Jazz Appreciation Month – A Great Day in Harlem

Harlem 1958
Harlem 1958 first appeared in Esquire Magazine in January 1959.


CCLS does not have any jazz related media materials in its collection, except for one item. And it’s a jewel!

A Great Day in Harlem is a sixty-minute documentary about the day in 1958 when photographer Art Kane gathered about 57 jazz greats of the era together for a group photograph. I saw this film at the Clark Atlanta University Film Festival around 1995, and was one of the most memorable films that I saw. This was about the time that my interest in filmmaking was growing, and I listened to jazz regularly. It was a great thrill to see my favorite subject told on a medium of which I was starting to love.

A Great Day in Harlem details how Kane was commissioned by Esquire magazine to shoot the photo, and interviews the surviving musicians who give their recollections of the day. Also included are archival performance and home movie footage and interviews with the neighborhood kids who sat in the photo along with the musicians. Quincy Jones, who at the time was an up and coming composer/band leader, narrates.

On the same videocassette is a second documentary. The Spitball Story chronicles Dizzy Gillespie’s antics that lead to his firing from Cab Calloway’s band. It seems that Gillespie was as big on practical jokes as he was on talent: In A Great Day, he recounts how his teasing fellow trumpeter Roy Eldridge caused him to turn away just as Kane snapped the picture (Eldridge and Gillespie are on the far right in the photo). The Spitball Story also features musician interviews and performance footage.

A Great Day in Harlem has been called “one of the best documentaries on jazz music.” Not only are the events leading to this iconic photograph documented, but the relationships, musical styles and even work habits of the jazz giants are told directly from their mouths: A history of the era by the people who lived it. Director Jean Bach garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary, Features in 1995 for A Great Day.

CCLS’s holdings are on VHS videocassette only, and just a few copies are available. Act fast to reserve and view this superb film.

Link to A Great Day in Harlem in PINES: http://gapines.org/opac/en-US/skin/default/xml/rdetail.xml?r=2043575&ol=126&t=great%20day%20in%20harlem&tp=keyword&l=126&d=1&hc=1&rt=keyword

Related websites:

www.harlem.org – A great site to see and learn about the musicians in the photograph.

www.a-great-day-in-harlem.com is the site for the DVD release of the movie (available through online vendors), along with biographies of the musicians and little known facts.

www.artkane.com – The website for the Art Kane Archives.



Published in: on April 13, 2007 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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