Born in Handsworth, Birmingham, Judy Emeline had the opportunity to leave the UK and start a musical career when she was 17 after she had first started singing and dancing at a stage school. In Switzerland she pursued a career singing and teaching and also presenting a TV show called Mia Banda Suona il Folk which means, My Band Plays Folk Music. She relocated back to Birmingham about 15 years ago but carried working abroad while also singing, coaching and teaching in the UK.

Picture: Judy singing at Birmingham Jazz, The Red Lion, Jewellery Quarter

“The jazz world, I started to get involved in looking at different styles, and different interpretations of the sounds that I’ve known since I was a child. But the majority of them I’ve never heard them back. So that came a lot later, …probably in my late 20s, that I started to develop my world of jazz. I would say…it’s a lot to do with Ella [Fitzgerald]. And it’s a lot to do with the Aretha Franklin. Aretha Franklin for me is my top. So, blues, jazz, gospel, it’s all in there. And how music has been a great revelation for me, and an opening and expanding what you can do with music.”

BH: This shot is from quite soon after I joined the board of Birmingham Jazz in 2012 and started seriously photographing jazz performance. I was using a D300 Nikon which above ISO 800 started to suffer from excessive noise – this is shot at ISO 6400. I discovered than converting to black and white reduced the apparent effects and produced results more like grainy film. This coupled with my feeling that jazz often looks better and more atmospheric in black white led me to continue with this process and to use black and white even when I upgraded later to better cameras that could shoot at high ISOs with little degradation and lenses with wider maximum apertures that reduced the need for high ISOs.


Picture: Judy with the award she won for the TV programme she fronted when she was in Italy.

“…because I did spend 25 years abroad and so coming home was just the two week holiday every year. And it was great coming home to Birmingham on holiday. So, the jazz scene – I’m still trying to work it out. Still trying to understand where it is. Birmingham has a lot of music and a lot of musicians. But the world is a little bit underground and it’s a bit unknown and not easy to tap into. You know, I found it easier in Switzerland and in Italy, tapping into the jazz world, as opposed to here in Birmingham. You just got to keep digging.”

BH: This part of the project was shot during one of the lockdowns during the Covid 19 pandemic so we had to shoot outdoors. I still wanted to give a flavour of Judy’s work and background so we shot tis outside her house in Handsworth, Birmingham. Despite the quite clichéd notion of shooting a person with an award I think the lighting and the pose Judy struck does make for an interesting photograph.

Picture: Chris serving drinks at 1000 Trades bar in Birmingham.

“There is a big issue with money, ticketing, and how we get funded, how people get paid basically. It’s difficult and people look at it differently… I think there is a culture, and this is separate from the scene I guess, I don’t think people for some reason in Birmingham expect to pay to come in. It’s the price of a pint or a couple of pints but that is seen as almost outrageous to give your money away for that. Whereas you play in London, or you play in Manchester or you play Liverpool or Leeds, most places you go elsewhere you pay as you go in.”

BH: Chris behind the bar at 1000 Trades in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham which is also his local and where Birmingham Jazz run their gigs usually on a Friday night. Another pub, another challenging level of light. ISO3200 with the trusty 28mm lens wide open at f1.8 to get 1/200th second shutter speed. Unlike the shot of Alicia in similar circumstances I didn’t engage with Chris but let him get on with working and waited for interaction to happen. I deliberately chose to either hide the customers or have them out of focus to avoid permission issues.

Read other musician's stories

Chris Young
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