About the Holiday
We all know what joy photography brings. Whether you’re looking at professional fine art photos in a gallery or your own vacation pics, those film and digital images can make you see the world in a different way or just as you remember it. The oldest surviving photograph of nature dates back to 1827, when it took days for film to develop properly. Of course, today’s smart phones have changed forever the way we take photos, but the fun of capturing a moment in time will never go out of style.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
Written by Roxane Orgill | Illustrated by Francis Vallejo
In a marvelously conceived and unique book, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph tells the story of how the iconic photograph Harlem, 1958 came together. Through a series of poems, Roxane Orgill reveals the action when fifty-seven jazz musicians posed for Art Kane on an August afternoon in front of an ‘absolutely typical brownstone.’ Over the space of a day, Kane borrowed a camera, blocked off the street, and worked with the musicians who answered the call that went out to the local musicians’ union, recording studios, composers, nightclub owners, and others inviting “all jazz musicians: a photo shoot, no instruments required.”
The day’s beginning is captured in Early: Art Kane, photographer. Art Kane stands in the middle of the deserted street, wondering if his idea to capture The Golden Age of Jazz will become reality: “nobody here yet / it’s only nine / look right / where they come from the train / look left / where they exit a taxi…what if only four come / or five / ‘The Golden Age of Jazz’ / with five guys… / a crazy request / what if nobody shows… / a group from the train / Lester Young cigarette dangling / that funny squashed hat / man with an umbrella rolled tight… / guy in a striped tie / it’s happening.”
As the musicians begin to arrive, they talk and laugh among themselves, not listening to Art Kane as he tries to organize them into Some Kind of Formation. But Kane isn’t the only one with a camera today. In So Glad: Milt “Fump” Hinton, bassist and amateur photographer, Hinton is awed by the talent around him and “Glad I brought my Leica / And the Canon 35 / My little Keystone eight-millimeter too / Gave it to Mona, my wife / ‘Honey, just aim and press the button’” There’s “Chubby, Oscar, Wilbur…” then “Here come the big dogs / Coleman Monk Dizzy Roy / And the beauteous Marian McP… / They’re all here / For some magazine / Me I’m snapping pictures / Lots and lots of pictures / To remember / Later / Forever / So glad”
There are boys, too, sitting on the curb, getting into mischief as Hat: Alfred, a boy reveals: “Nice wool felt / Two-inch snap / Brim / Count’s too beat / to give chase / When / Nelson nabs / His bonnet / I’m / On it quick / Down the block / ‘Hand it over, Nelson, before I—’ / Buff the felt / Set the snap / Brim / ‘Your hat, Count Basie.’”
Even though The Invitation Said No Instruments, Rex Stewart, cornetist couldn’t help but bring his silver cornet. And once he saw it, Leroy couldn’t help but run up in his short pants and untied shoes to ask “‘Can I try?’ / Lips to mouthpiece / Nothing.” But Rex shows him how it’s done and all heads turn his way. “Leroy again / ‘Can I try?’ / Rex passed the cornet / ‘Make like you’re going to kiss a girl’ / Lips to mouthpiece / Squeak / (Leroy’s too young for girls) / Rex tucked his horn under his arm / The invitation said no instruments.”
Excitement mounts as everyone realizes She’s Here! Maxine Sullivan, singer who “snagged Your Hit Parade at twenty-six / ‘Loch Lomond’ put her on the high road… / got in with a good band / warbling on the radio / chantoosing in the clubs / all that was years ago” before she became a nurse and married and had a daughter. “but she’s here! / come to hang with the cats / reminding all us bass players / and pianists who kept time / on all her records, tours… / reminding us all / how much we miss her.”
People look out their windows at all the commotion as Eddie Locke strolls up and Thelonious Monk (late as usual) arrives in a taxi. Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, J. C. Heard and Gerry Mulligan make an unlikely quartet, and Willie “the Lion” Smith sits on the stoop holding onto his elephant-head cane. Finally, Art Kane calls out Some Kind of Formation, Please! “A plea so desperate / it’s melodic / shuffle / climb the stoop / fan out on the sidewalk / talk-laugh-roar / smoke-slap-turn / little by little / fifty-seven musicians form an upside-down T / underlined / by twelve boys / just happen to be sitting on the curb… / click / it has to be perfect / for Esquire / Dizzy sticks out his tongue.”
At last the copy of Esquire lands on newsstands, and Alfred pays for a copy with money he’s saved by missing “a month of matinees.” He thinks it was worth it, though, because “…jeez / I’m in a magazine.”
A fold-out page of the original photograph lets children and adults see the final product of the photo shoot. Children and adults will also have fun matching the portraits that accompany the poems to their real counterparts. Short biographies of each person in the photograph as well as an Author’s Note, an introduction, and further resources for study add to the comprehensive and loving treatment of its subject that Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph provides for readers.
Roxane Orgill recreates the syncopation of jazz and the exhilaration of the photo shoot in twenty poems that capture the sights, sounds, conversations, horseplay, and vibe of that special day that forever commemorated the Golden Age of Jazz. The smooth, cool lines of Orgill’s free verse poetry are a joy to read aloud. Full of personality, captivating details, history, and nostalgia, the poems reawaken the past for a new generation.
Working from the actual black-and-white photograph, Francis Vallejo vividly reimagines the scene on 126th Street as well-known and lesser-known jazz musicians came together to represent themselves and their art for Esquire magazine. Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations bring to life the surprise, camaraderie, and expressions of the men, women, and boys as they mingle, rest, and pass the time until the pose and lighting is right for the shot. As the book opens, readers get a bird’s-eye view of the street and quiet neighborhood, but as the musicians begin arriving the illustrations move in, allowing readers to rub shoulders with the greats of jazz.
For children (and adults) who love photography, jazz, biographies, history, and/or poetry, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is a marvelous choice for home libraries and is highly recommended for school and public libraries.
Ages 8 – 12 and up
Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-1536205633
Learn more about Roxane Orgill and her books on her website!
National Photography Month Activity
Spool Photo Holder
With this easy craft you can make a personalized photo holder for your favorite pictures of friends and family!
- Wooden spool with hole through the middle, top to bottom. (A spool without a hole also works if you make a hole in the top with a hammer and nail), 1 ½ -inch or larger, available at craft stores
- Colorful twine or light-gauge yarn, 3 to 4 yards
- Alternatively: you can buy a wooden spool of colorful twine at some discount stores
- 3 pieces of light-gauge wire 12 to 15-inches long
- Clay or play dough
- Needle-nose pliers
- Fill hole in spool with clay or play dough, pushing it well in to provide a base for the wire
- Wrap the twine or yarn around the spool to desired thickness
- Glue down the end of the twine to keep it from unraveling
- With the needle-nose pliers, roll down one end of the wire to create a small coil
- Repeat with two other lengths of wire
- Cut the three wires to different lengths to provide room for all three photographs
- Fit the three wires into the center hole on the top of the spool
- Push the wires into the clay until they are held securely
- Clip photographs into the coils
- Display your pictures!
Picture Book Review