The Sunday Jazz Brunch Presents

Guest Column: Photography and Jazz

By Mitch Bleier

Air Date: 7/23/2023 on 90.5 WICN 8am-12pm ET

This is the first in a series of guest columns about the intersection of jazz and other arts - in this case photography.  Mitch Bleier is a NYC-based writer and educator turned photographer. He has recently shifted his camera from nature and cityscapes to live music performances. Contact him at or @mitch.bleier on Instagram.

I’ve been listening to and enjoying jazz since the early 1970s. I also have been doing photography for an even longer time. In the past few years, I have found a way to merge the two.

Photographing live performances has added a new dimension to my engagement with the music. I focus more intently on what is going on on the stage among the players. I try to get some good photos of each player and of various combinations and the whole band. Drummers are especially difficult as they are so often in the back and in the dark.

Winard Harper and Jeli Posse at Jazzmobile in NYC. April 23, 2023
Anthony Perez - bass; Winard Harper - drums

Visual Stories

I love telling stories. It was a large part of my work in education and continues to interest me. With the camera, I can tell my stories visually. I find that a picture often is worth even more than the proverbial thousand words, and a series of pictures even more than that. 

Having my photographs spark emotions or convey a narrative in the minds of those seeing them is always a goal and, when realized, it is extremely gratifying. The ultimate success for me is when the viewer creates or extends the story in the context of their own experiences. When this happens, I rarely get to know about it, but just the knowledge that it does happen sometimes is very satisfying.

When I am at home sorting through 400, 800, 1500 images for the dozen or so that I love, editing raw images into the visual story I want to tell extends the experience for me and I hope, whoever may see my pictures. 

Anticipating when a drummer will throw his head back, or a bass player will bear down on the low end of the fingerboard, or a guitarist will grimace just right during a solo, forces you to observe, enables you to see patterns, and consequently, hear more of what is going on. 

Winard Harper and Jeli Posse at Jazzmobile in NYC. April 23, 2023
Nick Masters - piano; Charlie Sigler - guitar

The intense communication between players, especially among improvisational musicians, provides insights into the music that are not as apparent when listening on the radio, or even while attending a live performance without the task of capturing the sound in still images. 

Drummer and Dancer

In the photo of the tap dancer, I took lots of shots trying to get the dancer (at least partially) off the ground and at the same time, capture the drummer’s face which was mostly obscured by a cymbal.

Winard Harper and Jeli Posse at Jazzmobile, Grant's Tomb, NYC. July 5, 2023
Winard Harper - drums; Megha Vadehra - tap dance

The only time you could see him is the beat after he hit that cymbal and it rocked back into position. 

Twenty frames yielded one shot that I was pleased with: Winard Harper’s eyes peering over the edge of the cymbal directly at the dancer, Megha Vadehra, whose one foot was raised off the ground high enough to expose the metal tap at the front of her shoe.

Fun With Special Effects

Photography often is characterized by expensive, unwieldy equipment and software with steep learning curves. However, smartphones have remarkably capable cameras and there are easy-to-learn apps that will make your pictures pop. 

Camart is an app that provides filters that make your photographs look like comic book images, paintings, sketches, old-timey sepia prints and much more. The image at the top and the one below were produced using this app.

Marty In The Studio

If you are willing to pay a few bucks or watch a 30-second ad now and again, you can unlock many more effects. 

An app called Snapseed provides preset “looks” that you can apply to your photographs as well as a nice selection of adjustable tools that allow you to enhance your images in traditional ways (contrast, sharpening, etc.) or apply special effects (film noir, grunge, drama and more). 

Both Camart and Snapseed are available for Android and Apple from the usual sources.

I hope that this blog entry engenders interest in jazz photography and encourages some to try it themselves. Be polite, be unintrusive, ask permission, and if you post on social media, credit and tag the artists, the venue and anyone else involved. I try to get the names of all band members and include them in the captions and tags as well.


