When someone asks you if you'd like to photograph a Hod O'Brien recording session, the only reasonable answer is "Yes!" Hod is one of the finest jazz pianists of his generation, and the session was sure to produce fireworks. So "Yes" is precisely what I said to Tom Sassa of Spice of Life records (a Japanese label that specializes in jazz) when he hired me to shoot the gig, earlier this week. Yes, and thank you very much, sir.
Hod O'Brien, 13 January 2011. (All photos copyright John Edwin Mason, 2011.)
Jazz critic Scott Yarrow once wrote that Hod is an "unsung hero of jazz... and a master of classic bebop piano." It's true that he's never received the recognition he deserves (in part because he took a ten-year hiatus from jazz in the '70s and '80s to work as a statistical analyst). In his early twenties he was already in New York, playing with likes of Art Farmer, Stan Getz, and Donald Byrd. He was only 21 when he replaced Bill Evans in Oscar Pettiford's quintet.
Hod O'Brien, 13 January 2011. (You can click on any of these photos to see larger versions.)
Hod has also shared the bandstand and recording studio with Elvin Jones, Chet Baker, Roswell Rudd, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Charlie Rouse, and many others. These days, he spends quite a bit of time performing in the US, Europe, and Japan.
Stephanie Nakasian, 13 January 2011. (Here, I'm shooting into the vocalist's isolation booth, through two layers of sound-proof glass. Nice effect.)
When he tours, Hod is usually accompanied by his wife, jazz vocalist Stephanie Nakasian. She's also performed all over the world with musicians such as Pat Metheny, Bobby McFerrin, Clark Terry, Scott Hamilton, Jon Hendricks, Hank Jones, and Annie Ross to name a few. I'm proud to say that she teaches voice at the University of Virginia, where I teach African history and the history of photography. Like Hod, she's finally getting her due. Recently, for instance, she was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio's program Fresh Air.
Michael Hawkins, 13 January 2011.
Hod put together a strong band for the session. Michael Hawkins was on bass. Besides being a terrific composer, he's also very active on the East Coast jazz scene, playing and recording with the Cyrus Chestnut Trio (he was a member of the group for 10 years), Duane Eubanks, Montez Coleman, Antonio Hart, Mulgrew Miller, Gary Bartz, Eric Reed, Steve Turre, and too many others to mention.
Michael Hawkins, 13 January 2011.
I was blown away by the quality of the music that was being made in the studio, last Thursday. Michael, for instance, is both deeply soulful and technically brilliant -- a rare combination.
Billy Williams, 13 January 2011.
Drummer Billy Williams plays much older than he really is. That is, he has the taste, chops, and imagination of veteran musician. Despite his youth, he's performed with Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Golson, and Orrin Evans and has toured Europe with Larry Willis Trio. That's another way of saying that I'm not the only one who's impressed with this young man's playing.
Bobby Read, 13 January 2011.
Last and far from least is sound engineer Bobby Read, who owns and operates Small World Audio. He's built Small World into one of the busiest recording studios in the region, but he's best known to the general public as a sax player. In fact, he's been a member of Bruce Hornsby's band, for almost two decades, touring and recording extensively.
* * *
Anyone in or near Charlottesville, Virginia, will want to come to Hod's 75th birthday celebration, tonight, January 15th, at C-ville Coffee. (Don't let the name fool you, C-ville Coffee is a fine venue for live music.) The fun starts at 8 pm. Hod and Stephanie will perform, of course, along with their daughter, the singer Veronica Swift, a variety of special guests.