Behind 'A Great Day In Harlem': Jean Bach On Piano Jazz

Listen Now

57 min 52 sec
 
A Great Day In Harlem

hide captionCan you name all the musicians in the photo? Need help?

Art Kane/Art Kane Archives

Set List

Roy Eldridge

"I Want a Little Girl" (M. Mencher, B. Moll)

Marian McPartland

"Portrait of Dizzy" (M. McPartland)

Mary Lou Williams

"Scratchin' in the Gravel" (M. Williams)

Hank Jones

"St. Louis Blues" (W.C. Handy)

Milt Hinton

"My One and Only Love" (R. Mellin, G.B. Wood)

Benny Golson

"Whisper Not" (B. Golson)

Gerry Mulligan

"Line for Lyons" (G. Mulligan)

Jean Bach is the director and writer of the 1994 film A Great Day in Harlem, an Oscar-nominated documentary about one of the most iconic images in jazz. On an August morning in 1958, 57 jazz musicians gathered on a Harlem stoop to pose for a group portrait taken by jazz enthusiast Art Kane (who went on to become a famed fashion and rock 'n' roll photographer). The famous photo, shot on the front steps and sidewalk outside a brownstone on 126th Street, became the centerfold in Esquire's January 1959 issue, The Golden Age of Jazz. In retrospect, the image still stands as a fairly accurate cross-section of the jazz world. From swing to hard bop to the cool school, notable figures include Count Basie, Lester Young, Gene Krupa, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Gerry Mulligan, Mary Lou Williams and, of course, Piano Jazz host Marian McPartland.

It's no small feat that so many of the hippest of the hip made it to a 10 a.m. photo shoot — and this without the benefit of cell phones or Twitter. And, for such a big group of improvisers, the musicians naturally posed in an orderly fashion. The late Milt Hinton summed it up during his 1991 appearance on Piano Jazz.

"I saw musicians seeking their own habitat, water seeking its own level — all the piano players and the ladies were together, all the drummers in one corner," Hinton said. "It was amazing."

On this episode, McPartland and Jean Bach share memories of that day in 1958, and remember the musicians who went on to appear on Piano Jazz. Segments include performances and conversation from the archives with Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Hank Jones, Benny Golson, Milt Hinton and Gerry Mulligan.

Originally recorded May 19, 2010. Originally broadcast Sept. 7, 2010.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.