Baritone saxophonist/composer Alicia Gardener-Trejo has been active in Birmingham’s jazz and improvised music scenes for over ten years. She has played regularly across the UK with bands including Sid Peacock’s Surge, Bostin’ Brass, the Samantha Wright Quintet and Birmingham Improvisors’ Orchestra directed by Mark Sanders, and with some of UK’s finest jazz musicians. Alicia has appeared on Birmingham Jazz Orchestra’s critically acclaimed albums Burns and Rough Boundaries. As well as writing and arranging for her ensembles, Alicia has recently received commissions for Silent Monkey’s Four Susans project and the Greater Manchester Hub Orchestra. Her eleven-piece ensemble ‘Bobtail’ recorded their debut EP Frolic in 2016 at Symphony Hall. Alicia is proud to have been supported by Jazzlines THSH ‘Women in Jazz’.
Picture: Alicia pulling pints at the Spotted Dog in Birmingham on a jazz night.
“When I did move out (of home after college) I was mainly making an income from the Spotted Dog and another pub in the Black Country at the museum there. So I was dressed as a Victorian pulling pints there… at one point I was doing, a couple of years ago, I’d be working at the museum, I’d come back and teach a few students and then I’d go to the Spotted Dog and do a shift and I don’t know how I did that now because I’m tired after a day’s teaching.”
BH: There were two photographic challenges for this shot, first the very poor light and second getting a natural feel given that it was a set up situation with limited time. Although careful use of flash can mitigate low light I prefer to shoot available light for a less formal look. Here I used a 28mm f1.8 prime lens set at f2.8 with a slow 1/50th second shutter speed at ISO 3200. Shooting at a slow shutter speed was aided by the built in stabilisation in my Nikon Z6. By chatting to Alicia about sessions at the pub I was able to get a more spontaneous moment which matched her quote better than a more formal portrait.
Picture: Alicia teaching a student at home in Birmingham.
“So currently it’s mainly teaching [that] is probably how I make most of my income, gigs, [and] function gigs would come next and then creative gigs occasionally you get paid for and Spotted Dog on the jazz nights. That’s dwindling a little bit I’m probably there two or three times a month, not every week. So, I’ve managed to get that balance now.”
BH: Teaching a student at home. Domestic rooms can be challenging as backgrounds can be confused, space at a premium and window lighting means certain angles are better. The 28mm lens is great for this type of situation and is one of the classic documentary focal lengths allowing you to include plenty of context but get in close while not getting excessive distortion. Daylight allowed use of ISO800 at 1/200 second f2.8. It was a real composition bonus to get the Coltrane poster into the shot.
Picture: Alicia leading one of her ensembles in rehearsal for a Jazzlines gig at the Symphony Hall foyer, Birmingham.
“I’ve got a large ensemble of eleven people so if I want to pay people properly that’s going to have to come out of funding or my own pocket which ends up being very expensive. But you don’t want to keep asking people to do things for free. A lot of the time they’ll say we’ll do it anyway and I’m on the other end of things where there’s bands that I enjoy doing that don’t necessarily pay but I would do them just because I love them anyway… as a band leader you do feel bad for not paying people.”
BH: Alicia leading a sound check for one of her ensembles before a gig at a Jazzlines Rush Hour Blues session at the Symphony Hall foyer. For most of the project I wanted to look behind the usual gig photograph but while this is a performance situation, because it is a sound check, I had much more freedom to get close and into positions where it would be distracting during the actual gig. The light was pretty good so I was able to shoot with a 24-70 f4 zoom lens (set to 40mm f5.6 ISO3200) to give flexibility in framing. I was trying to give an impression of Alicia’s leadership and focus and also some interaction with band members