A Great Day in Harlem (photograph)

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A Great Day in Harlem

A Great Day in Harlem or Harlem 1958 is a black-and-white photograph of 57 jazz musicians in Harlem, New York, taken by freelance photographer Art Kane for Esquire magazine on August 12, 1958.[1] The musicians gathered at 17 East 126th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenue. Esquire published the photo in its January 1959 issue.

Musicians in the photograph[edit]

Children in the picture[edit]

Count Basie, having grown tired of standing, sat down on the curb, and gradually a dozen children followed.[3] Most of the children were neighborhood residents, although the second child from the right, Taft Jordan, Jr., had accompanied his father, Taft Jordan, to the photo session.[3] The photography crew was already having trouble directing the adults, and the presence of the children added to the chaos: one of the children appearing in the window kept yelling at a sibling on the curb; another kept playing with Basie's hat; Taft Jordan, Jr. had been scuffling with the older child seated to his left.[3] Ultimately, Art Kane realized that any further attempt to organize the proceedings would be futile, and he decided to incorporate the subjects' actions.[3]

Musicians in other photographs[edit]

Willie "The Lion" Smith was sitting out of shot at the time the main picture used by Esquire was taken.[4] Ronnie Free, Mose Allison and Charlie Rouse turned up too late for the Esquire picture; Dizzy Gillespie took a photograph of them with Mary Lou Williams, Lester Young and Oscar Pettiford.[5][6]


Jean Bach, a radio producer of New York, recounted the story behind the photograph in her 1994 documentary film, A Great Day in Harlem. The film was nominated in 1995 for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Bach described how, upon the film's release, a number of similar photographs employed the "A Great Day in..." theme.[7] Hugh Hefner assembled Hollywood-area musicians for "A Great Day in Hollywood" in conjunction with a sneak preview of A Great Day in Harlem.[7] Soon after, "A Great Day in Philadelphia" included musicians such as Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson and Ray Bryant.[7] During the filming of Kansas City (1996), musicians including Jay McShann posed for "A Great Day in Kansas City".[7] A multi-page supplement in The Star-Ledger featured "A Great Day in Jersey", while a Dutch photograph was titled "A Great Day in Haarlem".[7] In 1998, "Great Day in St Paul" was taken by Byron Nelson.[8]

The trend spread to other styles of music, with Houston blues musicians posing for "A Great Day in Houston".[7] "A Great Day in Hip Hop" was followed by XXL's "The Greatest Day in Hip Hop".[7] An Atlanta radio station gathered musicians for "A Great Day in Doo-Wop".[7] A New York cellist, inspired by both the original photograph and the film, assembled chamber musicians for "A Great Day in New York".[7] The New York Post ran "A Great Day in Spanish Harlem".[7]

The photograph was a key plot point in Steven Spielberg's 2004 film The Terminal. The film starred Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, a character who comes to the United States in search of Benny Golson's autograph, with which he can complete his deceased father's collection of autographs from the musicians pictured in the photo. Golson himself made a cameo in the film.[9][10][11]


  • 1998: "A Great Day in Hip-Hop" — for this photograph by Gordon Parks, commissioned by XXL magazine, 177 hip-hop artists gathered on the stoop of number 17 as well as those of the buildings on either side.[12][13]
  • 2004: "A Great Day in London" — in an initiative inspired by Art Kane's photograph, 50 writers of Caribbean, Asian and African descent making a significant contribution to contemporary British literature gathered to be photographed on the steps of the British Museum in London.[14][15]
  • 2007: "A Great Day on Eldridge St." - inspired by Kane's photograph, Yale Strom corralled a score of leading klezmer musicians who gathered on the steps of the Eldridge St. Synagogue to commemorate the 30 years of the klezmer revival.[16]
  • 2008: "A Great Day in Paris" — more than 50 musicians from the US who were then residing in Paris, France, took part in a historic photo session.[17] The project was initiated by Ricky Ford, who has said: "2008 was the 50th anniversary of the photo "A Great Day in Harlem” that Art Kane had taken in 1958 of all those jazz musicians in Harlem. I thought it would be a good idea to do the same thing with the American jazz musicians that lived in France. It took a year to prepare. Musicians from all over France came. Philippe Lévy-Stab took a group photo on the steps of Montmartre and Michka Saäl started to work on a documentary film of those musicians."[18]
  • 2008: "A Great Day in Hoxton" — a photograph by Peter Williams, commissioned by Straight No Chaser magazine and featuring prominent music business faces such as Gilles Peterson and James Lavelle alongside designers, fashion professionals, writers, dancers and fellow photographers.[19]
  • 2013: "Een Grootse Dag in Kootwijk" - in the spirit of XXL's picture "A Great Day in Hiphop", Ghamte Schmidt and Andreas van de Laar gathered the Dutch Hiphopscene at the monumental Radio Kootwijk for a group portrait.
  • 2016: "A Great Day in Hackney" — in the spirit of Art Kane's photograph, British jazz musicians assembled to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Premises Studios in Hackney.[20]
  • 2018: "A Great Day in Hollywood" — 47 black writers, showrunners, actors, and producers from more than 20 Netflix original shows, films and documentaries came together to create "A Great Day in Hollywood".[21] Taken to promote Netflix's Strong Black Lead initiative, Netflix also released a minute long video directed by Lacey Duke and narrated by Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things).[22]


