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The Jazz Loft Project

The Jazz Loft Project

From 1954 to 1965, there was a very special place for Jazz in New York City. It was the Jazz Loft at 821 Sixth Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets.

Inside the loft
Inside the loft (Monk and orchestra rehearsing for the Town Hall concert [arranger Hall Overton is standing by the door], ).

book
Above is the cover for the book which came out of the Jazz Loft Project of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

The loft was the brain child of W. Eugene Smith, an award winning photographer for Life Magazine
Smith
W Eugene Smith

I cannot possibly tell the story here. My hope is that readers – especially Jazz lovers – will be motivated to drill deeper and and learn about this extraordinary place and what happened here.
Sam Stephenson, the director of the project, was apparently exploring the archives of Smith’s photography (40,000 pictures) when he came upon boxes and boxes containing reels and reels (1740) of audio tape. Smith and others had gotten some pianos up into this space in the Flower District in Manhattan. Smith wired the place with all sorts of tape recorders and audio systems. For literally years, he recorded everything and anything that happened in the loft. The Flower District is a commercial hub that goes empty in the early afternoon. The commercial interests do not open up again until about 4:00AM.

So, for over 12 hours a day the loudest music around would be heard by no one except the players. No one would call the cops.

Probably the single most important Jazz event spawned in the loft was Thelonious Monk’s 1959 Town Hall concert (picture of rehearsal above). All of the orchestration and arrangements for the concert were done at the loft. Monk had the help of one Hall Overton, a member of the (Classical) faculty at The Juilliard School by day and a Jazz guy at night.This concert was recently re-created. NPR tells us
“…Fifty years later, nearly to the day, trumpeter Charles Tolliver presented an evening-length re-creation of Monk’s Town Hall concert, with new note-for-note scoring of the big-band portion, as well as arrangements of the little-known quartet show which opened the night’s program. Tolliver had obviously studied Monk’s music intently, leading a precise performance which replicated the layered beauty and driving swing of the original — even down to the encore of “Little Rootie Tootie,” played at a faster tempo than the version which appeared in the body of the concert, just like in Monk’s show…..”

You can hear the re-created concert any time. At least for now.

Overton
Hall Overton

The list of musicians who frequested the loft – some actually lived there – is a veritable who’s who of the Jazz world. The paper cover of the book notes CHarlie Mingus, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Alice Coltrane and others. Photographers who knew Smith would show up: like Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

However, we are fortunate that WNYC produced a ten part radio documentary, The Jazz Loft Radio Project under the guidance of Sara Fishko.

Sara

Please: take a look and then take a listen. What a great testament to a place and its people.

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