“A Great Day in Harlem,” Art Kane’s Iconic Photo of 57 Jazz Legends (with a Detailed Listing of Who Appears in the Photo)

Image by Art Kane, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Six­ty years ago, Art Kane assem­bled one of the largest groups of jazz greats in his­to­ry. No, it wasn’t an all-star big band, but a meet­ing of vet­er­an leg­ends and young upstarts for the icon­ic pho­to­graph known as “A Great Day in Harlem.” Fifty-sev­en musi­cians gath­ered out­side a brown­stone at 17 East 126th St.—accompanied by twelve neigh­bor­hood kids—from “big rollers,” notes Jazz­wise mag­a­zine, like “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.”

Son­ny Rollins was there, one of only two musi­cians in the pho­to still alive. The oth­er, Ben­ny Gol­son, who turns 90 next year, remem­bers get­ting a call from Vil­lage Voice crit­ic Nat Hentoff, telling him to get over there. Gol­son lived in the same build­ing as Quin­cy Jones, “but some­how he wasn’t called or he didn’t make it.”

Oth­er peo­ple who might have been in the pho­to­graph but weren’t, Gol­son says, because they were work­ing (and the 10 a.m. call time was a stretch for a work­ing musi­cian): “John Coltrane, Miles, Duke Elling­ton, Woody Her­man.” And Bud­dy Rich, whom Gol­son calls the “great­est drum­mer I ever heard in my life” (adding, “but his per­son­al­i­ty was hor­ri­ble.”)

The next year, every­thing changed—or so the sto­ry goes—when rev­o­lu­tion­ary albums hit the scene from the likes of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Cole­man, and Charles Min­gus. These records pushed exper­i­men­tal forms, leav­ing behind the con­fines of both swing and bebop. But Kane’s jazz class pho­to shows us, Matthew Kessel writes at Vul­ture, “a por­trait of har­mo­ny, old and new guard alike peace­ably inter­min­gling. The pho­to sug­gests that jazz is as much about con­ti­nu­ity and tra­di­tion as it is about rad­i­cal change.” The pho­to has since become a tra­di­tion itself, hang­ing on the walls of thou­sands of homes, book­shops, record stores, bar­ber­shops, and restau­rants. (Get your copy here.)

Orig­i­nal­ly titled “Harlem 1958,”  Kane’s image has inspired some notable homages in black cul­ture. In 1998, XXL mag­a­zine tapped Gor­don Parks to shoot “A Great Day in Hip Hop” for a now-his­toric cov­er. And this past sum­mer, Net­flix gath­ered 47 black cre­atives behind more than 20 orig­i­nal Net­flix shows for the redux “A Great Day in Hol­ly­wood.” The pho­to also inspired a doc­u­men­tary of the same title in 1994 (at whose web­site you can click on each musi­cian for a short bio). At the Dai­ly News, Sarah Goodyear tells the sto­ry of how Kane con­ceived and exe­cut­ed the ambi­tious project for a spe­cial jazz edi­tion of Esquire.

It was his “first pro­fes­sion­al shoot­ing assign­ment and, with it, he end­ed up mak­ing his­to­ry by almost by acci­dent.” Goodyear quotes Kane’s son Jonathan, him­self a New York musi­cian, who remarks, “cer­tain things end up being big­ger than the orig­i­nal inten­tion. The pho­to­graph has become part of our cul­tur­al fab­ric.” For long­time res­i­dents of Harlem, the so-called Cap­i­tal of Black Amer­i­ca, and a spir­i­tu­al home of jazz, it’s just like an old fam­i­ly por­trait. See a ful­ly anno­tat­ed ver­sion of “A Great Day in Harlem” at Harlem.org, and at the Dai­ly News, an inter­ac­tive ver­sion with links to YouTube record­ings and per­for­mances from every one of the 57 musi­cians in the pic­ture.

