Sandy Brown Jazz

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The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians and others in the jazz world an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.


Clara Pereira (Photographer) - June 2021


Clara pereira

Clara Pereira


Clara Pereira and Filipe Freitas run the agency JazzTrail in New York. Clara Pereira is a photographer and takes stunning images of musicians; Filipe is a journalist and reports on jazz events and new album releases. They are valued contacts for Sandy Brown Jazz in the United States and their pictures and reviews regularly keep readers informed of jazz taking place in America.

Clara specialises in black and white photography. As she says on the JazzTrail website: 'At some point in her childhood, she really believed she was an alien. Instead, she became a photographer and graphic designer (with special powers) who Heritage Project Girlscouldn’t be more human since her joy comes from earthly things such as coffee, a glass of good red wine, and TV shows'.

Born in Funchal on Madeira Island, Portugal - Clara holds a degree in Communications and Graphic Arts from the University of Porto (FBAUP), and a certificate in General Studies from the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York.

As you will see from her website (click here), Clara's work is wider than the jazz photographs that we feature. Her work focuses on documenting and taking portraits of people, life, and human expression. One example is her collection of photographs entitled 'Heritage'. (click here).


Heritage Project
Photograph © Clara Pereira



Clara says: "I’m truly fascinated with different cultures and life styles. New York is the perfect stage to observe all that diversity. It’s interesting to observe the roots' interlacement. Parades are a quite often event in this city, gatherings where we can witness the celebration of one particular culture. When attending such events, I try to capture moments, which hopefully will reveal themselves strong enough to hold a story within. Probably because many members of my family have immigrated along the years, including myself, this is a theme that emerged from a natural curiosity. Without any doubt, people are the most interesting subject, and for that reason, this is a project with no due date."

In 2015, she co-founded JazzTrail, an online initiative documenting live jazz in New York and jazz album reviews. Her work has been published and exhibited in Portugal, London, and New York, and is included in the Paul, Weiss Art Collection.



Clara dropped by for a tea break ....


Hi Clara, good to see you, tea or coffee?

 Hi, good to see you too. Coffee will be great, thank you.


Milk or sugar?

Neither, thank you. Black coffee is just perfect.

How have things been in New York during the Coronavirus pandemic?

Well, in the beginning it was quite scary. We didn’t know much about it, no one did, the news was terrible and the number of deaths terrifying… and the 'city that never sleeps' was shut down. People quickly adjusted and respected the quarantine and things started to turn around. As you know businesses closed, music events stopped, everything was on pause. Now things are starting to get a bit back to normalcy but I hope that we don’t go back fully, not everything was great as it was and some changes are needed and welcome. During this time I learned to appreciate the calmness and simplicity of life, spending more time working on my photography archive and I felt blessed to always have had a roof over my head and food on the table. 



Clara Pereira Tea Break image

Billy Hart
Photograph © Clara Pereira



It’s four years ago that I last chatted over a tea break with you and Filipe! Time goes by so quickly! I wanted to take the opportunity this time to ask you more about your photography. How did you start, and how did you get into taking photographs of jazz musicians?

Photography has been kind of a platonic passion of mine since high school but I never thought I could actually be a photographer. For some reason in my head it was too cool of a thing to do as a job, so I became a graphic designer. After several years working as a designer I decided to move from Madeira Island to New York to pursue photography. It was one of those moments, it’s now or never, better to regret doing it than never do it… So, I did one year at ICP (International Center of Photography) in New York and never left. This is how I started in a more serious way in photography. Jazz arrived a few years later after Filipe, my husband, moved to New York and ‘dragged’ me to all sorts of jazz concerts and, not satisfied with my company, he would ask me to photograph the musicians so he could have a picture for himself! Well, I found out that when I didn’t enjoy the music as much, I still enjoyed the performance, the human expression, the true moment and I started to carry my camera to every concert we went to.



Henry Threadgill

Henry Threadgill
Photograph © Clara Pereira



How do you decide on which gigs to go to and photograph?

Fortunately New York has a vast choice to offer and it’s really pick and choose depending on your mood and curiosity about the music projects. Sometimes we receive requests through JazzTrail from the musician’s PR or from the venues to cover a concert, other times we request access because we want to see a specific musician. It varies, but generally Filipe would pick what he wants to write about and we discuss the options.


Do the people who run the venues you go to know you and let you in as ‘Press’ or do you have to pay to get in? and do you have to negotiate with the venue and the musicians how and when you take your pictures?

Usually I go in as press, unless it’s a very restrictive concert and they aren't offering press comps. In that case, if I really want to photograph, I do pay for it but that’s rare. Regarding when and how to take pictures varies from venue to venue. Sometimes they will give you 10-15 minutes in the beginning and that’s all you get. Other places leave it to your discretion. Frequently with venues that you go to quite often and have a good relationship with, or at least a good track record, meaning you never caused any problem, they will trust you, they will let you photograph the entire concert since they know you are respectful and careful towards the musicians, the audience and the staff. Also, it’s common that the musicians don’t know I’m there photographing the concert - unless, of course, the request to do so came from them. If I’m granted access by the venue or their PR, I never talk to the musicians before the concert. The less attention I bring to myself the better. At the end of the gig, I usually let them know I was there and that pictures will be online soon.

Do you usually send the musicians copies of the pictures afterwards?

