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20 November 2016 JAZZ DAY: THE MAKING OF A FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPH by Roxane Orgill and Francis Vallejo, ill., Candlewick, March 2016, 66p., ISBN: 978-0-7636-6954-6



Thelonious Monk, pianist


The man from the record company hired a taxi

To pick up Thelonious Sphere Monk

Who had a regular gig with a quartet

At the Five Spot in Cooper Square

Turned them away

Night after night


Monk was always late

For work at the Five Spot

Straight to the piano

To play a melody

His quartet could not follow

Did a dance during Johnny Griffin’s solo

Or went for a stroll through the club

Six nights a week Mondays off


Ten in the morning was unspeakably early

For Thelonious Sphere Monk

Who was always


Taxi waited outside his building

On West Sixty-Third

Meter running

An hour and more

While Monk tried on jackets

To complete the perfect outfit

Emerging at last in pale-yellow linen

Skinny tie, dark slacks, porkpie hat

And the inevitable bamboo-frame sunglasses

The ones he always wore to play



JAZZ DAY is a toe-tapping nonfiction picture book for older readers. It’s a poetic look back at a long-ago day on a street in Harlem when a famous photograph came into being.


What classical music is to others, jazz is to me. The other day while driving up the freeway, I was listening to Jazz91, KCSM from the College of San Mateo, when “Blue Monk” came on. The song is a year older than me.


I wish that I were still so fresh and engaging.


After reading JAZZ DAY, with the melody of “Blue Monk” still on my mind, I retrieved a list of the top popular songs from that same year, 1954, opened YouTube, and began playing those sixty-two year-old “popular” songs. To tell you the truth, I didn’t get very far. One after another, the songs were incredibly dated. But that’s not the case with the jazz that came out of 1954 or the rest of the Fifties.


In 1958, with growing mainstream interest in jazz, jazz buff and graphic designer Art Kane imagined photographing a crowd of jazz musicians in front of an “absolutely typical brownstone” in Harlem. He successfully pitched the idea to Esquire magazine for its forthcoming issue on American jazz. JAZZ DAY is the story, told in poems, about the musicians who showed up that day for the iconic photograph and the neighborhood kids who happened to be there too.


Given that this was a 10 a.m. unpaid gig, Art Kane couldn’t predict who would show up. The fifty-seven musicians who ended up being photographed include both the well-known and the relatively anonymous. This was an amazing era for jazz, and so many of my own favorites such Jackie McLean, Sonny Stitt, Ella Fitzgerald, and the members of the Miles Davis quartet who would shortly thereafter record “Kind of Blue” are missing from the photo.


Illustrator Francis Vallejo does a stellar job of capturing the personalities of the musicians and the neighborhood children who were also immortalized in the photograph. Readers who examine the illustrations will be rewarded with glimpses of the attire and automobiles of that era.


The author employs a variety of poetic forms to tell the story. I love the way that contemporary popular black culture is seamlessly woven into poems like “How to Make a Porkpie Hat, Lester ‘Pres’ Young, tenor saxophonist.” The author also provides detailed front- and back-matter explaining the history of the photograph and the musicians in it.


You can’t read a book like this without musical accompaniment. One of the musicians photographed was Art Blakey. Here’s a taste of his band in 1958, which includes a 20-year-old Lee Morgan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M57Qr4rtrRg



Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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