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The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965 Hardcover – November 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2009: Like the American Renaissance of Emerson, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Thoreau, and Melville bursting out of the Massachusetts countryside a hundred years before, the legend of the New York jazz scene in the late 1950s and early '60s, when singular geniuses like Monk, Coltrane, Davis, Mingus, and Evans might be gigging on the same night--sometimes on the same stage--only grows with time. Now, in The Jazz Loft Project, we have a rare and remarkable window into that moment. The project is the fruit of two obsessed men, W. Eugene Smith, the brilliant photographer who shot thousands of pictures and recorded thousands of hours of music and talk at his Midtown apartment and studio, which served as an open-door meeting place and jam session site for hundreds of musicians and artists; and Sam Stephenson, the documentarian who has spent even longer archiving and investigating the riches Smith left behind. Among its many wonders, what their book does best is put the creations of those bebop geniuses in context: giving life to the forgotten players who jammed with the future immortals, revealing the casual crosspollination among artists, musicians, and writers (and between blacks and whites), and reminding us of the world outside the loft, with baseball, UFO stories, and civil rights on the radio and the daily commerce of New York's flower district on the street below. --Tom Nissley

Look Inside The Jazz Loft Project

Click on thumbnails for larger images

Thelonious Monk and his Town Hall band in rehearsal, February 1959.
Zoot Sims (ca. 1957-1964).
Loft interior, fifth floor (ca. 1964).

The northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 28th Street (ca. 1957-1964).
White Rose Bar sign from the 4th floor window of 821 Sixth Avenue (ca. 1957-1964).
W. Eugene Smith at 4th floor window of 821 Sixth Avenue (ca. 1957).

(Photos credit W. Eugene Smith. Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona. © The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. After having a breakdown in the midst of working on a photo-essay on Pittsburgh in 1957, legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith holed up in a loft in New York's Chelsea, in the Tin Pan Alley area. There, over the next several years, he became deeply embroiled in the New York City jazz scene, opening his home as a practice and performance space for some of the great artists of mid-century jazz, including Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims and many others. Of course, he took pictures—both of musicians and of a window-size view of mid-century New York—and also wired the place for recording, logging hours and hours of tape, capturing the music and the talk around it. These photos and tapes had been thought lost—the stuff of rumor, buried in Smith's archive—until Stephenson dug them out and culled the best, along with transcriptions of material from the tapes, for this landmark book. Smith's stunning use of contrast makes figures like Monk seem dramatic and completely ordinary at the same time. The photos of the city offer a rare glimpse into a neighborhood being itself when it thought no one was watching. This will be an essential book for jazz fans, photography lovers and those interested in the history of New York. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307267091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307267092
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 1 x 11.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #383,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Ken Mabuchi on November 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are a musician, you will come alive in Sam Stephenson's awesome collection of the happenings in a loft on Sixth Avenue in New York during the late 1950's and 1960's. Every struggling jazz musician with talent was there. Those of lesser talent never came back.
Tiny clips of conversations, recorded on tape bring back recollections of moments passed with enough spirit, to let you join the clan.
The book will serve as a Rosetta Stone, for those who long ago participated in making jazz the American standard in the world and who want to reconnect with friends to make more music, or to sit back and smile in their memory.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bascomb Lunsford on December 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beautiful and truly spiritual book. Like great jazz itself. Life affirming and what all art should be; truly democratic.
The photographs are stunning. The writing and transcriptions get all the right juices flowing. I would love to hear some of the tapes Smith recorded.

Get this book as a gift for yourself or someone close to your heart.
Like the old Medicine Show man said "Good for what ails you and gives you what you ain't got".
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By James Mahoney on January 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On a quick thumb-through, this looks like a book I'll spend lots of random hours with. Very nicely put together, and what I expected of the BOOK.

Alas, I should have read *all* of the Amazon reviews prior to purchase. Like others, I expected at least one CD with this, and was disappointed at the absence of one (or more). I learned about this book from a year-end review of "best books." Both that review and the title of the book led me to think that it included audio (as apparently others also thought). And as much as I looked forward to the photography--and I looked forward eagerly to that--I also looked forward to hearing the rehearsal/jam banter as well as the music. Had the title been "...Photographs and Transcripts", it would be more accurate, and you wouldn't be reading reviews like this one.

One other observation: the description says "deckle edge", but the book is not. That doesn't matter to me one way or the other, but it might to some people.

Bottom line is that I'll keep the book and peruse it in leisure moments. But I agree with others who misunderstood that we feel just a little bamboozled.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J Book on December 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
To start with, I'm an old photography teacher, specializing in black and white. Secondly, one of my best friends is the brother of Hall Overton, a major name in this book. These are the two ground works for what I write.

Hall's brother is so proud of how the author has brought his brother and the people, music and times out so close to reality. Smith has photos beyond expectations and locations.

I know Hall Overton is depicted here as he was ...down to the smallest detail. His brother agrees.

Smith's photos are quite accurate, including moods, emotions, feelings, inspirations.

I am happy to see this material finally covered in such true and accurate detail. It is grand!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John J. Falkenstine on January 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I saw this book at a local national chain bookstore, and heard a good review on Public Radio, but preferred buying it from Amazon. This is a really nice book, good printing quality, nice grainy images, (many of which show the typical lower view angle of the twin lens reflex) should smell like stale coffee and cigarette smoke to make it better, but, alas, a mistake was made. This book should have had a music CD in it to go along for the mood. To me, a really serious error, and whoever made the decision NOT to put a CD in it is an idiot. Hence four stars instead of five. The book is medium sized and a nice step away from the more formal photography books where every image is treated like some kind of moment in time and fawned about excessively. In this book the images are in context with a running history/conversation that can take you back in time. For some of us it might rekindle an interest in a type of photography which has now been replaced by the digital stream of too much of the same. Also books of this type should have a mandatory preview capacity on Amazon with better planning to show the real content. As a matter of fact, Amazon should have a policy that ALL photography books have a preview capacity.

Shipping on this book by Amazon was mishandled. It was put in a container with a much larger book, improperly padded and slipped and bounced around. Result: Book is damaged in one corner. I'll keep it anyway, I would like to see packers in Amazon warehouses attend some classes in shipping.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a magnificent book that captures human life and creativity as played out during a thin slice of the past in a tiny nook of the globe. No other book I know is quite like it. It is special.

About 1954, two people with loft space in a then 100-year-old five-story building on Sixth Avenue, near 28th, in the Flower District of Manhattan, began to allow jazz musicians to practice and jam there. For the next decade or so, the decrepit building was a favorite private late-night haunt of jazzmen, many who never were "somebody" but some who were (for example, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Sonny Clark, Ornette Coleman, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Jim Hall, Roland Kirk, Theloneous Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Pee Wee Russell, and Zoot Sims). In 1957, W. Eugene Smith - at a nadir in his personal life - left his family and moved into the building. From there, over the next eight years, he recorded - both with his cameras (40,000 pictures) and with tape recorders (1700 reels) -- a wide spectrum of the life that occurred in the lofts, out front on Sixth Avenue, and in the world at large as broadcast over New York radio and television.

After Smith died, those 40,000 pictures and 1700 reels of tape were part of 22 tons of Smith's materials that were delivered to the University of Arizona. Sam Stephenson spent years sifting through the materials, tracking down and interviewing some of those whom Smith had recorded decades earlier, and then putting together this documentation of Smith's documentation. It is an extraordinarily rich, eclectic, and fascinating book - an assemblage of the raw events of time as it unfolded within and in front of one building in Manhattan circa 1960 (somewhat like what I imagine Walter Benjamin imagined).
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