The most famous Jazz photograph ever? This was Art Kane’s first assignment as a professional photographer. The signature photograph from the golden age of Jazz – not a bad place to kick off. How could he have gathered 57 of the world’s greatest jazz musicians at 10.00am on 126th Street in Harlem one August morning – a time when they would usually all be fast asleep? It was very nearly 58 musicians, but pianist Willie Smith had wandered out of frame by the time the shot was taken. Kane controlled them (as best he could) by shouting directions through a rolled-up New York Times. They are all in there: Monk, Mulligan, Basie, Gillespie, Mingus and more. It was a momentous day for Art Kane, who would later look back: I came up with this really outrageous idea, and watching it unfold the way I’d thought of it; seeing all those musicians moving up there onto those steps on 126th St. was magnificent. I knew from that moment on that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a photographer. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Art Kane has been extensively and sincerely flattered: this photograph has been re-created in tribute at least a dozen times by hip hop artists, younger jazz musicians, classical players & doo wop artists, and entire music communities. It was the subject of an Academy Award nominated documentary, ‘A Great Day in Harlem’ by Jean Bach, which is well worth seeking out. No other picture has become so deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of music lovers worldwide.
Art Kane: Harlem 1958
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