music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Brett Weston: Out of the Shadow

A few weeks ago we drove up to Santa Barbara to see some old friends and for me to get a chance to see the Brett Weston exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Brett, who was the second oldest child of Edward Weston, one of the most famous of the West Coast photographers working in the early-middle years of the twentieth century, left school and followed his father on his early journeys to Mexico where he learned the technical craft of of his art. His sense of composition, point of view, his “voice”, was already maturing. Several early photographs clearly show that Brett was his own person with a style that differed from his well-known father.

I was impressed by the sheer number of photographs in the show, well over one hundred, mostly 11x14 in size. In traditional film photography, I’ve always felt that the actual making of the image in-camera represents only half of the final artwork. The other half, and by far the hardest part, is printing the image in the darkroom. This is where the photographer’s vision is realized, in the alchemy of light, paper and chemistry. These prints were awesome in the literal meaning of that overused word. Inky black richness and detailed highlights coexisting with a beautiful scale of grey that sucked you into its world. I read somewhere that to see the light, you have to print dark, and while that may be a gross generalization (and opinion!) I can see the genesis of that idea in these prints. Even more amazing is that almost all of them are contact prints, the negative and the paper sandwiched together in a frame and exposed to a light source. All of the beautiful richness of the print has to be on the negative itself, for there is little opportunity to use the usual tricks of the trade that photographers who enlarge their negatives use quite regularly and matter-of-factly.

I was surprised that I was drawn to the abstract photographs of intense beauty; cracks in a mud plain, peeling paint, broken glass, close-ups of tide pools, bubbles and other subjects, seeing that I hadn’t been interested in that style before, but these were printed so beautifully that I instantly “got it”. It took two hours to see it all and I could easily have gone back several times to let it all sink in.

The show’s no longer in Santa Barbara, but you can visit the Brett Weston Archive here.

August 22, 2009 | Link to this entry

Summer Update

I can’t believe that another summer is here and for me, that means Hollywood Bowl season. This is my 26th season as guitarist(!), both for the LA Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl orchestras. I can remember many great seasons and memorable concerts there and the current season has already made its mark.

A sold-out concert with Andrea Bocelli started things off in June and although Bocelli is everywhere these days with a ubiquitous concert video on PBS, it was a lot of fun. Some nice charts (especially a beautifully intricate written-out classical guitar solo on Besame Mucho) along with a good conductor made the night a very musical one; even producer David Foster sat in with us for a few numbers. Andrea was all business with no diva-osity in sight…a great sounding singer whom the musicians loved working with.

Next up was one of the greatest fantasy gigs in recent memory, the chance to play some music from Tommy with Roger Daltrey along with my mates, bassist Trey Henry, drummer Brian Miller and fellow guitarist Tariq Akoni. Roger, who is in incredible shape, rocked the stage, spinning and swinging his microphone at the end of its cable, belting out Pinball Wizard at the top of his lungs. I probably played louder and harder than I have in a long time and at one point was bouncing around so much that my glasses almost fell off my face! An unsurpassed gig that was pure joy in its unadulterated excitement that brought back all the reasons I wanted to play guitar in the first place…

A few weeks later, composer Bill Conti (Rocky, The Karate Kid, The Academy Awards) conducted a tribute concert to Henry Mancini and his music. Harvey Mason, Dave Grusin, Mike Valerio, Brian Pezzone and myself comprised the rhythm section, while Tom Scott and Plas Johnson added their saxophones to the mix. Plas reprised his original role as saxophonist on The Pink Panther and both he and Tom dueled on a special Dave Grusin arrangement of Peter Gunn. One of the highlights for me was another Grusin arrangement of Mr. Lucky, a really great chart! Dave Grusin has always been one of my favorite composer/musicians and I’ve always held him up as an ideal, so this chance to meet him and work with him was very special.

Monica Mancini, Henry’s incredibly talented daughter, and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Ragtime, Jelly’s Last Jam) added their beautiful vocals to many tunes…it’s hard to imagine a more musical and fun concert, unless of course, you add Frank Marocco and his accordion, too! Along with Bill Conti’s reminiscing and rapport with the audience (I think Bill Conti should be the next conductor/director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra…!) it all added up to a beautiful homage to a man who wrote so much of Hollywood’s most memorable and beloved music.

The very next week I hauled out my trusty banjo to play George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in its entirety (a first for the Hollywood Bowl) with the LA Philharmonic and a cast of wonderful singers, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, a superbly talented and good-humored conductor from England. In his short before-concert remarks, he mentioned that “for this opera, Gershwin added four saxophones and a banjo, which brought something different both musically and socially to the orchestra this week.”

There’s more to come before the season ends and once again, I feel so incredibly lucky to have these kinds of musical experiences and to get to share them with you here. Hope your summer is as fun and rewarding as mine has been…

August 8, 2009 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

Return to the front page