Blocked at nearly every turn

When I covered Winton Marsalis and his big band in concert on March 22 at the Bob Hope Theatre in downtown Stockton, I had just the first two songs to photograph him playing (which is normal at most big concerts). I, as well as the three other photographers, expected him to be at the front of the stage. There was, after all, a single microphone placed several feet in front of the bandstand just left of center stage. Many of the band leaders/musicians of the Swing era, such as Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman, would direct their bands off to one side then step out in front when it was time for their own solos.

When the concert started, the band members filed out and took their seats in the bandstand. I expected Marsalis to take the stage after the others were seated, perhaps take a bow and then start up the band. But he didn’t come out from the wings or at least seem to come out. Suddenly Marsalis’ voice boomed over the speakers, surprising everyone. He had bypassed the front of the stage and walked directly to the last of three rows of tiered seats where the band was. He acknowledged the crowd, then began the first song and sat down and performed with the band. I was standing about 50 feet away from the stage on the aisle on the right side wall of the theater along with other photographers. When Marsalis sat, he nearly disappeared from view blocked by a phalanx of trombonists. I moved around a bit but was only able to get a slightly better view of him (at least I could see his face). He was in the worst possible position to photograph him. To top things off, he was in the darkest, worst-lit spot on the stage.

 

I expected him to play a solo, at which point, I hoped, he would come down to the microphone at the front of the stage, or at least stand up and play. The song wore on, and it didn’t seem like he was going to do either. I made some quick mental calculations on the angles on the other side of the stage. I estimated that there might be a slightly bigger gap on that side than the side I was on. Rather than wait for him the play a solo, I made a tactical decision and hustled out to the lobby, crossed over to the left side of the theater and positioned myself almost directly opposite my original spot.

I was right. Between the drum set and music stands I could see Marsalis better, but only a little better. But the lighting was even worse. What little light there was was even worse on the new side. Soon the song ended (without a solo by Marsalis), and the second (and for me, the final) song started. This time Marsalis did play a solo but didn’t come down to the microphone or even stand up. He just stayed seated (another trumpeter had a solo after Marsalis finished his and he stood up to play). I looked behind me and saw that the other photographers had followed my lead and were now on the same side of the theater. The second song was over all too soon, and we were done and out of there. The photos I got were just OK. They were usable, but nothing to write home about.

Sometimes due to circumstances, the choice isn’t between taking a good photo and bad one, but rather a bad one and not getting a shot at all.

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