I slid my right boot then my left boot into the hole leading to the tomb’s tunnel. There was the soft, muffed sound of my pants sliding against the rough stone as my feet fell into the tomb. My knees passed and my thighs followed – which was as far as I got. I was stuck between two worlds. My companions started laughing before cheering me on. “Push! Push, Dave”. There was a scraping noise as my 34 waist and belt buckle tried to shimmy. I’ve been told in the past, during romantic endeavors, that I have ‘a booty like a black man’ – something I’ve always thought of as an attractive asset, but which, in this instance, was a real liability. ‘I think I’m too big, guys,’ I told my audience, ‘I’m wedged in!’ as giggles grew louder and escaped from the darkness of the tomb. I too began to chuckle, which was uncomfortable considering the added pressure of stone against my waist.

When I returned to the States and the Tonight Show, I shared my big ass adventure with one of the comedy writers for the show, Larry Jacobson. We both had a good chuckle when Larry added. “You know Dave, if you were Kim Kardashian you’d still be stuck in that tomb.

The Last DrawAfter a day of traveling aimlessly along Sunset Boulevard it was time to take a break. It had been a good day of harvesting cigarette butts. Joe had always felt it was his civic duty to help address this serious environmental problem by picking up this toxic waste. Now was the time to sit and enjoy the fruits of his labor. He watched for awhile the congestion of traffic and remembered the time he too lived that life…. but no more. The last few embers glowed at the end of the cigarette as Joe inhaled, and as the white smoke curled up in a spiral motion, he pressed lightly his shirt pocket to the fragment ends of tobacco to insure a reserve till morning. Taking the last drag the ashes glowed brighter and crackled as air passed through the cigarette and the smoke went deeply into his lungs. He dropped the butt on the concrete and stubbed it out in a rhythmical tapping of his right foot. How wonderful it would have been to have a cup of coffee to accompanied his cigarette break he thought. The sun had set, but he had decided to stay sitting on the bench and watch the world drive by and maybe have another cigarette.

Bob had the kind of face that would compel you to volunteer any loose change your pocket held without him ever asking for a handout. His home consisted of a metal shopping cart supported by well-worn wheels, two paper bags, an old plastic container of water and a rolled up gray blanket. The corner of Central Boulevard and Windsor Road in Glendale, California was where he called home. This move was a sage-like decision on Bob’s part since the Salvation Army was positioned across the street which provided food, clothing and care and half a block to his east was the Windsor Al-Anon club that furnished free coffee, occasional shelter and most importantly, some welcomed comradeship with fellow tribe members.

It was up to you to get Bob talking since he was never known to initiate a conversation. His english was laced with a thick Yugoslavian accent and it was because of this that he was christened with the street name “Bob from Yugoslavia”. In his youth, he was trained as a pianist but as the years passed by his hands grew to be swollen and arthritic which made tying his shoes or buttoning his coat as painful as a Beethoven sonata. Bob’s private moments took place in a utility alley behind the Armenian market where he would seek refuge by smoking discarded cigarettes and watching reality slip away.

We had a very short history in our acquaintance but Bob from Yugoslavia became my navigational marker that signaled my return home from overseas. As strange as it may sound, it was comforting to see him sleeping under the tree, his tree, at the corner of Central and Windsor. One day, I noticed that the only thing holding his threadbare jeans together was the grim beneath him. I managed to sneak a pair of new levis and socks into one of his paper bags while he was napping under his tree. I couldn’t help but watch from a distance to witness Bob’s reaction to his good fortune; he proudly held the trousers up to the sky with a toothless smile and turned to look around as if he would find a magical garment fairy.  The following day I expected to see him wearing the new pants but to my surprise he was wearing the same grubby jeans. Bob had traded the jeans and socks for two packs of Marlboro cigarettes to a local gardener.

I asked Bob one day, “If you were to write a letter to God and be guaranteed that God would read your letter, what would be your the first sentence?” He looked up and spoke as expressively with his eyes as with his words, “God keep me warm and never let me get cold again”

We continued our brief interludes over the years until one day conspicuously absent from the corner was Bob and his shopping cart. A member of the Al-Anon club told me that Bob had peacefully passed away underneath his tree while napping. I can only hope it was on a warm sunny California day.

Bob’s tree.

Mom and Old Blue Eyes.jpg

     Mary McWhorter-Banks 1925 – 2020                       

Uh-will the wind ever remember the names it has blow in the past?

      And with this crutch, its old age

          And its wisdom it whispers, “No, this will be the last”  – Jimi Hendrix

Mary is 94 years old with severe dementia, and resides in a hospice facility in Oklahoma. And she’s my mom. On November 6th, 2020 mom passed away from complications of Covid-19. This is the last moments I spent with mom.

************

Mom sits silently in her wheelchair vacantly staring at the bear wall above her bed. On occasion she will touch her locket that hangs around her neck. I know she feels like leaving, but she can’t go. Mom doesn’t know that this is her tomorrow. There are only fleeting moments when the depths of her dementia recedes, and she sees me sitting on her bed.

“What are you doing here?” She asks. 

As quickly as I can answer. Mom vanishes back into the dark corridors of her mind. She’s gone, only to be replaced with an empty stare to the white wall above her bed. My love for the woman who gave me life isn’t always available, but somewhere in moms mind I can only hope she knows that I have not abandoned her. 

I open my computer and start to play music to fill the void of silence in her room. Out of the corner of my sight, moms leg starts to gently move, I slowly turn my head so as not to detract from moms gaze. Following her leg down to the tip of her fuzzy pink slipper. Mom begins to tap the metal footrest of her wheelchair. Mom smiles, and the paleness of her cheeks disappears and is replaced with a rosy pink color hue. I wonder, what if I play music from her youth.

