Billy Martin in the Moment

I’m a bit of a drum geek. My love affair with the drums has been with me as long as I can remember, but it got serious in 1991 when I acquired my first set (a used set from mom & dad for my birthday). From there it’s been a wild journey of discovering just how much there is to learn about groove, time, tempo, feel, dynamics…to say nothing of all the drummer jokes I’ve had to learn so no one can get one over on me.

Q: What did the drummer get on his IQ test?
A: Drool.

Somewhere around 1997, I got a tip from a good friend, Chris (who’s now a jazz writer for the LA Times), to check out a band called Medeski Martin & Wood (aka MMW). His roommate had appeared with one of their CDs one day and Chris knew it was something I needed to hear. I found myself in Aron’s records on Highland one night in 1997, picking through their used CD selection when I came upon MMW’s album “Shackman.” Over to the bay of CD players for a sample and that was the beginning of yet another drum-related love affair. Billy Martin’s grooves shot through me instantly and I’ve been a huge fan of this guy’s playing ever since. The whole band is exceptional and an inspiration to my playing. Most importantly, MMW, along with a few other bands, were my gateway to the world of jazz. I still can’t consider myself a jazz drummer of any regard, but letting that music into my life has made it possible for me to get closer than I would had I not given the stuff a chance. I have MMW to thank in a big way for opening my eyes to jazz and making it more accessible.

I’ve seen MMW countless times around Los Angeles over the past fifteen years, but I’ve never photographed them, so when I caught word that Billy was doing a tour in support of an album he made called “Shimmy” with organist Wil Blades, I knew I had to catch their date at the Mint. And, I knew I had to bring some photo gear with me to see what I could get from the night. I spent the whole evening pretty much locked down next to Billy’s drums…behind him and to the side. Being able to get up right on top of the performers at a small club is an incredibly fun way to work.

I was shooting with a camera most people would likely consider old and useless: a Canon FTb circa the 1970s. For lenses, I was using a couple Canon primes: an FDn 50mm f/1.4 (that my mom found at a thrift store in Utah for $10) and an FDn 85mm f/1.8 (that I bought along with a nice A-1 here in LA for $100). Pretty sure this image was shot with the 85mm. I was shooting on Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white film pushed to EI 6400 (that’s a four stop push!), and I couldn’t be happier with the images I came away with…specifically this one. I love the concentration on Billy’s face and the fact that I got his hand and stick laying into the ride cymbal at the bottom of the frame. Billy’s got great hands; a big part of his style and his sound. I love the high contrast aspects of this shot…the chiaroscuro, if I may. This was the 36th frame on roll 2 of 2, reconfirming my belief that your last image can still be as good as all the ones before it.

I’ve also gotta gush a bit over how fantastic Tri-X handled this four stop push. I souped this roll in some Kodak HC-110 (1:31) at 68ºF for 26 minutes, turning the tank over and back four times every five minutes. This is now my new high speed combo! I wasted quite a bit of time trying to get something I liked out of Kodak P3200 film, but all I ever got was a shitty, grainy mess…which is cool when it’s time for that look, but I’m so happy to now have a solid starting point for high speed work with Tri-X and HC-110.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.