In the Studio with George Garzone and Esperanza Spalding / by Simon Abrams

Studio Session

A week or so ago, a good friend of mine asked me to fill in for him on a photo shoot that he couldn’t make due to a conflict. The gig was for Jody Espina, reknowned sax player and maker of mouthpieces for saxophones and clarinets at JodyZazz.com. My job was to shoot a studio session with jazz saxophonist George Garzone, 2011 Best New Artist Grammy-winner Esperanza Spalding, and pianist-extraordinaire Leo Genovese. I was tasked with getting some casual behind-the-scenes shots of the artists as they interacted in the studio, and to make a few posed portraits as well.

George Garzone, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese

I did my best to be as unobtrusive as possible, and to capture the interactions between the artists and engineers as they recorded several tracks for an upcoming album. Being absolutely ignorant about the nuances of jazz music, everything sounded equally incredible to me, but I watched them communicate their approval of specific phrases (that’s a word, right?) of the music either with subtle glances, nods or gestures — or sometimes with outright exclamations. It was as though they could hear some coded message in the music, or like watching people communicate in a secret language that only they know. It really is a pleasure to watch talented people work their craft.

The lighting in the studio was tricky, and I tried to make do with available light as much as possible, augmented in some spots by my Gary Fong Lightsphere. Towards the end of the shoot, I took advantage of a pause between recording sessions to set up my Westcott Apollo 28” softbox and 580EX II, and with that simple setup, was able to make a few portraits of George that I’m really pleased with.

Jody Espina and George Garzone

Again, it was a great experience. The musicians were very laid back and, cool (as I guess you’d expect jazz musicians to be), and they treated me very warmly. The recording session took place at Systems Two Studio, a family-owned business that’s been operating in Brooklyn for the past 30-plus years. The gold records and Grammy award that line the walls are a testament to the long history of the establishment, spanning a multitude of genres from classical to heavy metal, and even movie soundtracks.

Jody Espina and Esperanza Spalding

This shoot was very different from the kinds of shoots I typically do with families and kids. There are definitely things I’d do differently next time, but it was a great learning experience for me, and I look forward to being able to do a shoot like this again soon.