THE JAZZ WORD

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Great_Day_in_Harlem

Photographer Art Kane took the most wonderful photograph in jazz history – remarkable for many reasons. In features 57 of the best jazz musicians and the image has come to be called, ‘A Great Day In Harlem’.

Kane, a freelance photographer was on assignment for Esquire magazine, and took the picture at around 10 a.m. on 12 August 1958 at 17 East 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenue in Harlem. Esquire published the photo in its January 1959 issue. In 1994 a TV documentary was made as to how this incredible photo came to be taken, one that Quincy Jones calls, “An astonishing photograph.”

What makes this photo so extraordinary is that it was Art Kane’s first photo shoot; he was an art director for various New York magazines. He was given the chance and it was Kane’s idea to take the photo in Harlem, a risk on many levels, not least trying to get everyone together in one place at 10 a.m. in the morning. As Kane said, he had no studio, so he had no choice. Gerry Mulligan didn’t believe anyone would show up…it was way too early.

Of the 57 musicians featured only two remain alive – Sonny Rollins and Benny Golson.
Full list of musicians in the photo

Full List of Musicians: Hilton Jefferson, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Wilbur Ware, Art Blakey, Chubby Jackson, Johnny Griffin, Dickie Wells, Buck Clayton, Taft Jordan, Zutty Singleton, Red Allen, Tyree Glenn, Miff Molo, Sonny Greer, Jay C. Higginbotham, Jimmy Jones, Charles Mingus, Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Max Kaminsky, George Wettling, Bud Freeman, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Wilkins, Buster Bailey, Osie Johnson, Gigi Gryce, Hank Jones, Eddie Locke, Horace Silver, Luckey Roberts, Maxine Sullivan, Jimmy Rushing, Joe Thomas, Scoville Browne, Stuff Smith, Bill Crump, Coleman Hawkins, Rudy Powell, Oscar Pettiford, Sahib Shihab , Marian McPartland, Sonny Rollins, Lawrence Brown, Mary Lou Williams, Emmett Berry, Thelonious Monk, Vic Dickenson, Milt Hinton, Lester Young, Rex Stewart, J.C. Heard, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie

Part 1 of the documentary…it’s a must see

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ron leigh August 12th at 3:51pm

It's a fantastic photograph. I have a 24 x 36 copy framed and hanging in my rec room. Love it.

Charlie Parker passed away this day in 1955 in New York City aged just thirty four. What a legacy he left.

Listen to our Bird playlist here

“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” – Charlie Parker

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Charlie Parker Quintet at The Royal Roost, 1580 Broadway New York, 18 December 1948

“Charlie had a photographic mind. When we would rehearse a new arrangement, he would run his part down once and when we were ready to play it a second time, he knew the whole thing from memory.” – Earl Hines

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“They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.” – Charlie Parker

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“I spent my first week in New York looking for Bird and Dizzy, Man, I went everywhere looking for those cats.” Miles Davis

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Charlie Parker with Dizzy Gillespie at the Town Hall in New York, June 1945

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Comments (3)

margber March 12th at 10:45am

Wonderful post. Love Charlie Parker's music. He influence on the Jazz world is strong and his legacy, a gift.

Lynn March 12th at 11:42am

Awesome, Bird Lives!

jazzlabels March 12th at 11:49am

Thanks so much! We're with you!

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Milt Gabler began working in his father’s business, the rather grandly named Commodore Radio Corporation on 42nd Street in the 1920s. Gabler renamed the family store the ‘Commodore Music Shop’ and in 1933 began to license old jazz recordings from the major labels and reissue them. The store also became a magnet for the New York jazz crowd, whether fans or musicians. In 1937, Gabler opened a new shop on 52nd Street and around the same time began holding gigs in a club, Jimmy Ryan’s, which was almost next-door.

Commodore released records by artists as diverse as Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson, and Willie “The Lion” Smith. In April 1939, Commodore recorded what is arguably the label’s most important release, Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit.’ The session was at World Broadcasting Studios and Frank Newton and his Café Society Orchestra backed Lady Day. The record company executives from Billie’s own label found the subject matter of the song so sensitive – the lynching of a young black man in the southern states – that they refused to release it and Gabler seized the moment.

When Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note Records arrived in New York City January 1936 and found an apartment in midtown Manhattan. Gravitating to Commodore Records, he became friendly with Gabler and his brother-in-law, Jack Crystal (the father of comedian Billy Crystal), who worked at the shop and helped run the gigs. Years later, Alfred Lion would recall the huge challenge Blue Note faced in establishing their business: “There was nothing in ’39. No {music trade] books where you could check out things. Nothing. You had to go by your wits.” Through his friendship with Milt Gabler, Lion persuaded Commodore Music Shop to sell Blue Note’s first record releases. H. Royer Smith on Walnut Street Philadelphia, trading since 1907 and one of America’s oldest record stores, also agreed to take them, as did David Dean Smith in New Haven, Connecticut.

Gabler later went on to work for Decca Records, where he recorded Bill Haley and the Comets and Louis Armstrong, and the Commodore record label ceased to be – Decca released their recordings. At the same time Alfred Lion made Blue Note one of the most important record labels in jazz. The Commodore shop closed in 1959.

The shop front was taken sometime in the 1940s. The interior is from 1947 and was taken by William Gottlieb, whose photographic collection can be viewed at the Library of Congress web site. Front left is Milt Gabler, front right, Jack Crystal.

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William Finch January 23rd at 8:53pm

Love hearing about the history of such things...Thanks!

Thelonious Monk made a couple of appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1975 and 1976 but other than that there was silence from the once prolific pianist. During this time he lived in New Jersey with his friend, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter.

Many conflicting stories have been put forward as to why Monk was absent. They range from drug theories, both his own use of them and the inadvertent taking of LSD; others talk of brain damage, most people agreed there were mental health issues. The fact is that he didn’t play in public, and those who appear to be in the know think he didn’t play in private either, after his 1976 Newport appearance, until he died in February 1982 from a stroke.

Whatever the theories, the circumstances or the truth, the one truth is that the world lost a great and gifted musician – a true jazz visionary. But he has left behind a body of work that offers a jazz landscape more diverse and more challenging than most of his contemporaries. Sure there are other jazz artists who played it obscure, but none of them played it half as well or half as interestingly as Thelonious Monk. The world is catching up with Monk. In 1993 he won a posthumous Grammy and in 2002 a Pulitzer Prize special citation. He’s no doubt up there, doing it straight. . .no chaser.

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