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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, written by Roxane Orgill and illustrated by Francis Vallejo. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $25.00 10 and up

"Hundred-and-twenty-six street
on a Tuesday morning
"Hi ya, Monk!"
"Fump, my man!"

camera guy's sweeping
jazzmen like bundles
toward number 17

they don't notice ... "

Poor Bret! The last time we had lunch together, I blathered on and on about a wonderful collection of poetry I had recently read. It was the story behind a famous photograph taken by Art Kane for a special issue of Esquire magazine that captured my interest and led to my sharing the story with him. The focus for that month's issue in 1958 was jazz.

To that end, as graphic designer, he thought he would invite American jazz greats to be a part of a photo to be taken and published. He would take the photo, although he had to borrow cameras to do it. He found just the right brownstone in Harlem, set a date and time, and counted on Local 802 of the musicians' union to get the word out. All jazz musicians were invited. Since there would be no music, instruments were not required.

Arriving at the site on Tuesday, August 12, 1958 for the 10 a.m. shoot, Mr. Kane found himself alone. Not too surprising as he was early. He waited with great trepidation in hopes that his plan would work! The street was blocked off, the timing would allow the best light. Would anyone come?

"nobody here yet
it's only nine
look right
where they come from the train
look left
where they exit a taxi
where to put them all
what if only four come
or five
"The Golden Age of Jazz"
with five guys
look left
look right
a crazy request"

The poems pay careful attention to the jazz greats who are there for the photo, their clothing, some of the neighborhood children, and lead to lining up for the picture taking before opening into a foldout spread of the photo itself. The final two poems are about Alfred, one of the young boys who gathered to check out the action and became a part of the group shot. He is gazing in awe at finding himself in a magazine;  and a poem in praise of Art Kane whose brilliance made it happen.

Included and most helpful is an introduction, an author's note which includes a guide to identify those who are in the photo, short bios about each of the jazz greats, a note about Harlem 1958, source notes, a bibliography of books, articles, audiovisual materials and websites. It is a terrific read, and is sure to find favor with jazz fans everywhere.

Francis Vallejo’s acrylic-and-pastel artwork captures the people, the setting, the diverse personalities,
as well as the drama and fellowship inherent in attempting such an amazing event. It is quite the incredible debut for this very talented artist. I will look forward to what he chooses to do next.

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