In 1958, Esquire magazine sent a young art director uptown to document, in a single photograph, what would become a historic, one-time-only gathering of jazz musicians on the steps of a Harlem brownstone. Rubbing shoulders that morning were music legends Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, and more than 50 others. This lively documentary tells the story of the shoot, interviews many of the participants, and features archival clips of their phenomenal stage work.
Why we love it
If a picture paints a thousand words, then a photo (at least this one) carries a thousand unforgettable tunes. And stories! Jean Bach cobbles humorous anecdotes from then-clueless shutterbug Art Kane and many of the people featured in this justifiably famous photo, like Gillespie and Horace Silver. They trade tales about a musician’s life at the time as well as the quirks of their beloved peers (like the elusive Monk, who dressed in a white suit and sunglasses so he could stand out). Delightful, too, are all the clips featuring lesser-known wonders like Maxine Sullivan, Red Allen, and many others. If you love jazz music and I-remember-when storytelling, then spend “A Great Day in Harlem.”