Contempo Season Opener, October 27, 2015

The 51st season of the University of Chicago's Contempo series opened on October 27, 2015 with a program celebrating its recently retired artistic director, Shulamit Ran. The towering music was given probing and gutsy performances by U of C ensembles-in-residence Pacifica Quartet and eighth blackbird with mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley.  New artistic director Marta Ptaszyn'ska joined Ran on stage as longtime colleagues and friends.  

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved. 

American Howl with Fulcrum Point

Scenes from a hard-hitting concert with Fulcrum Point at the Poetry Foundation.  Kevin Coval's between-the-eyes eloquence in his own work matched the tone Allen Ginsburg's "Howl," set to music by George Flynn. The otherwise intimate setting could barely contain the force of Jerome Kitzke's "Mad Coyote Madly Sings."  Pictured are Stephen Burns (trumpet/conductor), Kevin Coval (poet/narrator), Wagner Campos (clarinet), Jeremy Ruthrauff (sax), Kuang-Hao Huang (piano), Doug Perkins (percussion), Rika Seko (violin), Sophie Webber (cello), Collins Trier (bass), Juliet Petrus, Joelle Lamarre, and Brad Jungwirth (vocals).  

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved. 

My photo debut at Pritzker Pavilion

The Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park is a surprisingly large space when you're trying to cover every angle for a very large choir.  But it's a pretty big thrill to get the all-access wristband that allows you to shoot from the stage. Here are scenes from a nonstop 2-hour concert with the incredible Chicago Children's Choir, directed by Josephine Lee, with soprano Jonita Lattimore, saxophonist Oran Etkin, and drummer Makaya McCraven.  

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved. 

New Year's Eve 2014 in music and pictures

I spent New Year's Eve 2014 in much the same way I spent most of the year: photographing great music. During Evanston's First Night celebration, I hopped from one downtown cathedral to another, in and out of the cold, to catch some killer jazz ensembles, as well as slam poet extraordinaire Marc Smith doing his thing. Here are some of my favorite shots from the evening, the last pictures I took in 2014, and some of the first of 2015.  

On Jazz and Photography

I wish the Pharez Whitted Group had a standing gig at the Green Mill.  These guys played some of the hardest-hitting, soulful music I'd heard at the Mill all year.  From my seat down front, I had clean views of most of the band (no music stands!), so I snapped away.  

My affinity for jazz has grown in the last year alongside my approach to photography, and I believe the two are related.  I've discovered that, for me, photography is largely improvisational. I arrive at a shoot with an idea of what I want, but the final product is often a collaboration between the subject or client and myself.  The best images come from on-the-spot decisions, and I've learned to embrace the unknown or unexpected.  Jazz teaches me this lesson every time.   

Thanks to Pharez Whitted (trumpet), Eddie Bayard (sax), Lovell Bradford (keys), Jon Wood (bass), and Greg Artry (drums) for a weekend of killer music.  

Recent visits to the Green Mill

I'm pretty lucky to have one of the world's greatest jazz clubs three blocks away from my apartment.  Recently, I've seen saxophonist Victor Goines, who performs around the world with the Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; and accordion virtuoso Julien Labro and the Hot Club of Detroit.  Click through the gallery below for some views from my table.

Music as Medicine

Sharing Notes is a small non-profit with a big heart.  Started two years ago by cellist Allegra Montanari, Sharing Notes is made up of a corps of professional musicians who perform every other week for patients of all ages in Chicago area hospitals.  The musicians perform for free, and Sharing Notes provides the service at no cost.  The mission is pure and simple: to bring the healing power of music to those who need it.  

On Saturday, I had the privilege of photographing some of the Sharing Notes musicians while they performed for patients on the oncology floors of Northwestern's Prentice Women's Hospital.  (For legal reasons, I was unable to photograph the patients.)

I was led first to the 14th floor where classical guitarist Jack Cimo had already started playing in a hallway.  With the exception of a few nurses, the hallways were mostly empty.  Some of the patients had their doors open so they could hear the music.  One woman invited Jack into her room and he sat by her bed and played the prelude to Bach's 6th Suite for Cello.  Unbelievably gorgeous.  

Guitarist Jack Cimo

Guitarist Jack Cimo

On another floor, a singer Nora Byrd and keyboardist Gabriel Di Gennaro were performing pop songs and numbers from musicals.  They, too, were invited to another room and they set up just outside the door.  The woman told Nora and Gabriel about her daughter who was really into The Beatles, so they played "Till There Was You."  When they finished, the woman applauded and burst into tears, saying, "I just really miss my daughter."  It was a moment that symbolized the essence of Sharing Notes, and showed that music can give an outlet for every difficult emotion and provide a space for comfort and emotional relief.  

Vocalist Nora Byrd and keyboardist Gabriel Di Gennaro

Vocalist Nora Byrd and keyboardist Gabriel Di Gennaro

We met another woman from Rockford whose husband was receiving treatment for a stem cell transplant.  She looked very tired, but stood in a doorway while flutist Laura Block played Bach. The woman talked about how wonderful it was that these musicians are here, and how much they help. 

Flutist Laura Block

Flutist Laura Block

The music was striking, not just because of its inherent beauty, but because it emphasized just how otherwise quiet the floors were.  Without the music, the only sound was an occasional door opening and closing, a machine beeping, or the sound of wheels on a cart.  Instantly, every note was magnified by the silence.  Because of the tiled floors and low ceilings, the music was naturally amplified and rang down the halls.

It was a different world up there.  Yes, the views of the lake were great, but it looked like a mirage - it might as well have been another painting on the wall.  Such seclusion is necessary, of course, when dealing with serious medical conditions.  And high-powered medicine and technology are important.  But the music from from Sharing Notes added something more; it gave a moment of humanity and beauty to people who are at their most vulnerable.  For two hours, the musicians brought a concert hall to cancer patients, and it was one of the most affirming experiences I have ever witnessed.  My profound gratitude to Sharing Notes and Northwestern Hospital for making it happen.   

Click through this gallery for additional photos. 

Pharez Whitted at the Green Mill

Last Saturday night, I did two really awesome things. 1) I spent 3 hours listening to the great jazz pianist Willie Pickens at the Green Mill while he fired off Thelonious Monk tunes like it weren't nothing.  And 2) I met and photographed trumpeter Pharez Whitted, who is a very nice guy but will knock you over with trumpet solos.  I love photographing musicians.  They do their thing, I do mine, but I've never thought of them as mere entertainers.  There is art, there is the moment of creating music, and they've spent years learning how to be really good at it.  Photographing musicians is a privilege, and a task I am continually drawn to purely out of respect for their work and for a love of music.  

Pharez Whitted blows a mean trumpet at the Green Mill.

Pharez Whitted blows a mean trumpet at the Green Mill.