Blues is one of the sounds most responsible for modern American music. It is foundational for rock and roll; early rock was in some cases nothing more than blues with an insistent beat, and many of the greatest rock acts have been enthralled by Delta bluesmen to the point of near plagiarism. Country music, as well, owes a great deal to blues; the two forms really emerged together in the post-Civil War southern countryside. And of course modern R&B (Rhythm and Blues) is a direct descendant, even if Beyonce sounds very far away from Robert Johnson. Jazz is often called the greatest American art form, and it should be, but Blues holds a special niche of its own, further from the rarified air of jazz and closer to the roots of the American soul.
It was in Chicago, the destination of many African American migrants during the 20th century, where the blues got plugged in and electrified, that it really took off as a public form. Instead of a simple one man, one acoustic guitar setup as it was most often in the Delta, Blues became a band phenomenon: guitar, bass, drums, and more often than not keys.
This is a shot of Jeremy Powell, who plays keys all over Memphis – search Youtube for “Jeremy Powell” Memphis and you’ll get a wide array of videos of him sitting in with various acts in different venues across town. The night we saw him, he was playing my favorite Memphis bar, the Rum Boogie Café, with a band I’ve been unable to identify. That’s okay, because they weren’t all that good, allowing Jeremy to stand out even more. He was a fantastic keyboard and organ player, and was without question the standout on that stage, both through his music and his amazing stage presence.
This shot is one I was sure at the time I didn’t get; on my camera it seemed blurred and unimpressive, due to the very low light conditions that were messing with my camera’s focus – should have gone to manual, but… I didn’t. So a number of shots didn’t come out the way I wanted. Ironically, though, the one I was sure was ruined – Jeremy, pausing for a moment after a solo to take a drag on his Newport – came out better than any of the rest; in fact, when I converted it to B&W, I instantly fell in love with the shot. I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever taken. I've included a color version in WS for comparison.
The song I’m linking to today is a Muddy Waters song, but the version is by one of the blues’ great piano players, Otis Spann. Like Muddy himself, Otis was from the Delta, but like so many of his generation he moved north to Chicago during the African American Great Migration of the 20th century, leaving his home behind to find opportunity in the North. This song, which shows his brilliant skills at the keyboard, is about that dual identity, north and south, which is shared not only by so many African American migrants but also by the music they brought with them – a music with deep southern roots which was radically transformed in the North. Clicking the link will play the song on Grooveshark.
“My Home is in the Delta”, Otis Spann
Well my home's in the delta,
Way out on that old farmer's road.
Well I’m leaving Chicago,
People, people, and I sure do hate to go.
Yes I'm leaving here in the morning,
Back down the road I go.
Well I know my baby,
She don't know, she don’t know the shape I'm in.
I haven't had no lovin'
Oh lord, Oh lord, when God knows when.
I been sittin' here thinkin'
Wondering where in the world she been.
Ah, you know I just been sittin' here thinkin'
Wondering where in the world she been.
Larger version on Flickr, here.
Critiques | Translate
snunney (88383) 2013-03-25 4:49
Superb atmospheric portrait of this piano player. Splendid conversion to black and white.
JFS (32459) 2013-03-25 4:55
Hi neighbor! What a great B&W shot you have posted today! I love the contrast between the two colors and the intimate ligh, a good moment lovely captured. thanks!
trevormoffiet (3112) 2013-03-25 5:08
Andrew, every element of this image comes together to make a truly great shot. Great work.
Mondaychild (378) 2013-03-25 8:42
a truly original shot, together with an interesting note and a nice song to listen along. Listening to a song while watching allows us to feel the atmosphere of this place even more.
I like his pose.
I like the poster on the wall. Entertainment Every Nite!
I like the white stains on the wall.
I like the "Blues is Art" sticker on his keyboard.
I like the strong contrast between the black wall in the upper left corner and the color of his shirt.
I like the song.
I like the note.
Thanks for sharing.
holmertz (43707) 2013-03-25 11:21
Although I really enjoy colour pics, this time there's no doubt that the B&W is superiour. This seems like the kind of person and environment that really is made for B&W, bringing the picture back to the roots of the music many decades ago. You captured the guy in a good position where the light falls very nicely on his face and his expressive hand touching the cigarette. I also like the little message Blues is Art.
Noel_Byrne (26567) 2013-03-25 12:01
Beautifully suited to black and white, and your note heightens the whole feel of the image. With a shot like this, putting the perspective of the musician and the location is really important. Great moment in time as he takes a drag from his smoke too, like a scene from another time.
All the best
dkmurphys (51478) 2013-03-25 12:03
Very fine artistic moment. I like this simple capture, well taken.
Schnappilic (9690) 2013-03-25 12:59
I like your B/W post with good framing and atmosphere. The informative note is very useful. TFS!
thebest (4276) 2013-03-25 17:22
In the mood!! love it - including the cigarette & I prefer the B& W Excellent image of a spontaneous moment.
jcpix (13726) 2013-03-25 19:19
I can't really explain my reasoning, because frankly I have no idea as to why...but this photo gave me an instant association with Edward Hoppers painting 'Nighthawks.' Perhaps it's the lighting, because it just grabbed my attention the split second I noticed this in the thumbnail gallery earlier today. Although I like both versions, the black & white is a clear cut favorite for me. The brick backdrop, the action of this gentleman taking a drag from his cigarette and the light fading into complete darkness behind him are the things that most stand out, and they are perfectly captured. A very nostalgic atmosphere and wonderful execution. Nicely done!
