L.A. guitarist Anthony Wilson takes a visual approach to music with ‘Songs and Photographs’

Guitarist-photographer Anthony Wilson in the studio during the recording of ‘Songs and Photographs.’
(Enrique Chavez)

A blackened trailer sits, forlorn, along a lazy shadow at the end of a crumbling alley as clouds swell over the background. With the slightest smirk on his face, a man in a slim black tie holds in the palm of his hand a small Godzilla, whose jaws are locked around a bottle cap.

And, a few pages later against a burnt-red wall, a hand-painted yet apparently functional game of Twister fades against the Southern California sun on an otherwise unmarked sidewalk.

These are the sorts of colorful, evocative images captured by Anthony Wilson, a longtime fixture on the Los Angeles jazz and improvised music scene. His latest album, the aptly named “Songs and Photographs,” combines his longtime, yet until now quiet, passion for taking pictures on his daily walks with his vocation as a guitarist.

Offering 10 tracks that span buoyant, jazz-angled instrumentals and delicate Americana, the album — available digitally and as a luxurious vinyl set — is accompanied by a 48-page photo book developed with Little Steidl in Germany that includes lyrics along with 22 of Wilson’s images.


Wilson is the son of the late Gerald Wilson, a revered composer-bandleader who along with mentoring a young Kamasi Washington was a living embodiment of L.A. jazz history up to his death in 2014 at 96. The younger Wilson has been a longtime member of Diana Krall’s backing band as well as releasing albums that touch on Brazliian music (“Campo Belo”), three-guitar celebrations (“Seasons”) and, most recently, his first venture as a singer-songwriter with the 2016 album “Frogtown.”

But his photography has never come to the forefront until now, and with “Songs and Photographs” the images are on equal footing with music he created with a band that includes pianist Gerald Clayton, drummer Jay Bellerose and keyboardist Patrick Warren. He celebrates the release of the album with a show Saturday at the World Stage.

His fascination with pictures also recently sent him to Mississippi for a music and photography project that also found him in residence at the MacDowell Colony to focus on the work earlier this year.

“Along with all the songwriting that I had been doing, and concentrating on narrative and songs and imagistic kind of things with songs, the photographic practice just seeped in or sort of held the hand of the songwriting for me,” he said in a recent phone call. “I started to be able to let more into my songwriting that I hadn’t been. Much more small details started to be more accessible to me. So I definitely have looked at the picture taking as kind of a key to . . . a certain kind of access to creativity.”


Below, Wilson talks about the making of “Songs and Photographs” as well as what catches his eye about Los Angeles.

How long have you been taking photos like this?

I was super into taking pictures in college and after college. And then film went out, of course. And then digital cameras came back in. But I didn’t find digital photography very interesting. And then I think once phone cameras got to a certain point I started becoming very interested in taking pictures again very regularly and daily as I would walk. And the camera on an iPhone is so good that it’s like you can really, in a journalistic way, document your visual field as you’re experiencing it.

But it led me back to film eventually. And I got a couple of beautiful 35-millimeter cameras, and I have a large-format 8x10 camera that I’ve been shooting with for the last year. And so it became this way of just experiencing the everyday-ness of life and these little moments that felt charged for me personally.

Did you find that directly reflects on your songwriting as well?

Exactly. And the new album, the songs aren’t at all from the photographs. They’re just sort of these companions. But what I’ve noticed with [the Mississippi project], I used them in an entirely different way. I actually used them to generate content for the songs.

So I literally, for one of the songs that I wrote just recently, a couple of the verses I created a story about this particular space and this room and what’s there, just by using the details of everything that I see in the pictures. So for me it’s just interesting the range that’s possible of creativity with photography with me. It’s really opened up something that I hadn’t anticipated that it was going to. And that’s really cool.


Did you have the photographs in front of you while composing?

I paste them up or tack them up on the walls. So I had about 200 pictures tacked up on the walls for a month in front of me as I was working on these songs. And it’s the same thing I did for “Songs and Photographs.”

My space here [in L.A.] is smaller, but I think I’ve put up about 75 pictures that I thought were contenders for the book. Even though we probably went through about 500 pictures to narrow it down to 22. But yeah, I just paste them up, and then they’re there in front of me. And as I start to get lyrics going I paste those up, or tape them up to the wall. And it stays in my consciousness, and it’s good.

It sounds like your photography process has its own improvisational quality as well.

It’s something that I do pretty much every day, even if I’m walking in my neighborhood to go get coffee or something. Sometimes just with the digital camera, sometimes just with the phone camera. But often times I’m with my film camera.And if something stops me, and it’s never anything that I’m looking for, but it will be something that just stops me, even on a very familiar route. Maybe something has changed from the day before, or there’s an object there, or something happened. Or it’s something that I never noticed in a place that I’ve seen a million times. And it’s that moment of a-ha, stop, be aware, snap the picture, and move on.

Is there something specific about Los Angeles that’s appealing for you to photograph?

It’s a strange place to photograph because you’re so often moving fast past spaces and things. So one of the experiences I have in Los Angeles is that classic regret of pictures that I’m missing all the time. I’ll be driving down Temple or down Hoover or someplace. And I see a building, or some kind of landscape, or a piece of graffiti that’s really interesting, or signage. And I’m bummed just because there’s no place to park and stop and get out of the car.

It’s a very familiar place to me, but photographing always brings out its strangeness and its inscrutability and its surprise. And it’s impossible to ever really understand all the facets of the place. So you go after them.


Certain places capture your imagination in a way that I feel like maybe some people go, “L.A., what are you going to find there?” But there are huge amounts of things here. That’s for sure.


Anthony Wilson

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: World Stage Performance Gallery, 4321 Degnan Blvd.

Tickets: $20


Follow me over here @chrisbarton.

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