Jazz Loft Project
"This is gold as far as the history of the music goes. This is one of the missing pieces of the jazz puzzle.” -trombonist Roswell Rudd
The Jazz Loft Project, directed by Sam Stephenson at the Center for Documentary Studies in cooperation with CCP and the Smith estate, is devoted to preserving and cataloging the works of photographer W. Eugene Smith. From 1957 to 1965, Smith made approximately 4,000 hours of recordings on 1,740 reel-to-reel tapes and nearly 40,000 photographs in a loft building in Manhattan's wholesale flower district where major jazz musicians of the day gathered and played their music. The tapes have not been played since they were archived at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona, following Smith's death in 1978. Efforts to transfer Smith's original reels to digital sources yielded 5089 compact discs of recorded sound from the loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue, NYC. Jazz Loft Project Research Associate Dan Partridge completed cataloging these recordings in 2012 and they will be included as part of the Jazz Loft Project archive through the Jazz Archive at Duke University and the W. Eugene Smith collection at CCP.
The project is preserving and cataloging Smith's tapes, researching the photographs, and obtaining oral history interviews with all surviving loft participants. The transferred recordings reveal high sound quality and musical and cultural content, offering unusual documentation of an after-hours New York jazz scene. Smith wrote 139 names of jazz musicians on his partial, haphazard tape labels: famous stars like Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, Roland Kirk, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, and Lee Konitz, along with underground legends like drummer Ronnie Free, bassist Henry Grimes, drummer Edgar Bateman, multi-instrumentalist Eddie Listengart, and saxophonist Lin Halliday, as well as many unknowns. Research on the preserved tapes so far indicates that at least 300 different musicians are represented. Monk was recorded in private collaborations with Hall Overton, a loft resident, and full band rehearsals for now-famous concerts at Town Hall, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall in 1959, 1963, and 1964. As of summer 2010, nearly four hundred people have been interviewed as part of the project.
The tapes also contain many Smith obsessions and oddities, such as recorded street noise in the flower district, late-night radio talk shows, telephone calls, television and radio news programs, and many random loft dialogues among musicians, artists, and other Smith friends and associates. In addition to his photographs of the loft jazz sessions, Smith made thousands of photographs out of his fourth-floor window of life in the flower district. Smith’s tapes, photographs, and the oral histories of surviving loft participants provide a unique portrait of an intriguing place and time. The project culminated in late 2009 with a book, a radio series in collaboration with WNYC Radio in New York, and a traveling exhibition which opened at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in February 2010 and will move to the Chicago Cultural Center in July 2010, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in February 2011, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego May 2012, and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona through March 2013.
"This is gold as far as the history of the music goes. This is one of the missing pieces of the jazz puzzle."-trombonist Roswell Rudd