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A Great Day in Harlem: The Spirit Lives - 50 Years On

Ian Patterson By

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"He taught me a lot about playing with people. I learned how to play with people. A lot of young guys today, they can play all that stuff, but they're not playing with people—for them it's all about technique. That's what I liked about Jo Jones, he didn't think that way—he was into swinging! (laughs) They never had another rhythm section like the one in Count Basie's orchestra.

"But at that time, all the people in that picture, man, they were big names in jazz, there were really a lot of innovators in that picture, they started stuff in jazz. You had all those drummers sitting up there like Sonny Greer and Gene Krupa, George Wettling, you know what I'm saying? Art Blakey..."

Locke touches upon one of the most amazing aspects of this photograph. Neither before nor since have so many innovators in jazz, and so many different schools of jazz, been brought together at one time—unless, as Dizzy Gillespie famously quipped, it was for a funeral.

Roy Eldridge turns to look at Dizzy Gillespie

Other great trumpeters were also present. Henry "Red" Allen played with King Oliver in the 1920s, and won the praise of traditionalists and modernists alike (including Miles Davis) for his powerful, original playing. There too was the swinging Roy Eldridge—a major influence on Dizzy Gillespie—who played in Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, and Gene Krupa's band, as well as forging a long association with Coleman Hawkins. In Kane's picture, Eldridge is looking away from the camera, distracted by the mischievous and inimitable Dizzy Gillespie, one of the founding fathers of bop. And there was Art Farmer, who pipped everybody to the Down Beat trumpeter of the year award in 1958.

Of saxophonists there were the kings of the tenor. Hawkins, who really brought the saxophone to the forefront of jazz, and Lester Young who bridged swing and bop in the most lyrical of styles, influencing legions of budding tenorists. There was Benny Golson still active today, and Sonny Rollins who, Coltrane apart, has probably influenced more tenor saxophonists than anyone. There was Gerry Mulligan baritone sax legend and leader of innovative piano-less quartets.

There were great bass players: Chubby Jackson, who played with Woody Herman for many years; Milt Hilton, who played in the bands of Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman; the innovative Oscar Pettiford; and the creative and volatile Charles Mingus

There were great clarinettists like Buster Bailey; Rudy Powell, who played with (pianist) Fats Waller and Pee Wee Russell, who played with Bix Beiderbecke Trombonists included Miff Mole, Ellington men Lawrence Brown and Tyree Glen, the talented but little known Vic Dickenson and the prolific J.C. Higgenbottom. There were great arrangers too, such as Mary Lou Williams, and Ernie Wilkins whose arrangements breathed such life into Count Basie's bands in the 1950s, and whose big band keeps his own legacy alive in 2009 in Copenhagen. And there was the outstanding, swinging, violinist Stuff Smith.

Missing: Willie "The Lion" Smith
Pianists were represented by the evergreen Hank Jones the one and only Thelonious Monk Count Basie, and one of the great hard bop pioneers, Horace Silver Then there were great stride players like Luckey Roberts and Willie "The Lion" Smith. The charismatic Smith turned up alright for the photo shoot, and appears in many of Kane's alternate shots, but he's not in the shot which would come to grace walls around the world.

Like Count Basie, who had tired of standing and had opted to sit down on the curb, where he was soon joined by a row of kids, Smith sat on the steps of an adjoining brownstone and missed the click of the shutter. His absent form is clearly framed between Luckey Roberts and Maxine Sullivan on the left of the picture.

One person who was there that day on the other side of the camera and who knew Smith very well was Michael Lipskin. Just fifteen years old in 1958, Lipskin later became a record producer at RCA, working with Duke Ellington, recording stride greats and reissuing historic discs, as well as becoming a lawyer and a distinguished stride pianist in his own right. Lipskin talks vividly of Smith, one of the great, influential jazz pianists.


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