Monday, May 9, 2016

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo

By the late 1950s, jazz was as very popular and decidedly American art form, and so, in 1958, Esquire Magazine decided to do an article about it.  Graphic designer Art Kane got the job, but his innovative idea about how he wanted to do the article was different and risky.

Kane's idea was to invite as many jazz musicians as were willing to show up early in the morning on Tuesday, August 12, 1958 after a long night of playing in clubs and photograph them on the front stoop of a Harlem brownstone (17 East 126th Street, NYC, to be exact). Oddly enough, Kane was a big jazz fan, but he didn't even own a professional camera when he proposed his idea.  Esquire had put an open invitation out to members of the musician's union, Local 802, for anyone connected to jazz.  Would Kane's idea work?  Would anyone show up?  Kane was a wreck until musicians started to show up, 57 in all, and so did a bunch of neighborhood kids.

Jazz Day is a collection of 21 jazzy, free verse poems that describe the events of that iconic moment in the history of jazz.  Some of the poems describe the scene as the day unfolds on East 126th Street, the difficulty of getting so many musicians to listen to instructions when they are busy greeting each other - "they don't notice/too busy with how you been....musicians/don't hear/words of instruction/only music"

Musicians can be q quirky bunch and Roxane Orgill has really captured that trait.  There is a poem detailing how some of the great jazz musicians got their nicknames, including Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday called Lady Day by Lester Young, who was called Pres, considered to be President of the Tenor Saxophone.  One of my favorites is "How to Make a Porkpie Hat" about Lester Young's iconic hat. And there is "Late" about Thelonious Monk, late because he had spent so much time picking out what to wear.  This was followed by a fun Alphabet poem listing what musician were wearing.

Orgill also gives voice to some of the kids who were there for the day - a young girl sitting at her front window twirling a lock of hair, watching and wishing she could be down there, too, waiting for it all to be over so she can go out and play.  Then, there are the 12 boys sitting on the curb next to Count Basie, jostling each other, thrilled to be in the presence of such a great musician.

The 1950s was the golden age of jazz and that is just what the Esquire article called their article.  In the end, it is the photograph that has lived on.  The book includes a two page spread of the photograph that was finally used,  and a praise poem for the cool, calm Art Kane for letting the chaos of the day determine his photograph.

Francis Vellejo's has painted his own jazz composition with his acrylic and pastel illustrations that perfectly capture the chaos, the excitement, the confusion, the grandeur of the musicians, in fact, all the events of the day.  Be sure to take a close look at all of them to discover some wonderful details.

This is a wonderfully imaginative poetic homage to these great jazz musicians, some of it based on fact, some come from imagination, all come from a clear love of jazz.  Back matter included Biographies of the individuals named in the poems, sources beyond the Esquire article, Source Notes, a Bibliography, Articles, Audiovisual Material and Websites for further reading and investigation.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Art Kane's Photo - The Golden Age of Jazz


  1. Wow, that looks like a cool book! And I love the photo. :D My husband is a jazz fan and he'd never seen the photo (till I just showed him). Thanks for posting about this! Mind if I link to this review from my own recent post about books about jazz?

  2. oh sorry, I forgot to link the post. there now you can check it out and let me know if a link would be ok. :)

  3. This sounds fascinating! Thanks for sharing at #diversekidlit!

  4. Wow, what an amazing story - and what a precious photograph now! I like the idea of it being retold in free verse. Thanks for sharing at #diversekidlit


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