What is your connection to New Orleans music?
Several years before Katrina, my wife and I were invited down to Jazz Fest. We had the time of our lives, as you do when you go to Jazz Fest for the first time, and fell in love with New Orleans and the vibe there. When Katrina happened, my friends at Superfly organized the Big Apple to the Big Easy fundraiser to help replace instruments. I was photographing during soundcheck and taking pictures of the reflections of Radio City Music Hall in Ben Jaffe’s tuba while he was rehearsing. We talked and completely hit it off. That began my friendship with Ben. Once I had friends that deep in New Orleans culture, I was hooked.
What did you learn about Cuban musical traditions from the A Tuba to Cuba project?
What was really interesting was the big connection between New Orleans and Cuba because of trade before the embargo [enacted in 1962 by President Kennedy]. And the influence that the slaves had musically and culturally to both places. We realized the rhythms that had come from Africa and seeped into Cuba, seeped into New Orleans, were a direct link between the two cultures.
What was your favorite moment from working on the film?
Our first time going somewhere to photograph a meeting between the guys in Pres Hall and Cuban musicians was when we went to a jazz social club on the outside of Havana that had long been a meeting place for jazz musicians. They introduced Charlie Gabriel to this 90-year-old man who had taught himself to tap dance listening to pirate radio from the USA and had tap danced in performance with Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie and all these incredible jazz musicians who had come through Cuba. They introduced this man to Charlie and they had a jam: Charlie started playing his clarinet and the man started tap dancing along with him. It was such a pure musical conversation.
What do you hope audiences take away from A Tuba to Cuba?
I would hope people understand how important traditional music is to the two cultures. There’s a strong sense of passing on these traditions to the younger generations. What is important and exciting in that regard is what Ben Jaffe is doing with Preservation Hall Jazz Band—honoring the tradition but also pushing the envelope wide open, knocking down walls, musically and culturally, to bring Pres Hall to a new place.
How does music translate into a visual medium?
I think there’s a strong connection. Music informs emotion and visuals inform emotion. You put the two of them together, they become more than the individual parts. They become something bigger.