HISTORY IN THE MAKING The January 1959 issue of Esquire in which Art Kane’s photo originally appeared…Sarah Goodyear wrote this fascinating back story published in the Daily News on August 12th, 2016 about how this photograph actually came into existence.
A Great Day in Harlem is a 1958 black and white group portrait of 57 notable jazz musicians photographed in front of a brownstone in Harlem, New York City. The photo has remained an important object in the study of the history of jazz.
Art Kane, a freelance photographer working for Esquire magazine, took the picture around 10 a.m. on August 12 in the summer of 1958. The musicians had gathered at 17 East 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues in Harlem. Esquire published the photo in its January 1959 issue. Kane calls it “the greatest picture of that era of musicians ever taken.”
As of October 2017, only two of the 57 musicians who participated are still living (Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins).
Here is an extract from Sarah Goodyear’s article which is part of a recurring series on iconic scenes from the city’s storied culture…
Interactive Daily News: – The year was 1999, and Noella Cotto was just looking for a place in Harlem to call her own. When she finally found the perfect place — a brownstone, in decent shape, at 17 E. 126th Street — she had no idea that the building had played a historic supporting role in American pop culture when, in 1958, 57 of the coolest cats in jazz assembled there to have their picture taken for a special issue of Esquire magazine. Cotto, who worked as a postal cop at the time, was unaware that the famous photo, titled “Harlem 1958,” was ubiquitous around the neighborhood, or that a generation of folks who’d grown up in the so-called Cultural Capital of Black America had seen the image so often, hanging in barber shops and bodegas, that they’d long since forgotten about it themselves. Nor did she realize that the photo had gotten another close-up only five years earlier in an Oscar-nominated documentary, “A Great Day in Harlem.” Read the full article with interactive photo here…
Photo: “A Great Day in Harlem”, © 1958 Art Kane. All Rights Reserved
Last modified: July 15, 2018