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A Great day in Harlem

Director: Jean Bach


A Great Day in Harlem is an enthraling documentary that brings to life a unique moment in the history of jazz. On a summer’s morning in 1958, a young photographer paced in front of brownstone in Harlem. He has spread word thaat he hoped to take a picture for a special edition of Esquire magazine commemorating the golden age of jazz. Yet it was ten in the morning, long before most jazz players were up, and a meagre tunout was feared. To everyone’s surprise, scores of musicians asembled to create what is now a world famous photograph of America’s jazz legends.
Lester Young, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Count Basie and Buck Clayton were among those present. Little realising the consequence of his foresight that day, bass player Milt Hinton brought along his home movie camera, thus providing the magical colour footage around which producer Jean Bach has created this lovely documentary illuminating an unprecedented jazz event. Interviews with photographer Art Kane and then art director of Esquire Robert Benson (yes, he of Bonnie and Clyde and Nobody’s Fool) tell the story of this remarkable day’s shoot with amusing contribution from some of the musicians who wre there, including Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Bud Freeman and Max Keminsky. The interviews are intercut with carefully selected jazz performance footage which keeps the film swinging along at an invigorating pace.

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