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Jazz History: A Great Day in Harlem

It happened on a summer morning of 1958. Art Kane, who wasn’t formally a photographer at that time, asked as many jazz musicians as he could to go to 126th Street in Harlem, New York, at 10:00 am. The hour was even a bit absurd for some of the artists who worked until 4:00 am. Musicians were usually on tour or working late, and the problem wasn’t so much waking up early, but staying awake longer. Despite that, 57 of those musicians didn’t let Kane down.

A Day Full of Jazz

The result of that morning was the most important photograph in jazz history: Harlem 58, also known as A Great Day In Harlem, was published in 1959 by Esquire magazine for an all-jazz issue, holding the essence of jazz’s golden age in a black-and-white portrait forever. Back then, Art Kane was an art director, but thanks to his love for jazz and photography created the idea of A Great Day In Harlem and made it real. This shoot was Kane’s first professional photography work, he neither had any equipment or a studio, but he managed to show it wasn’t a problem.

And so, a big group of jazz musicians got together on August 12; that was the date Harlem felt the jazz moving through every corner. Kane took over an hour to get the photograph because the musicians couldn’t stop talking and greeting each other. It was like a party or a barbecue in the middle of the street. It was a big meeting between the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theatre, places where the first great jazz performances were held.


The Mind Behind the Picture

Kane’s ambition must be recognized. A project like that had never been done before. Notices were placed in all the jazz clubs, and at the Musician’s Union Local office, announcing that the photo shoot will take place at ten o’clock in the morning on August 12th, 1958. Among the artists who showed up that morning were Thelonious Monk, Milt Hinton, Mary Lou Williams, and Lester Young. The picture represents the huge movement that jazz was in New York at that time, and it was a way to honor the whole world of jazz music.

One thing is sure: you can still feel the magic of jazz in Art Kane’s photograph. Harlem will always have the footsteps of the most significant jazz musicians marked in front of that building. Jazz music doesn’t have an expiration date, and at Yo Amo Barquisimeto we are sure that you’ll enjoy listening to this fascinating genre, so don’t hesitate and let yourself go with jazz sounds.


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