  1. ^ "Marian McPartland – A Great Day in Harlem". Clarehansson.com. Archived from the original on April 24, 2012. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
  2. ^ Allmusic Bill Crump biography
  3. ^ a b c d Bach, Jean (2005) [1994]. A Great Day in Harlem (DVD). Event occurs at 34:55.
  4. ^ @RollinsBridge (August 12, 2018). "A 58th musician not in the final photo, Willie 'The Lion' Smith (b. 1897), got tired of standing and left the group to sit on the stoop next door..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  5. ^ "the latecomers". A Great Day in Harlem.
  6. ^ @RollinsBridge (August 12, 2018). "Three more musicians - Ronny Free, Mose Allison, and Charlie Rouse - arrived too late to get in the photo; Dizzy Gillespie later took a photo of the latecomers with Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, and Oscar Pettiford..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jean Bach, Susan Peehl, and Matthew Seig (2005) [1994]. "The Copycat Photos". A Great Day in Harlem (DVD). Image Entertainment.
  8. ^ Andrea Canter, "Attention All Twin Cities Jazz Artists! “Great Day in St Paul” Photo Shoot May 22!", Jazz Police, May 9, 2016
  9. ^ At 90, jazz great Benny Golson returns to Minnesota: 'I feel maybe 45 or 50'
  10. ^ Lorne Graham, "A Great Day in Harlem/The Terminal", NEMC article.
  11. ^ "The Terminal - Jazz Scenes - Benny Golson and A Great Day in Harlem", YouTube
  12. ^ Michael A. Gonzales, "XXL's A Great Day in Hip Hop: 16 Years Later", Red Bull Music Academy Daily, September 29, 2014.
  13. ^ Sarah Goodyear, "Stoop Summit — How a Harlem brownstone was immortalized when the living legends of jazz assembled there for an iconic photograph" Archived August 12, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, New York Daily News, August 12, 2016.
  14. ^ Andrea Levy, "Made in Britain. To celebrate the impact of their different perspectives, 50 writers of Caribbean, Asian and African descent gathered to be photographed...", The Guardian, September 18, 2004.
  15. ^ Kevin Le Gendre, "Books: A great day for a family get together; Who are the movers and shakers in black British writing? And can they all fit on one staircase?", The Independent on Sunday, October 17, 2004.
  16. ^ "Great Day on Eldridge Street" The Forward, 17 October 2007
  17. ^ "A Great Day in Paris - Trailer" on YouTube
  18. ^ Mathieu Perez, "Ricky Ford: Five or Six Shades of Jazz" (interview), Jazz Hot #668, Summer 2014.
  19. ^ https://reports.mdp.fca.org.uk/jasperserver-pro/login.html[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ "NEWS: "Great Day in Hackney" Photo taken to celebrate 30 Years of Premises Studios", London Jazz News, October 18, 2016.
  21. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (June 25, 2018). "Netflix Unveils 'Great Day in Hollywood' Image Spot Highlighting Black Creators". Variety.
  22. ^ "A Great Day in Hollywood | Netflix". June 24, 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°48′25″N 73°56′27″W / 40.80694°N 73.94083°W / 40.80694; -73.94083