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A Great Day In Harlem: The Most Amazing Photograph In Jazz history

Photographer Art Kane took the most wonderful photograph in jazz history, featuring 57 of the best jazz musicians ever: A Great Day In Harlem.

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Photo: Art Kane

Photographer Art Kane took the most wonderful photograph in jazz history – remarkable for many reasons. In features 57 of the best jazz musicians and the image has come to be called A Great Day In Harlem.

Kane, a freelance photographer was on assignment for Esquire magazine, and he took the picture at around 10 a.m. on 12 August 1958 at 17 East 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenue in Harlem. Esquire published the photo in its January 1959 issue. In 1994 a TV documentary was made as to how this incredible photo came to be taken, one that Quincy Jones calls, “An astonishing photograph.”

What makes this photo so extraordinary is that it was Art Kane’s first photo shoot; he was an art director for various New York magazines. He was given the chance and it was Kane’s idea to take the photo in Harlem, a risk on many levels, not least trying to get everyone together in one place at 10 a.m. in the morning. As Kane said, he had no studio, so he had no choice. Gerry Mulligan didn’t believe anyone would show up…it was way too early.

Of the 57 musicians featured only two remain alive – Sonny Rollins and Benny Golson.

Here’s the full list of musicians in A Great Day In Harlem:

Hilton Jefferson, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Wilbur Ware, Art Blakey, Chubby Jackson, Johnny Griffin, Dickie Wells, Buck Clayton, Taft Jordan, Zutty Singleton, Red Allen, Tyree Glenn, Miff Molo, Sonny Greer, Jay C. Higginbotham, Jimmy Jones, Charles Mingus, Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Max Kaminsky, George Wettling, Bud Freeman, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Wilkins, Buster Bailey, Osie Johnson, Gigi Gryce, Hank Jones, Eddie Locke, Horace Silver, Luckey Roberts, Maxine Sullivan, Jimmy Rushing, Joe Thomas, Scoville Browne, Stuff Smith, Bill Crump, Coleman Hawkins, Rudy Powell, Oscar Pettiford, Sahib Shihab , Marian McPartland, Sonny Rollins, Lawrence Brown, Mary Lou Williams, Emmett Berry, Thelonious Monk, Vic Dickenson, Milt Hinton, Lester Young, Rex Stewart, J.C. Heard, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie

GDIH

Part 1 of the documentary… it’s a must-see

Follow the Jazz Giants playlist for some of the greatest jazz ever recorded.

50 Comments

50 Comments

  1. David Barnett

    August 12, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    thanks for its BRILLIANT

  2. Teresa Fontanella

    August 13, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Nice article and video! THanks for sharing! But I’ve thought Duke Ellington was in that photo too…

  3. Jens

    August 16, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    No he was on Tour in Europe

  4. Philip Rogers

    September 7, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Tremendous lesson in American History. Thank you.

  5. Odd Geir Saether

    October 28, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    How can I purchase a high res of this hallmark photo? Ever since I saw it on the wall, in the studio of trombone player John Trotter, in Derry, Northern Ireland, I have regretted I did not take a makeshift repro photo of it. Anyway it was framed with glass, so it would never have come out without disturbing reflexes.

  6. Allan Johnson

    November 18, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    First thing I saw this morning…will stay with me forever…..ALLAN JOHNSON -JAZZCAFÉNOIR.

  7. Marty Brynildsen

    December 1, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    This was a great moment in a great period in jazz history. It’s wonderful to see all the kids on the curb down in front. I’ll bet they didn’t hesitate for a moment to get in the picture !

  8. BERNADETTE DASH

    December 17, 2014 at 3:13 am

    ALL I COULD HAVE DONE WAS JUST STARE AT THIS HAIR RAISING PHOTO. I CAN NOT PLAY ANY INSTRUMENTS OR SING, BUT I LOVE JAZZ, AND ALL THE SINGERS, AND ALL THE MUSICIANS. THEY WERE ALL GREAT, THANK YOU FOR THIS PHOTO. OH HOW I WISH THESE GREAT DAYS CAN COME BACK, BUT WITH OUT THE RACISM.

  9. Karl Terrell

    August 12, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    This hangs in my house. I stare at it often. A snapshot, so to speak, at the moment of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, periods in jazz history.

    • uDiscover

      August 12, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      Karl, that’s so true

  10. fred price

    August 12, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    It is Miff Mole and I bet it is Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis

  11. Simin Denizci

    August 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    I just wısh that my dad could see thıs vıdeo..he would have loved ıt…..

