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The Jazz Loft Project

Jazz in the Flower District:

Photographer W. Eugene Smith moved into a loft at 821 Sixth Avenue, in the heart of New York’s Flower District, in 1957. The place had already become a hangout for artists, writers and especially jazz musicians, who rehearsed and jammed there. Among the visitors to the loft: Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, Steve Swallow, Mose Allison, Bob Brookmeyer and hundreds more, over a period of about 8 years.

Four Thousand Hours!:

As Smith settled in and made a home and studio there, he became fascinated – and some say obsessed – with the life in and around the loft. He began to document the activity there in photographs and audio tapes. By the time he left the loft in the late ‘60’s, he’d shot 40,000 photos of musicians, artists, empty rooms, views out the window, jam sessions and parties. He’d recorded roughly 4000 hours of audio tape, including rehearsals for the famous 1959 Big Band concert at Town Hall, featuring the Thelonious Monk Tentet, as well as hundreds of jam sessions among players, known and obscure. Along with the music: conversations, meowing cats, casual visits from the cop on the beat, television and radio programs that happened to be on while the tape was running.

The Project:

Sara Fishko and WNYC, in collaboration with partners at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke and the New York Public Library, are building a radio series from the tapes of loft life discovered in W. Eugene Smith’s vast archive.

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