The New York Times has a great article today on the famed jazz events that occurred in W. Eugene Smith’s Manhattan Loft in the 1950s. Smith, one of the world’s most famous photographers who shared the space with an under-the-radar composer and pianist Hall Overton, wired the entire loft with an elaborate system of microphones and recorders, capturing some 3,000 hours of material from a robust jazz scene.
W. Eugene Smith and Hall Overton turned their space, located in the flower district, into one of the 1950s greatest Manhattan jazz clubhouses, brushing elbows and knocking keys with the likes of Thelonious Monk, who came to the space to jam, compose, and hopefully, collaborate on tunes. It was also the site where W. Eugene Smith ditched his Westchester-based family for a life in the city–he would perfect the photo essay form from that very loft, shooting some 20,000 frames out the window of the 4th floor. Their unique relationship spawned out of their experiences in war–Overton carried stretchers in WWII, Smith, arguably the most famous combat photographer.
Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies is now cataloging that some-odd 3,000 hours of tapes from Smith’s collection, an incredible feat and a truly intriguing project. Hire me? I know how to catalog. The project’s director, Sam Stephenson, has a brilliant book about the project coming out this fall, called “Rhythm of a Corner: W. Eugene Smith and a New York Jazz Loft 1957-1965″. The tapes explore the collaboration between Monk and Overton, who came from vastly different backgrounds but created this perfect experience of making music from those contrasting perspectives.
You can read even more about the Jazz Loft Project at Duke University, here. And of course, you must see the famous photographs by W. Eugene Smith, here.
So enjoy a bit of jazz from two of the genre’s great composers today, and hunker down to read this article. You won’t regret it. Plus, there’s a brilliant little podcast attached to the article, done by the author Sam Stephenson.