Nonprofit Giant Step Arts Hosts First Shows

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BOP Trio, which comprises bassist Linda May Han Oh (from left), drummer Johnathan Blake and saxophonist Chris Potter, recently played Giant Step Arts’ opening event, a two-night run at Manhattan’s Jazz Gallery.

(Photo: Jimmy Katz)

It’s hard to think of a jazz photographer with a more personal and identifiable pictorial personality than Jimmy Katz, whose prolific corpus during a three-decade career comprises resonant images of the most luminous practitioners of the idiom.

Those photographic experiences prepared Katz for a second, parallel career as a freelance sound engineer, specializing in location recordings that began in 2008. Credits since he put up that shingle include albums by Lage Lund, Frank Kimbrough, David S. Ware, Jason Palmer and Noah Preminger, all showcasing Katz’s ability to retain the sonic clarity of the studio while capturing the sound of the rooms where the music was played.

Last November, Katz and his wife, Dena Katz, launched Giant Step Arts, an artist-focused nonprofit, that coalesces his established skill sets and adds video to the mix. Using funding from “anonymous donors who have followed what I’ve done for many decades,” he is producing for spring release three concert recordings—the drummer Johnathan Blake’s BOP trio with bassist Linda May Han Oh and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter; trumpeter Jason Palmer’s Quartet with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Kendrick Scott; and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa in trio with a yet-to-be-determined bassist and drummer.

“I felt that very often when I heard the musicians I’d worked with in photographic situations in a live setting, the music was even better than in the studio. What interests me is to try to record the way the musicians sound as accurately as I can, whatever the context,” Katz, who is a frequent DownBeat contributor, said. “I’m very exacting when I do photography or when I do engineering. I feel I’m working with the greatest musicians in the world. I want to respect that and do the absolute best job I can do every single time. Nobody who I love gets on stage and just does a professional job; they are always trying to do much more. To me, the performance is what people are going to remember, not if you have a specific microphone on the drum overheads. They are going to remember whether the music is spectacular.”

Giant Step Arts, which functions as a quasi-granting foundation, offers each artist it works with ownership of masters, and provides them with a short film and promotional services through Braithwaite & Katz Communications.

“I’m looking to showcase great artists who have connections with other great artists with whom they can put together bands that can make big artistic statements on creative projects,” the photographer and engineer said. “There are no strings attached; they make all the musical decisions.”

The creativity flowed throughout Giant Step Arts’ opening event, a two-night run by BOP Trio at Manhattan’s Jazz Gallery on Jan. 21 and 22. Blake launched the first set on the second night with a cohesive, coruscating drum overture that set up Potter’s lovely melody statement and dynamic solo on Sting’s “Synchronicity,” which Oh concluded with an enveloping solo, showcasing both her dexterity and luminous tone. Her “Trope” followed, which the composer introduced with a guitaristic solo that set up Potter’s inspired development of the theme and her own elegant conclusion. Potter uncorked a torrential declamation on Charles Fambrough’s “One For Honor,” which debuted on McCoy Tyner’s 1979 Horizon (whose personnel include Blake’s father, the late violinist John Blake). On the troupe’s final tune of the night, Blake’s decidedly un-boppish “No Be-bop, Daddy,” Potter had the last word with a quote from Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop.”

“I dig the element of space that a chordless trio or quartet gives you,” Blake later said. “Musicians as advanced as Chris and Linda can almost spell out the chords themselves, and the context gives them—and me—a chance to take liberties and create a palette.

“I was totally floored and honored that Jimmy and Dena chose me. He’s come to a lot of my shows and, out of the goodness of his heart, was willing to tape them for me just as documentation. I want to have full say about my music; I want to control what’s out there, and he’s given me a professional product.” DB




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December 2019
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