A Great Day in Harlem


Typically I use my Image Mondays for my own photos or drawings.  Today I want to do something different.  Over the weekend I watched the movie “A Great Day in Harlem”.  I want to say a few words about the photo that this documentary is centered around.

In 1958 Esquire magazine wanted to devote a special issue to jazz.  They hired a young art director, Art Kane, to take some photos.  He decided to try to get a few jazz musicians to pose for a large group photo.  This iconic photo has become one of the great documents in what some consider America’s great contribution to Art – Jazz.

To say everyone who was anyone showed up for the photo would be stretching it quite a bit.  We instantly notice the absence of some of the biggest names of the day, such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck.  Also missing are some of the biggest names in Jazz ever, people who were still working at this time such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

That being said, the people who did make it for the photo shoot were some great names.  I’m talking Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Art Farmer, Sonny Rollins, Count Baise and Lester Young, amongst others.  There were also smaller names whose sound made it on many recordings of the day even if the people weren’t as famous.

The people in the photo are young and old and represent many time periods and styles from “early” to swing to stride to bop to hard bop and others.  There were headliners, people just starting out and session musicians.  There are black and white faces in this photo in an age when racism ruled once you left the music world.  A big chunk of the history of the music was represented in the picture.

The film by Jean Bach is great.  It features interviews of many of people in the photo who were still around in the early 1990s.  There are clips of film from the day and many photos taken by several different people during the photo shoot.  Quite a few of the artists are given a short bio including archive footage and music.  I also went through every one of the extra features, most created at the beginning of this century.  I can count the number of times I’ve done this with a DVD or Blu Ray with the fingers on one hand.

I really recommend the film for any Jazz lovers or even anyone who is curious about the music and some of the names.


Horace Silver passed away few weeks ago.  He was one of the last of the original people in the picture still alive, perhaps the name that is still the most recognizable.  Now there are only a handful left from that day.  Besides all of the great music that passed with Horace Silver, another link to Jazz history went with him.

Photo by Art Kane.  Downloaded from Wikipedia.  This photo is being used under fair use since the post is about this photo and a documentary based on it.

8 thoughts on “A Great Day in Harlem

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Not sure why, but your comment ended up in spam.

      Anyway, it is a great photo! I had more than half forgotten this post. I think I have a DVD of the movie around and may need to go back and watch it again some time. Well worth seeing that bit of history.


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