Hank O'Neal is a jazz renaissance manan author, photographer, concert promoter, label owner and record producer. Best known for his role as the owner/operator of Chiaroscuro Records, O'Neal's appreciation of the "older pioneers of traditional jazz" has long been recognized. His considerable abilities as a photographer, while not as well known in jazz circles, demonstrate a similar empathy towards these artists. In The Ghosts of Harlem he combines his myriad talents to produce a volume that shows and tells the tale of a bygone age in a series of conversational interviews and large format photographic portraits with more than 40 musicianssome famous, many forgottenwho began their careers during the Swing Era and spent at least some time plying their trade in Harlem.
Over 20 years in the making, the book was inspired by a 1985 visit uptown to Harlem with John Hammond to hear Al Cobb's C & J Orchestra's then regular Monday night gig at Small's Paradise (at that time one of the only jazz shows still happening in the neighborhood) that left O'Neal with the nagging question of "how the vibrant musical scene that permeated pre-World War II Harlem could vanish in less than two decades." Deciding to explore the issue as the subject of a book that would help preserve the memories of important participants of those early days of jazz, he devised a series of questions that would hopefully illuminate the subject, beginning with "When did you first work in Harlem?" and ending with "Do you think that the music will ever come back?"
The interviews with artists from Andy Kirk, Erskine Hawkins, Benny Carter and Cab Calloway to Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Wess, Clark Terry and Billy Taylor shed much light on venues like the Apollo Theater and Savoy Ballroom and the roads from other cities that brought players to the musical mecca that was Harlem. Photos by O'Neal and those culled from the historic Frank Driggs Collection, along with reproductions of many 78 labels, bring the stories to life. The accompanying CD of selected tracks of the interviewees from the Chiaroscuro catalogue makes for companionable listening.
I was first exposed to jazz in 1961 (at age 10) when I was in a shopping arcade in Southport, England with my parents. I fell in love with the music playing over the PA system; Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet
I was first exposed to jazz in 1961 (at age 10) when I was in a shopping arcade in Southport, England with my parents. I fell in love with the music playing over the PA system; Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. After going through Rock 'n Roll, the Beatles and Heavy Metal/Hard Rock phases over the next eight or so years, I finally bought my first jazz album; We're All Together Again for the First Time by Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan. I was hooked on jazz, and still am 40+ years later.
I moved from England to the USA in 2002, and founded the Brookfield Jazz Society in 2005.
I became editor of the quarterly IAJRC Journalin 2012. The magazine goes to the worldwide membership of the IAJRC (International Association of Jazz Record Collectors) and many major libraries and educational establishments around the world.
As well as being the editor of the IAJRC Journal, I write about jazz and review CDs, vinyl, DVDs and books on jazz.
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