All the best,
Nicou (127852) 2013-03-26 2:25
Grandiose portrait de ce homme en train de fumer la chemise blanche ressort parfaitement et cette ambiance superbe captage et compo.
Bravo et amitié
krzychu30 (15510) 2013-03-26 4:19
I just love this scene in B&W and the story that tells us.I think in this case the B&W version captures much better this unique mood of the scene and of his performence.Excellent B&W treatment!
Have a good day
timecapturer (49288) 2013-03-26 7:30
a wonderful study this! The use of B&W here is superb at conveying the atmosphere and very essence of this place and the music it represents. I can see why you like this image because it is special and has that little touch of magic. Spellbinding!
Regards - Brian
PS - my virus software is still advising against visiting the forums on TE, saying they are displaying risky behaviour. So I am unable to respond to any responses or comments unfortunately. Just in case anybody thinks I am being aloof or rude!
macjake (59970) 2013-03-26 9:18
I have to admit that the more I view these photo's of yours the more and more i'm enjoying them.
this one has the feel of a 1950's scene, although the electric keyboard kind of gives it away a bit :)
its a cool atmosphere, understated but still very much felt.
see you around
rogerl (1544) 2013-03-26 15:50
Andrew, this is a fantastic shot. I was in a restaurant in Prague last year, and on the wall was a very large (about 2'x3') blow-up of the face of a saxophonist that this guy reminds me of a lot - the same sharp face, smoking a cigarette, looking at something out of frame. In addition to the main subject, you've framed this extremely well. I particularly like the "Blues is Art" sticker. Not bad for a shot you thought you didn't get!
delpeoples (54463) 2013-03-26 18:16
I know how difficult it is to be operating in those conditions, no flash and lots of people bumping in to you. So I reckon you did a great job here. There's something about photos of people smoking that just entrance me...and a guy doing it whilst playing the Blues is probably even more so. Good definiton on the hands and waist coat and I like the black void behind him, aswell as the sticker Blues Is Art. Thanks for sharing, have a lovely day...or is it evening over there? I get confused :)
emka (84169) 2013-03-26 23:53
Wonderful shot, like from the movie. I like the black and white option, it gives an atmosphere and nostalgic feeling. Fine poster on the wall.
Royaldevon (32627) 2013-03-27 1:32
A shot full of mood.
It reminds me of posters that are issued around our area which has a very successful R&B music festival every year.
A very well composed shot with very natural left to right movement.
Have a great day,
jusninasirun (17162) 2013-03-27 3:51
Love the mood registered in this fine b+w shot. The smoking and head turn with space on the right of long keyboard is well balanced. Top shot and "Blues is Art" is fine with me.
Waylim (25368) 2013-03-27 16:48
I have not been down South since long time ago, 10 year plus, a Road trip from the Key to New Orleans. I do miss the atmosphere of the Jazz music, the humidity, the swampland...
This is a good presentation in B&W, has that timeless and nostalgic feel to it.
batalay (36493) 2013-03-28 13:49
I'm glad this B&W beauty is receiving the attention that it so rightly deserves. Along with highly informative note, it is gift to Trekearth.
abmdsudi (45694) 2013-03-29 4:50
A great black & white shot rightly treated for it looks classic and timeless. Indeed a pleasing picture abound of that ructic bg timely shot wth good space to the right. Well done, Congrats.
yquem46 (38750) 2013-04-01 14:29
A very good one
Good conversion to B&W, well in ad equation with the mood of Memphis
Have a nice day, best
adores (39894) 2013-04-01 17:35
Seems an old photo! - the b&w, the pose of the man, the details around. Such an atmosphere takes us back to the old days! I like it!
Wanda1 (15000) 2013-05-11 23:02
This one has a real classic almost cinematic feel about it, and even though he seems just a tad out of focus you dod really well in the low light conditions. His stance the poster in the background and the ambient lighting all add to the special mood of the shot. Black and white was also a nice accompanying choice here. And lastly I love the "blues is art" sticker on the front of the keyboard showing these peoples love for their style of music.
agjika (3616) 2013-05-12 5:04
This is a charming picture full of great timeless mood. The light on the face is superb and the player is well position in the frame. Maybe a tiny too dark on the top left.
Blues is Art! - I do not know why is there a need for such label, in my opinion Blues cannot be but art.
Thanks for sharing
- Copyright: Andrew Lipsett (ACL1978) (7511)
- Genre: People
- Medium: Black & White
- Date Taken: 2013-02-20
- Categories: Event, Decisive Moment
- Camera: Nikon D3100, Nikkor AF-S 50 m/m f/1.8 G
- Exposure: f/1.8, 1/50 seconds
- More Photo Info: view
- Photo Version: Original Version, Workshop
- Travelogue: Tennessee & Arkansas, February 2013
- Theme(s): A Shot in the Dark, My Favorites, Black and White, Your Favorites, Music [view contributor(s)]
- Date Submitted: 2013-03-25 4:33