a colleague takes a lead. These intimate, behind-the-scenes glimpses provide a perspective hidden to those in the audience and reveal yet another essence of the group dynamic through a knowing smile or a pat on the back. And while shooting people from the back is rarely a good career move for a photographer, I felt that showing Eddie Henderson extending a loving arm around composer David Weiss revealed a dimension of these artists that expresses who this band really is.

To emphasize the unique talents, experiences and skills brought by each individual bandmember, it’s essential to find the artist deep in the act of creation. That’s George Cables, hands raised, an air of stillness betrayed moments later by a flurry of fingers across the keys. Or Craig Handy, quite literally leaning into his solo, Coltrane-style, as if body English had anything to do with it. Or the inescapable smile of Billy Hart, incapable of holding back his joy.

Meeting the challenge of capturing the Cookers meant revealing both the individual greatness of these artists as well as the band dynamic that forms the basis for all stellar jazz performances.
And while I referred to The Cookers as legends earlier, I’m reminded that Miles Davis said legends were “an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I’m still doing it”.

Thankfully, The Cookers are still doing it too.

© GUY BROOKSBANK
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Photographer Norm Eder’s narrative:

There’s no one more iconic in the Portland jazz scene than band leader and drummer, Mel
Brown. Mel led the house band at the beloved Jimmy Maks and is now a regular on stage at the Jack London Revue

And, of course, what would a PDX Jazz Festival be without Mel?

Mel’s band was back together after two pandemic years when live performances were rare. Joining the band was Mel’s son, Christopher who had recently returned to Portland after carving out a successful career in East Coast jazz clubs.

It was a special moment of reunion for and with Portland Jazz fans.

I shot this image of Mel at the very beginning of his 2022 PDX Jazz Festival performance as he took the Jack London Revue’s stage. I normally do not think much about shooting a band introduction. But as Mel moved to the mic to thank the audience for coming, I saw something in his face that told me this might be one of those “moments.”

As Mel stood before the audience, the smile he always wears when performing briefly surrendered to the emotion of the moment captured here.

© Norm Eder

All photos used with permission and copyrighted. Please visit our Media Credits page for more information.

Copyright 2020 PDX Jazz | A 501(c)(3) nonprofit cultural arts organization.