Denny Ilett‘s Electric Lady Big Band played on 1 May in the Jazz Arena at the 2022 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. John Watson writes:
It was a joy and a privilege to be invited to be the photographer for this photo-essay of the stupendous Electric Lady Big Band’s performance
Writing about photography is – to paraphrase a saying on writing about music – like rather like dancing about architecture. Music speaks for itself – you just have to listen. Photographs speaks for themselves . . . all you have to do is look.
However, this was conceived as a creative project, so some information about the photographs may be of interest….
I approached the project from the point of view of being inspired, as a young listener, to the extraordinary music of Jimi Hendrix. I would say that I aimed to convey the colour and dynamics of the great sounds he created, but when I came to do the shoot at the soundcheck and in the concert in Jazz Arena in Cheltenham everything just flowed naturally for me, and no “trying” was required.
The first explosive image of the guitar and Marshall amp (above) may look to modern eyes like a Photoshop just-press-a-button special effect photograph. It most definitely isn’t. I created it entirely “in camera” using a quite ancient technique. I set a very low shutter speed (one eighth of a second), reduced the exposure level, focussed firmly on the instrument strings, and then rapidly twisted the barrel of my wide-angle zoom at the very moment of taking the shot. The light streaks out from the centre of the image, like a wild Hendrix solo.
Other shots need little explanation: I hope I have captured the joy of these marvellous musicians, from guitarist-leader Denny Ilett’s powerful recreations of Hendrix classics….
….to the staggeringly dynamic drumming of Daisy Palmer, and the intense soloing and ensemble work of these leading brass, string and reed players.
I was pleased to have caught the expression of the one, the only Laurence Cottle, not when the attention is on him as soloist and he’s playing on the higher strings. Here he is playing low down, anchoring the full band texture, working with Daisy Palmer to work a groove with individuality, precision, purpose and sheer class.
And here is one of the essential figures in British jazz, Iain Ballamy. I tried to catch the natural, unfailing, ideal equilibrium and poise of Iain and his tenor sax.
As I often do as a music photographer, I crouched low to also capture the venue lights – enhancing the background atmosphere, and aiming to recreate the excitement of the performance.
Huge thanks to Denny and all the musicians for their marvellous playing, co-operation and friendship.