“A Great Day In Harlem” Revisited In Montclair

Posted by D.A. Gutierrez in Commentary, History, News

June 7th, 2010   Comments Off on “A Great Day In Harlem” Revisited In Montclair

“A Great Day In Harlem” by Art Kane, 1958

In the 2004 Tom Hanks film, The Terminal, Hanks’¬†character comes to the US in the hopes of acquiring saxophonist Benny Golson’s autograph, thereby completing a quest started by his late father. Golson’s signature would be the final one in a collection comprising the 57 jazz musicians who appeared in the iconic photograph “A Great Day In Harlem” taken by photographer Art Kane in the summer of 1958.

Fast forward 52 years: present-day Montclair, NJ.

In commemoration of May 19, 2010 as “Arts Day In Montclair“, and in tribute to Kane’s famous image, 101 artists living and working in the township were assembled for “The Big Picture,” a photo-op organized by the Montclair Arts Council and taken by Montclair photographer Andy Foster.

A proclamation read by Montclair’s Councilman Nick Lewis recognized “the many contributions that Montclair artists and those employed in the creative economy have made to the world and to Montclair in particular.” The full size photograph can be found on the Baristanet website.

“The Big Picture” commemorating “Arts Day In Montclair” and tipping the hat to Art Kane’s “A Great Day In Harlem”

If you’re one for trivia, you’ll be interested to know that my high school orchestra teacher, Janet Lemansky, is in the bottom left-hand corner here. She’s the one in the striped frock pretending to bow the cello string bass. (UPDATE: Ms. Lemansky got a hold of me through email and questioned if all my years of orchestra had been for naught. I had mislabeled the string bass as a cello!)

In writing this post, I came across a great deal of history related to the “Great Day” photograph. If you’re interested in reading more about it, start with these resources:

  • The Wikipedia entry for “A Great Day In Harlem” gives a good general history of the photograph.
  • The Harlem.org website has pages listing all the musicians in the photo, breaking them down by both instrument and jazz style. Wow!
  • A large version of the famous photo allows you to zoom in and view all the faces in great detail.
  • “A Great Day In Harlem” is a 1994 documentary recounting the story behind the photo, a clip of which can be seen below.
  • A-Great-Day-In-Harlem.com is a¬†website for the aforementioned film, featuring a picture that will identify each musician as you hover your mouse pointer over the faces. You even get their bio if you click.

UPDATE: As of the publication of this blog post (June 7, 2010), we had four participants (Sonny Rollins, Marian McPartland, Horace Silver and Benny Golson) from this photo still alive and with us. On August 20, 2013 we lost the inimitable Marian McPartland and on June 18, 2014, we lost iconic pianist Horace Silver.

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