All images by Mitch Bleier.

Top photo: Alan Broadbent Trio at WICN Studio 50, April 16 2023.
Alan Broadbent - piano; Harvie S - bass; Billy Mintz - drums


HOUR ONE: Contemplative Morning

Michael Ragonese-Stracci 2023-07 I'll be Seeing You
Orrin Evans\The Red Door 2023\Dexter's Tune
Jalen Baker\Be Still 2023\Lexi's Lullaby
Diego Figueiredo\My World 2023\001 Malandrinho

Orrin Evans\The Red Door 2023\012 I Have A Feeling I've Been Here Before
Benny Benack III\Third Times the Charm 2023\Jade
Stephen Jones\Road to Nowhere 2023\Milestones
Chloe Jean-Fairy Tale Fail 2023-08 Where Love Began

Dan Wilson-Things Eternal 2023-06 Things Eternal
Javon Jackson-Deja Vu-09 Rio Dawn-2020
Sienna Dahlen & Bill Coon\Balladextrous 2023\Autumn in New York
Rachael & Vilray-Rachael & Vilray (Disc 1)-02 Do Friends Fall in Love 2019

HOUR TWO: New For You

Jalen Baker\Be Still 2023\Jinrickisha
RAY VEGA & THOMAS MARRIOTT\East West Trumpet Summit 2023\03  - You've Changed (feat. Thomas Marriott)
Benny Benack III\Third Times the Charm 2023\It's Not Unusual
Silva & Steini\More Than You Know 2023\08 - Try Your Wings

Michael Ragonese-Stracci 2023-04 Tides of Tomorrow I
Laila Biali, George Koller & Larnell Lewis-Your Requests 2023-07 Pennies from Heaven
Tim Ray Trio-Fire & Rain 2023-06 Theodore the Thumper
Angie Wells-Truth Be Told 2023-05 Accentuate The Positive

Benny Benack III\Third Times the Charm 2023\In a Mellow Tone
Tim Ray Trio-Fire & Rain 2023-08 Lawns
Greg Abate-Reunion Live at WICN 2023-03 DSR

HOUR THREE: Brazil/World

Gabriel Espinosa\Bossas and Boleros 2023\22
Gabriel Espinosa-Songs of Bacharach & Manzanero 2016-02 (They Long to Be) Close to You
Gabriel Espinosa-From Yucatan to Rio 2009-06 Morning Breeze
Gabriel Espinosa-Samba Little Samba 2014-02 A Song For Ray

Antonio Adolfo-Bossa 65 2023-05 Maria Moita (Maria Shut-Mouth)
Doug Beavers\Luna 2023\Luna
Luiz Millan\Brazilian Match\Madrugada
The Pacific Jazz Group-The Pacific Jazz Group 2023-02 Maid in Mexico

Antonio Adolfo-Bossa 65 2023-04 O Barquinho (Little Boat)
Charlie Byrd-Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros-06 O Barquinho (Little Boat) 1963
Diego Figueiredo\My World 2023\007 Areia Branca
Jackie Ryan-Recuerdos De Mi Madre 2023-05 Contigo Aprendí

HOUR FOUR: Groove, Baby

Brian Simpson\Soul Connection 2023\Until The Break of Dawn
Kayla Waters\Presence 08 - Salt n' Soak
Greg Abate-Reunion Live at WICN 2023-10 Within Reach
The 3 Keys-We 3 Keys 2023-09 Camaleao

Chris Standring-Sunlight-04 The Revisit (Featuring Bob James) 2018
Count Basic-Life Think It Over-04 Jazz In The House 1995
Dianne Reeves-Beautiful Life-05 Waiting In Vain 2014

Emi Meyer-Monochrome-03 Monochrome 2017
Ed Thigpen-#1-01 Shake It Out 2004
Gato Barbieri-The Shadow of the Cat-01 El Chico 2002
Brian Simpson\Out of a Dream\Her Eyes


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