Playing a mix of Frank Sinatra songs, the room fills with big band music with “Ol’ Blue Eyes” at the mic.

“ I always liked him” she says somewhat abruptly. 

“Mom were you a bobby-soxer?”

There is a pause as mom searches her past, “Yes.”  

She looks over at me after answering.

“Who are you?”  she ask 

“Mom, I’m your historian.”

A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterdays life

Somewhere a queen is weeping

Somewhere a king has no wife

And the wind, it cries Mary  – Jimi Hendrix

cloud and light

There is something unique about Southern California light. Morning light is too short for the gold, midday leaves the gentle colors washed away, but at sunset when the blossoms close the alluring shades of light are flushed with an apricot tint with a lovely hue of lilac and pastels colors are reborn – or maybe it’s just the smog.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of my all time favorite movies. The story is about photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) who is recuperating from a broken leg during a sweltering New York summer. As a successful photographer, he’s known for taking difficult pictures no one else can get, including the one of an out-of-control race car which smashed his camera and broke his leg an instant after it was snapped. Jeffries lives in a small apartment, and spends his time looking out the rear window into the courtyard of the building; he can also see into the lives of all his neighbors, catching glimpses of their daily routines. It’s the sort of thing only an invalid might do, watching them eat, clean, sleep and argue. There’s the girl who exercises in her underwear (Georgine Darcy), the married couple (Sara Berner and Frank Cady) who sleep on their small balcony to beat the heat, the struggling songwriter working at his piano (Ross Bagdasarian); and there’s the salesman who lives across the courtyard from Jeffries, the one with the nagging bedridden wife. They seem to fight all too often.
Like archeologist digging into the earth and discovering ancient artifacts I will pause the DVD so I can check out L.B’s camera gear and admire the work of cinematographer Robert Burks . For any photographer, no matter what you market this movie is fun and beautifully filmed.

Filmmaker Jeff Desom has created a brilliant and beautiful homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” . By editing a panoramic time-lapse video of the courtyard through the lens of Jeff Jeffries. Mr. Desom definitely captures the spirit and the subtext of  “Rear Window” by observing the lives of others – which is what we photographers do best. Link to Jeff Desom’s time-lapse of “Rear Window” video: http://youtu.be/4vHRw9XiFMI   Also, check out Mr. Desom website, very creative. http://www.jeffdesom.com/

Director Hitchcock on the set with James Stewart

1954 Rear Window Movie Trailer Link: http://youtu.be/6kCcZCMYw38

A Rear Window’ recreation by Scarlett Johansson & Javier Bardem.

Glenwood Recording Studio, Burbank, California

 

Les McCann

Les McCann first gained some fame in 1956 when he won a talent contest in the Navy as a singer that resulted in an appearance on television on The Ed Sullivan Show . McCann reached the peak of his career in 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival, recording “Compared to What” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. After the success of Swiss Movement album, McCann — primarily a piano player — began to emphasize his rough-hewn vocals more. He became an innovator in the soul jazz style, merging jazz with funk, soul and world rhythms. He was also among the first jazz musicians to include electric piano, clavinet, and synthesizer in his music. In 1971 McCann and Harris were part of a touring group of soul, R&B, and rock performers which included Wilson Pickett,The Staple Singers, Santan and Ike & Tina Turner. McCann is also credited in discovering Roberta Flack and obtained an audition which resulted in a recording contract for Ms. Flack with Atlantic Records.

Les McCann and Javon Jackson prior to recording

 

Javon Jackson

In the mid 90’s  McCann suffered a stroke that weakened his keyboard playing but his powerful singing kept him on the road. McCann’s comeback was solidified in 2002’s  with “Pump It Up” a guest-heavy celebration of funk and jazz released on ESC Records. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Swiss Movement album, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson brought veteran McCann and a young trio of musicians to the KC Jazz Club for Swiss Movement Revisited. 

Javon Jackson, Patrick Smith/ Audio Mixer and Les McCann

 

Javon Jackson

Jackson is used to working with legends he cut his musical teeth with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1980s. He went on to record with such greats as the late Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Cedar Walton and Stanley Turrentine. Jackson leads his own group, and his latest release (Once Upon a Melody) hit No. 1 on the jazz radio charts.

Les McCann listening to the playback

In a 2009 Kennedy Center performance the interaction between Jackson, his young talented musicians and the old lion at the keyboard, Les McCann, reminded the audience that the old lion can still roar with heart.

Hearing the sweet note. Les McCann & Eddie Harris Compared To What Music Video Link:     https://youtu.be/kCDMQqDUtv4

Journal Excerpt: On Location/Sahara Desert

I was attacked by a camel today. I was knocked down from behind while shooting Tuareg nomads who were riding camels against a “Lawrence of Arabia” backdrop. All I remember was a loud belch, the tripod and camera falling to earth and a giant camel toe next to my head as I laid on the ground. My scalp and shirt was wet but it was not blood but camel saliva that was as thick as jello . After dusting myself off and getting back to work I detected an odd smell of  coffee grounds mixed with asparagus emanating from my hair and stained shirt. Later tonight I plan to stand in the shower with my clothes on and free myself from camel drool and Sahara sand. My clothes will be dry by morning.

Last shot of the day and a welcome relief from the desert heat. If all goes well this will be the money shot – but most of the time it is just plain luck and being in the right place to capture a good image.

The Parting Shot