No, I don’t. The reason being that we publish a gallery with photos from the concert on JazzTrail and then we send them the link so they can see the full gallery and text. Sometimes they do request a picture for social media and buy a high-res file for their press kit.


I asked you last time about what would you say you are trying to capture in a picture and you told me that you try to freeze a moment of human expression, almost like attempting to capture the emotions and sounds of an improvisation/tune by trapping them in a frame. But what do you aim for in the composition and does that come instinctively?

It’s hard to explain, all of it plays so well in my mind… yes, it’s very instinctive. I like to play with negative space in the frame, to give room for ‘air’. Also look for layers and ways to guide the viewer’s eye to the subject/action.The composition is the result of what I do with my camera, my position and angle in a certain space and time, in response to what I’m observing and feeling. My goal is to end up with a strong photo, one that I could happily have on my wall for years and never get tired of looking at. Mary Ellen Mark used to say the goal is to make iconic pictures, I guess I’m trying to accomplish that.



Dr Lonnie Smith

Dr Lonnie Smith
Photograph © Clara Pereira



The logistics of it must also need thinking about – what kit do you take with you, how do you position yourself when you get there and do you move around a lot?

Actually it’s not that complicated, at least now, after so many concerts. I always take the same equipment and I keep it simple. I use what I have and work with it. When I first walk into the venue I assess the positioning of the musicians on stage. Then if I have to sit most of the time, I pick a place that’s better to photograph the bandleader and work from there. If it’s a situation where I can move more freely, I usually start from one of the sides of the stage. I do move around as much as possible and try my best to get different angles.  


What happens if there are other photographers who come? I imagine it could get quite disruptive if there were a few of you in a small venue?

It’s not the best situation when you have more people photographing at the same time in smaller venues and in fact it’s a rare occurrence. Usually small venues pay attention to that and try to schedule photographers for different gigs. If they can’t, they will let you know if there is someone else working at the same time so you both are aware of each other. One more camera in the audience could possibly disrupt the musicians and the audience and you want to keep all distractions to a minimum. With that said, we just have to be respectful of each other's work and space. All goes well when we work together.


I hope your coffee is OK. Can I offer you a biscuit? I have some custard creams, some ginger nuts and some chocolate digestives, I’m afraid I don’t have any Madeiran honey cake at the moment.

That’s lovely. A custard cream will perfectly pair with my coffee. Thank you.


I remember going to a talk years ago by landscape photographer Charlie Waite who said two things that stuck in my mind, one that he sometimes had to wait for hours to get the right composition of light, clouds, shadows, etc (that doesn’t really apply to your situation with gigs) and the other was that he took far more photographs than he shows to people and might only select one that he is happy with from dozens he might take. Do you do the same?

Oh yes! Actually I relate to both things he said. I’m not waiting for hours (definitely not at a gig) to get the composition right, but it’s not just point and shoot. I can spend quite a while looking through my viewfinder, waiting for the right face expression or a different movement, a step into the spotlight, etc. Regarding the number of photos, specially with digital photography, I take too many photographs. And you know what’s funny? Usually my first or second frame is often the final selection. Most of the time I go on just to make sure I’m not missing anything.


Franciso Mela

Francisco Mela
Photograph © Clara Pereira



Thankfully you don’t have to use a dark room now we have digital photography, but presumable you have to spend computer time getting the right picture?

Absolutely. That’s the not such a fun part of the job. The amount of hours you spend on the computer… sometimes it’s okay, let's say when it was a good shoot and you got good pictures, but it’s still not as fun to me. I would love it if I could just take pictures and not deal with the computer. But I guess then I would obsess about choosing the right one… so I really need to do it.


Most of your photography is black and white, but you very occasionally take a colour picture or two – how come?

I think it’s because when I started doing the jazz photos, black and white was my reference and also because I used to photograph with black and white film. Back then, my digital equipment was not great and I had better results in black and white, and lastly because the lighting situation of most venues isn’t good for photography and I usually find colour not a good addition to the picture. When it’s a good colour picture, I use it.



Jazzmeia Horn

Jazzmeia Horn
Photograph © Clara Pereira



How have venues been managing over the past months? What are you looking forward to when things get back to normal?

They took a heavy toll with all the shutdown. Some venues have closed, some have been streaming concerts to try and keep up some business and give musicians some help. Hopefully things will start to improve, slowly moving forward. I do miss going to live concerts with my camera and I’m hoping we will be able to do that soon. Although I have to say I prefer to be on the safe side and get all people vaccinated and protected so we can all enjoy small venues and packed festivals!  


I have to say that readers of my website have commented in the past about how stunning they think your pictures are, Clara. I hope we can go on sharing them and keeping in touch with what is going on with the jazz scene in New York

That’s so nice! I’m happy to hear that, hoping for the same! I just got the second dose of the vaccine! So I will be sharing some new work soon! I have faith that we are turning the page on this pandemic.


Thanks for dropping by, Clara – how about suggesting one of the musicians who caught your attention over the years and I’ll see if I can play us out with some of their music?

Uhm… I’m going to say guitarist Jakob Bro. His was one of the last live concerts I photographed in 2020 at the Village Vanguard. I really enjoy his music.


Me too - here he is with Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Jorge Rossy (drums) playing Mild and Heroines in Copenhagen in July 2019:




Click here for Clara Pereira's website.


Clara Pereira

Clara Pereira
Photograph © Luis Elmiro Mendes.


Utah Teapot


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