The title alone elicits excitement. Of course we want to see what the city's musicians do on their off time and learn about the characters we love and admire. The title also holds a heady promise: to reveal something new about well-known musicians that fans have followed for years and open a window into their personal lives. That's where the arts of writing and photography come in.
A photographer's approach to his or her art is as individual and sometimes quirky as a musician's methods for creating sounds. Some photographers are aggressive in manipulating the setting to give them a perfect picture; others take more subtle control by putting a subject in a setting, then making them feel comfortable enough to reveal an inner spirit. David G. Spielman, a New Orleans photographer and writer, takes a more organic approach, using available light and adhering to a philosophy of minimalism in equipment, time and staging. As the backdrop for these photos, Spielman asked the musicians to choose the places most special to them when they are not on stage.
"Working quickly, not wanting to disrupt their lives or schedules, I shot with available light and with very little equipment," Spielman wrote in a preface to the book. "There was no propping or rearranging furniture. I always shoot it as I find it; I want the viewers to see it as it is." It's an admirable journalistic ethic, but a risky plan for producing an art/coffee table book. When it worked for Spielman, the results were wonderful: Johnny Vidacovich enveloped by his drums (pictured), Fats Domino at his piano, James Andrews with his trumpet in his backyard, the late "Uncle" Lionel Batiste in his living room shortly before he died last year, Cyril Neville in his garden, Nicholas Payton at Jackson Square and Mia Borders outside Slim Goodies. At other times it appears the constraints Spielman put on himself were hinderances in terms of capturing skin tones, getting subjects relaxed and engaged and helping impart the importance of the settings.
Lyon did a good job of telling each musician's story and offering some new facts, but the text really comprises a short biography of each person and doesn't really focus on offstage interests. It mentions where the photographs were taken, and there's a sentence or so about why the spot was chosen, but no in-depth look at the role their pastimes have on the music they create or the way they play it.
When Not Performing likely will become a staple among fans of New Orleans music, and a good reference book that covers a surprising number of musicians in a range of genres. A common thread runs through most of the interviews with musicians: New Orleans is a continual font of artistic inspiration, and regardless of where they go, they always come back to the Big Easy.
— Meet David Spielman at the following booksignings:
2 p.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, April 27 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival book tent (1751 Gentilly Blvd.)
Noon-2 p.m. Wednesday, May 1 Louisiana Music Factory (210 Decatur St., 504-586-1094)
5 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, May 4 Roosevelt Hotel (123 Baronne St., 504-648-1200)
2 p.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, May 5 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival book tent