It's several things. First of all, it's the name given to an August 1958 photograph, a group photo of 57 musicians, who were assembled at 10 AM (past their bedtimes!) one day in front of a Harlem brownstone. It was a naïve, grasping-at-straws idea, for a special all-jazz January 1959 issue of Esquire magazine. The shot was conceived and done by rookie Art Kane, who, at the time, was transitioning from a successful career as a magazine art director into the uncharted waters of freelance photography. (Kane would later become a greater success as a rock and fashion photographer -- his sleeping-with-the-Union-Jack photo of The Who, used for the Kids Are Alright rockumentary and soundtrack cover might be the Kane most people can readily remember nowadays).

Second: it's the fun, funny 1994 documentary about the making of the photo; director Jean Bach -- who had become a filmmaker at the age of 70, just a few years before this project -- won a 1995 Academy Award for the film, which intersperses Bach's interviews with some of the participants (musicians, photographers, neighborhood kids, behind-the-scenes folks like writer Nat Hentoff) with footage from the CBS TV special of roughly the same (1958) vintage and concept, The Sound of Jazz, and "alternate takes" of the group photo and home movies of the event shot with bassist Milt Hinton's camera. (Hinton would have a second career, later in life, as a photographer). Additional footage from the interviews was made into a short film, The Spitball Story, documenting an apocryphal incident in Cab Calloway's big band, featuring a young prankster named Dizzy Gillespie.

Third: a website (harlem.org), an adjunct to the artkane.com site set up by the Kane estate after Art's 1995 death.


They were...
Henry "Red" Allen
Buster Bailey
Count Basie
Emmett Berry
Art Blakey
Lawrence Brown
Scoville Browne
Buck Clayton
Bill Crump
Vic Dickenson
Roy Eldridge
Art Farmer
Bud Freeman
Dizzy Gillespie
Tyree Glenn
Benny Golson
Sonny Greer
Johnny Griffin
Gigi Gryce
Coleman Hawkins
J.C. Heard
J.C. Higginbotham
Milt Hinton
Chubby Jackson
Hilton Jefferson
Osie Johnson
Hank Jones
Jimmy Jones
Jo Jones
Taft Jordan
Max Kaminsky
Gene Krupa
Eddie Locke
Marian McPartland
Charles Mingus
Miff Mole
Thelonious Monk
Gerry Mulligan
Oscar Pettiford
Rudy Powell
Luckey Roberts
Sonny Rollins
Jimmy Rushing
Pee Wee Russell
Sahib Shihab
Horace Silver
Zutty Singleton
Stuff Smith
Rex Stewart
Maxine Sullivan
Joe Thomas
Wilbur Ware
Dickie Wells
George Wettling
Ernie Wilkins
Mary Lou Williams
Lester Young

It was a one-of-a-kind moment, both because of the ungodly hour, and because it randomly (for this was a somewhat quick, haphazard undertaking) brought together several generations and schools of jazz musicians, from early-20th Century contemporaries of Louis Armstrong and James P. Johnson, to swing-era legends like Basie, Young, Krupa, and Papa Jo Jones, to bopventors Monk and Gillespie, to young stars like Blakey, Silver, Mulligan, and Rollins. The old-friends-hanging-out atmosphere must have made the work of getting The Shot that much more difficult, and that much more fun.


In 1998, someone came up with the idea of "Another Great Day in Harlem", hip-hop stylee (a.k.a. A Great Day in Hip Hop, the title of its documentary), with Gordon Parks in charge. The original stoop at 17 East 126th Street overflowed into the fronts of the neighboring buildings with an assembled who's-who numbering over 200. A year later, there was "A Day in the West", a west coast version (I wonder how they managed to transport that block of 126th Street, brick by proverbial brick, over to Los Angeles). Someone else will fill you in on all this -- it's past my bedtime.

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