This month, to com­mem­o­rate the 60th anniver­sary of the pho­to, Wall of Sound Gallery will pub­lish the book Art Kane: Harlem 1958, a ret­ro­spec­tive with out­takes from the pho­to ses­sion and text from Quin­cy Jones, Ben­ny Gol­son, Jonathan Kane, and Art him­self. “The impor­tance of this pho­to tran­scends time and loca­tion,” writes Jones in his for­ward, “leav­ing it to become not only a sym­bol­ic piece of art, but a piece of his­to­ry. Dur­ing a time in which seg­re­ga­tion was very much still a part of our every­day lives, and in a world that often point­ed out our dif­fer­ences instead of cel­e­brat­ing our sim­i­lar­i­ties, there was some­thing so spe­cial and pure about gath­er­ing 57 indi­vid­u­als togeth­er, in the name of jazz.”

  1. Hilton Jef­fer­son (1903–1968)
  2. Ben­ny Gol­son (1929-)
  3. Art Farmer (1928–2003)
  4. Wilbur Ware (1923–1979)
  5. Art Blakey (1919–1990)
  6. Chub­by Jack­son (1918–2003)
  7. John­ny Grif­fin (1928–2008)
  8. Dick­ie Wells (1909–1985)
  9. Buck Clay­ton (1911–1993)
  10. Taft Jor­dan (1915–1981)
  11. Zut­ty Sin­gle­ton (1898–1975)
  12. Hen­ry “Red” Allen (1908–1967)
  13. Tyree Glenn (1912–1972)
  14. Miff Mole (1898–1961)
  15. Son­ny Greer (1903–1982)
  16. J.C. Hig­gin­both­am (1906–1973)
  17. Jim­my Jones (1918–1982)
  18. Charles Min­gus (1922–1979)
  19. Jo Jones (1911–1985)
  20. Gene Kru­pa (1909–1973)
  21. Max Kamin­sky (1908–1994)
  22. George Wet­tling (1907–1968)
  23. Bud Free­man (1906–1988)
  24. Pee Wee Rus­sell (1906–1969)
  25. Ernie Wilkins (1922–1999)
  26. Buster Bai­ley (1902–1967)
  27. Osie John­son (1923–1968)
  28. Gigi Gryce (1927–1983)
  29. Hank Jones (1918–2010)
  30. Eddie Locke (1930–2009)
  31. Horace Sil­ver (1928–2014)
  32. Luck­ey Roberts (1887–1968)
  33. Max­ine Sul­li­van (1911–1987)
  34. Jim­my Rush­ing (1902–1972)
  35. Joes Thomas (1909–1984)
  36. Scov­ille Browne (1915–1994)
  37. Stuff Smith (1909–1967)
  38. Bill Crump (1919–1980s)
  39. Cole­man Hawkins (1904–1969)
  40. Rudy Pow­ell (1907–1976)
  41. Oscar Pet­ti­ford (1922–1960)
  42. Sahib Shi­hab (1925–1993)
  43. Mar­i­an McPart­land (1920–2013)
  44. Son­ny Rollins (1929-)
  45. Lawrence Brown (1905–1988)
  46. Mary Lou Williams (1910–1981)
  47. Emmett Berry (1915–1993)
  48. Thelo­nious Monk (1917–1982)
  49. Vic Dick­en­son (1906–1984)
  50. Milt Hin­ton (1910–2000)
  51. Lester “Pres” Young (1909–1959)
  52. Rex Stew­art (1907–1972)
  53. J.C. Heard (1917–1988)
  54. Ger­ry Mul­li­gan (1927–1995)
  55. Roy Eldridge (1911–1989)
  56. Dizzy Gille­spie (1917–1993)
  57. William “Count” Basie (1904–1984)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1959: The Year That Changed Jazz

The Cry of Jazz: 1958’s High­ly Con­tro­ver­sial Film on Jazz & Race in Amer­i­ca (With Music by Sun Ra)

Hear 2,000 Record­ings of the Most Essen­tial Jazz Songs: A Huge Playlist for Your Jazz Edu­ca­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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