There is nothing like driving through Texas with the pit boss, Frank Stewart.
We played the Long Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Texas in Austin last night. At this point in the tour, all giddiness about being on the road is long gone. You are now well into the routine of travel-play, travel-play, and with an uncommonly large group, we all have to be much more aware of each other’s sensitivities.
The everyday of passing through different parts of the country and interacting with a diversity of people, gives you a clearer perspective on how the stupidity in Congress is slowly sucking the optimism from our national vision. The deepening moral crisis makes the orchestra and choir, even if only instinctively, redouble our efforts to maintain morale by performing with integrity.
The government’s dysfunction and its impending consequences make us more aware of the importance of working WITH each other and of our principal function: uplifting listeners.
The great trombonist Andre Hayward sat in with us last night and played a rambunctious, gravy soaked solo at the end of “Invitation”. After the concert, I met the most beautiful group of about 9 high school freshman age trumpeters. They were so full of promise and feeling and asked such good questions that I left the hall very satisfied. From Andre to them, I felt like I was seeing former and future members all together at one moment in time.
There is nothing like driving through Texas with the pit boss, Frank Stewart. You learn everything from the nature of birds of prey, to the story of Jim Bowie to the different ways to cut the strength of mesquite wood so as to not mess up your BBQ. He is a world of experience unto himself and a walking cultural institution, Mr. Frank Stewart:
My youngest daughter, Bening, lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Derek, and 18-month old baby, Kayling. Living in New York, I don’t get to see them often, so it’s a treat whenever we are together. I spent the 7 hours in their home recuperating from the day’s events: waking up at 6:30am to hit the road on a barbeque excursion for a CBS Sunday Morning segment hosted by Wynton featuring the only full time BBQ critic in America, Daniel Vaughn and the Memphis Kid himself, me.
We visited three different BBQ houses and ate shoulder clod, brisket of beef, pork spare ribs, different kinds of sausage, and prime rib all smoked indirectly with Post Oak. We waddled out of the last restaurant with the understanding that BBQ is cultural, colloquial and personal.
At 6pm, we arrived at our hotel with just enough time to rush to the concert. At 7:30pm, I’m looking for a position with good sight lines to take pictures after helping the ladies of the choir onstage. Every hall is different. Every situation is different, and I never get tired of documenting the greatest Jazz orchestra in the world.
I’m always looking for what Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’. That instant in which every form, gesture and look comes together in perfect harmony. My best photographs speak to three things: the subject, the medium and how I feel about the subject. I’m always looking for an image that will transcend the moment and provoke the viewer to ask personal questions about our times and quality of life.
After the concert, Jay Sgroi, Eric Wright, Kay Niewood, Christi English, Ernie Gregory, Charles Bratton, me and celebrity sound man/straw boss David Robinson break down a stage that, moments before, held 85 people who were engaged in ‘making a joyful noise unto the Lord’. As he does almost every night, Wynton asks me, “How was it Frank?” I laugh and say, “What do you mean, man? It was glorious.”
Tonight we perform at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, Texas. It is a privilege to perform at this great cultural institution, founded by our good friend, Curtis King.
“Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live