A Great Day in Harlem
Film Reviewed by Kam Williams


 

DVD Documentary on the Anatomy of Historic Jazz Photo


A Great Day in Harlem

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Plot Synopsis: Art Kane, now deceased, coordinated a group photograph of all the top jazz musicians in NYC in the year 1958, for a piece in Esquire magazine. Just about every jazz musician at the time showed up for the photo shoot which took place in front of a brownstone near the 125th street station. The documentary compiles interviews of many of the musicians in the photograph to talk about the day of the photograph, and it shows film footage taken that day by Milt Hinton and his wife.

Release Date: 03 January, 2006
Theatrical Date: 24 February, 1995
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Manufacturer: Homevision

Run Time: 152 minutes
USA Box Office: $1 Million
Filming Locations:
Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA

DVD Review by Kam Williams

One sultry summer morning in August of 1958, free-lance photographer Art Kane somehow assembled 58 giants of jazz for a photo shoot he had been hired to handle by Esquire magazine. Starting at around 10AM, an unusually early time of day for folks who worked late into the night, these legends began converging on the corner of 125th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem.

Among the esteemed invitees arriving were Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Lester Young, Johnny Griffin, Charlie Mingus, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, Gene Krupa, Marian McPartland, Mary Lou Williams, Art Farmer, Roy Eldridge, Hank Jones, Benny Golson, Milt Hinton and Horace Silver. Narrated by Quincy Jones, A Great Day in Harlem unfolds as an anatomy of the taking of the famous photograph, but blossoms into a history lesson, as the twelve surviving subjects and others share their reflections about the occasion, while supplementing those remembrances with assorted anecdotes which fans of the music would undoubtedly find fascinating.

Shutterbug Kane recalls his endless frustration attempting to herd everybody in front of a brownstone located around the corner on 126th Street.

Eventually, they complied, and the portrait was snapped for posterity.

Because many in attendance brought along their 35mm and Super 8 cameras, director Jean Bach was able to augment the interviews with unearthed snapshots and priceless 8mm film footage.

An endless source of curiosity, questions abound about the Esquire photo itself. Why was Monk wearing a white jacket? Why was Pres sporting his porkpie hat? Why did Dizzy stick out his tongue? Why was Sonny wearing his shades? And why was the Count the only one down on the ground next to the dozen neighborhood boys allowed to sit in the foreground?

A fascinating examination of the artistry, camaraderie and idiosyncrasies among a generation enigmatic musical geniuses

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