"A Great Day in Harlem" - 57 Jazz Icons in One Shot

People immediately fell in love with this picture, and over the years its influence grew ... As Kane himself said in one of his interviews: “It really lives its own life!”

How the Big Day in Harlem Shot Was Made - History and Little-Known Facts

"Great Day in Harlem", or "Harlem 1958" - this is the name given to black and white photography 57 jazz musiciansmade in Harlem, New York, photographer Art Kane in August 1958 of the year! Great jazz masters, including Lester Young and Charles Mingus, were captured between Fifth and Madison Avenues ... As a result, this picture was included in the January issue Esquire (1959). As for Kane, the idea of capturing as many of the luminaries of the New York jazz scene together as possible launched his successful career as a photographer! So, 58 jazzmen duly gathered in Harlem, and their pictures became part of the musical history... Let's talk about how many musicians actually gathered that day, as well as about the influence of the picture...


"Great Day in Harlem", or "Harlem 1958"
"Great Day in Harlem", or "Harlem 1958"

So, August 12, 1958 in Harlem a remarkable photograph was taken ... The black and white photograph now known as "Great Day in Harlem" photographer Art Kane, has become an iconic imprint of this moment in time, surviving to this day! The musicians gathered at the house number 17 on 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues. In the picture we can see Lester Young, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Roy Eldridge, charming Maxine Sullivan and others...

Art Kane
Art Kane

In the second half 1950s New York was famous for its huge number of nightclubs, within the walls of which the best jazz icons played ... Today, decades later, their music continues to live and inspire both listeners and fans, as well as generations of young musicians ... And, fortunately, now we have pictures in which captured the historical moment of that era, the moment when dozens of jazz giants gathered in one frame!

Scene during filming

Left to right: Joe Jones, Eddie Locke and Jimmy Rushing
Left to right: Joe Jones, Eddie Locke and Jimmy Rushing

The iconic photo shoot took place on a hot summer day in New York ... Just a beginner photographer then Art Kane was quite worried: he nervously walked around the neighborhood of Harlem, looking for the most suitable place for photography ... Kane was full of hope to get a first-class shot for Esquire! And, in fact, he did it ... Art Kane was a young artistic director in 1958 the year he presented the idea to the magazine Esquire Magazine for its release "Golden Age of Jazz".

“The idea was to bring as many great people together as possible in one shot,” Kane said.

"Great Day in Harlem", one of the shots from that day
"Great Day in Harlem", one of the shots from that day

In fact, this is the day my career began. Art Kane as a photographer… Beginning at ten in the morning, jazz musicians slowly pulled themselves up to their destination. Kane was very afraid that the turnout would be low ... But contrary to his fears, almost 60 jazz giants of that era gathered on the spot! It was already half the success! However, on that day, the young photographer also had to face some distractions…

"A Great Day in Harlem", from the Art Kane Archives
"A Great Day in Harlem", from the Art Kane Archives

At some point. Count Basie tired of standing, and sat down on the sidewalk. Instantly, a dozen children followed him! Many of them lived in Harlem, with the exception of Taft Jordan Jr.who accompanied his father to the photo shoot. One way or another, the presence of children added to the chaos: they screamed, made noise, molested idols and simply could not sit in one place! Ultimately Art Kane I realized that in order to take a high-quality picture, you will have to take into account the actions of not only musicians ...

“There was no money, no stylists, no effects, and so on… In fact, we had almost 60 brilliant artists who came here out of love for their work!” Kane recalled.

Left to right: Roy Eldridge, Gene Krupa and Rex Stewart. Art Kane Archive
Left to right: Roy Eldridge, Gene Krupa and Rex Stewart. Art Kane Archive

Some of the shots show how Art Kane – trying to capture the big picture – was distracted that day by, for example, horses and wagons passing by, street vendors, children on the side of the road, and the musicians themselves, who were happy to see each other!

Lucky Roberts (left) and Willie Smith, who didn't make the final photo
Lucky Roberts (left) and Willie Smith, who didn't make the final photo

Yes, pianist Willie Smith was out of frame when the principal photography for Esquire was taken; but Ronnie Free, Mose Allison and Charlie Rose arrived too late...

"A Great Day in Harlem" by Art Kane
"A Great Day in Harlem" by Art Kane

The picture was published in the January issue Esquire 1959 of the year. It was a truly magnificent shot, which, later, will become a symbol of the heyday of jazz ...

Shot influence

People immediately fell in love with this picture, and over the years its influence grew ... As Kane himself said in one of his interviews: “He really lives his own life!” Yes, in 1994 documentary was released Gina Bahatelling the story of this amazing photo and photoshoot in general…

Memories of Benny Golson

Benny Golson
Benny Golson

Participated in a photo shoot that day Benny Golson - one of the greatest tenor saxophonists, composer and arranger!

“I remember how it was like it was just yesterday…” Golson recalled of that day. "I remember all about it..."

Golson just moved to New York to join the band Dizzy Gillespiewhen he was invited to a photo shoot at 17 East 126th Street. He didn't know what was in store for him. He was stunned...

“All my idols… And me. I say to myself, "What am I doing here?" No one knew the hell who Benny Golson was…”

"Great Day in Harlem", one beautiful shot...
"Great Day in Harlem", one beautiful shot...

Golson described the picture as "the best of the best in the history of jazz!" But on that day, he had no idea how big and meaningful this photo shoot would become ...

“When the magazine came out, of course I bought it,” Golson said. “I looked at the photo and I said: “God, this is a great photo!” And, like all magazines, I left it with me for a while, after which I finally threw it in the trash can ... "

"Great Day in Harlem", or "Harlem 1958"
"Great Day in Harlem", or "Harlem 1958"

Subsequently Golson became a successful composer and arranger! His biography saw many victories and falls, titles and awards, but ... nothing was like the morning he spent on the threshold of Harlem.


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