'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th anniversary

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A-Great-day-In-Harlem

Photographer Art Kane's legendary jazz photograph 'Harlem – 1958', commonly known as 'A Great Day in Harlem', celebrates its 60th anniversary on 12 August and is the subject of new book, Art Kane: Harlem 1968, to be published in November.

In 1958, Kane pitched Esquire magazine with the idea of a photo shoot gathering together as many New York-based jazz musicians as possible. Esquire took the plunge and Kane put the word out to the jazz community via record labels, managers, agents and clubs to meet on 12 August outside a Brownstone house at 17 East 126th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues in Harlem at 10am, a time of day not that familiar to many night-owl jazz players.

Come the day, 57 musicians turned up, including big rollers such as Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins and Pee Wee Russell to then up-and-coming names, Benny Golson, Marion MacPartland, Mary Lou Williams and Art Farmer. Some local children also blagged their way into the frame, Kane got his shot and the photo was published in Esquire's Golden Age of Jazz special issue in January 1959, subsequently becoming one of the most iconic photos in jazz history. Thankfully, the Brownstone house has survived the gentrification of the area over recent decades, though a large number of the musicians and Art Kane are long passed.

"There was going to be an unusual shooting of a photograph for Esquire magazine and I was going to be part of it." said Benny Golson. "I couldn't believe it! Nobody really knew me that early in my career. But zippo, I was there on the intended date. When I arrived, there were all of my heroes."

The book, Art Kane: Harlem 1958, is published by Wall of Sound Editions on 1 November 2018 and tells the story behind the photo together with outtake images from the shoot, as well as many of Kane's jazz portraits from the period, and includes Kane's original text, an introduction by his son Jonathan Kane and forwards by Quincy Jones and Benny Golson.

Jon Newey