Mike Gillispie travels with his flute in one hand and his camera in the other. He discovered the flute at age 5 and jazz and photography in high school. An exhibition of his most recent jazz photographs, “Stolen Moments,” can be seen at LaPorta’s Restaurant through the end of this year.
LaPorta’s Lounge is establishing a reputation in the D.C. area as a serious jazz venue. It is home to two excellent groups, “Satin Doll” on Thursday nights, and the great, soulful Sharon Clark on Friday nights. Because of this, jazz lovers are becoming lounge regulars.
As one of the regulars, Gillispie was sitting in with the band one weekend; and after he talked with Ralph Laporta, one of the owners, the two came up with the idea for this show. All images are black-and-white and hang in the lounge as well as in the restaurant itself.
Some of the images portray members of Webster Young’s highly respected D.C. Music Center Big Band. Young ran and played with the jazz greats in the 1950s in New York City and was the musical director for “Letumplay” for many years. Of late he is the leader of the D.C. Music Center Jazz Workshop. He offers jazz theory and history in a street way — part improvisation, part big band and all Webster. It is these ongoing experiences that enable Gillispie to shoot with soulfulness, respect and love for his musicians. The viewer can see it and feel it in each of his photographs.
GILLISPIE IS AN accomplished flute player, continually jamming with other jazz musicians and actively participating in Webster Young’s D.C. Music Center Workshop. This identity gives him an unusual intimacy with his jazz subjects, which delivers an emotional punch to his images. He understands and visually distills the effect the music has on the musician, instead of the listener. His images of many of the elite of the jazz world, including Webster Young, Charles Fambrough, Shirley Scott, Steve Novosel and Bobby Durham, present individuals absorbed in the act of creation.
He shows us these artists as workers, some of their gestures telling us of the improvisation, others of the mental discipline necessary, still others of the nervousness attendant to the act. Gillispie has been there and knows the telling gesture from the inside. He anticipates the gesture and has the photographic “chops” to capture it in the fleeting instant it appears.
The best jazz photography, like the music itself, has an in-the-moment quality. It is improvised. It swings. In order to get this, jazz photographers must be so well-trained that they can see an image, have an idea, and execute instantly. As Ornette Coleman tells us, “Forget about the changes in key, and just play.” And this “play” is the key. Forget the technical part of the camera, feel the music, get deeper into the feeling and then shoot. Technique, however painfully and expensively learned, is taken for granted and “forgotten.” And Gillispie’s images play, they deliver the feeling. Gillispie’s commercial and advertising photography has been widely published throughout the United States and Europe. He has won numerous awards including selection by jurors from the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art. Of late he has combined music and photography interests and produced a substantial body of music photographs, which have been published as CD covers, promotional posters and in publications including Downbeat, Jazztimes and The Washington Post.
Laporta’s Restaurant is located at 1600 Duke St. It can be reached at 703-683-6313.