    • uDiscover

      August 12, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      Thanks, Simin

  12. Anthony Pazana

    August 12, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Where does one get a copy of this photograph?

  13. Lucas Lucky Ngwenya

    August 12, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    Amazing great photo but I don’t recognised.-Coltrane and Miles.

  14. Ms Coltrane

    August 12, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Any one know why John Coltrane was not in the photo?

  15. DICK Waterman

    August 12, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Look at the kids sitting on the curb. Look at the guy sitting on the far right.

    That’s right . . . Bill Basie . . . that’s COUNT to you . . .

  16. Peter Kenda

    August 12, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    Saw a TV programme several years ago about the build up to the taking of the photo.Wonder where it is and is it still available

  17. Larry Ford

    August 12, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    This famous pic I believe is also available as a poster. 1959 has been labeled the greatest year in Jazz.

    • george blutstein

      August 15, 2016 at 8:56 pm

      there is aposter, which I have and T-shirt which I also have.

  18. Dan

    August 13, 2015 at 12:34 am

    What a moment in history this picture represents.. If you could convert talent into a numerical form, this pic would cause any computer to blow up..

  19. Rich Rector

    August 13, 2015 at 12:34 am

    Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal, stop reading this now!
    In the movie, The Terminal, Tom Hanks’ character is on a mission regarding this particular photo.
    Here is a synopsis of that part of the script:
    One day, Viktor explains to Amelia that the purpose of his visit to New York is to collect an autograph from the tenor saxophonist Benny Golson. It is revealed that the peanut can Viktor carries with him contains nothing more than an autographed copy of the “Great Day in Harlem” photograph. His late father was a jazz enthusiast who had discovered the famous portrait in a Hungarian newspaper in 1958, and vowed to get an autograph of all the 57 jazz musicians featured on the photograph. He succeeded in obtaining 56, but died before he could finish his collection.

    • Ronald Avery

      October 1, 2015 at 8:22 pm

      Yeah man! Rich, I did see that and loved that movie! I didn’t know it was based on a real photograph though. Just thought it was a cool plot someone dreamed up. Thanks for the info.
      Ron

  20. Butch Alano

    August 13, 2015 at 1:24 am

    where can i get a print? need it as a center piece….

  21. Oro Carson

    August 13, 2015 at 4:41 am

    I was in a thrift shop in Texas (I live in California) in February this year. In one of their rooms was a huge basket of CDs. It was like a treasure chest! I bought at least a dozen — can’t remember what I paid, but I know it was less than a dollar each. I was just about thru digging and came upon a videocassette of “A Great Day In Harlem,” STILL WRAPPED IN CELOPHANE! I grabbed it for FIFTY CENTS! It’s the story of the making of the photo and it’s FABULOUS! Have watched it several times and enjoyed it every time!
    Sad to read that there are only two musicians left of this wonderful group. It truly was A Great Day In Harlem! Thanks for the share.

  22. Robin

    August 13, 2015 at 6:04 am

    I thought that there was an other photo taken years later. They lined up everyone that they could get together and placed them in the same positions even the kids. Would love a copy of the second photo. Bought the original poster at City Lights in SF CA years ago.

  23. Jim Burlong

    August 13, 2015 at 8:28 am

    One of the most iconic photo’s in jazz history.

    If you are in Brighton you can see a full wall sized copy of this, with an index to names in The Verdict Jazz Club/Cafe at 159 Edward Street BN2 0JB

  24. Ross Laugher

    August 13, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Absolutely fabulous! A real trip down Memory Lane. Go man, go!

  25. Donald

    August 13, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    The United artists of jazz music in the United States of America.

  26. Amaryllis

    August 15, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Met many of the artist in this picture, nice piece of history

  27. ingrid

    September 30, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    This great photo greets me every morning when I wake up in my bedroom in Oslo, Norway. I remember seeing Dexter around town in the sixties. The sexiest sax player ever!

  28. Ronald Avery

    October 1, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    I love this! Check out my index page link and go to James Polk. I had the pleasure of live streaming him out of the Elephant Room in Austin, Texas. He was with Ray Charles for 10 years. I love the guy. I love the remark by Art Blakey at the end of the video above. It makes you feel good about human beings. And it says you can’t fool people in jazz. They got some integrity. It’s nice to know that some folks want the truth and like hearing it and some got the guts to tell it to you. I love it!

  29. W Guy Finley

    August 12, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    I’m not quite sure what is more amazing, all these legends gathered for a photo or the fact someone got them all up at 10 AM to take it. 🙂

  30. Andy C

    August 12, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    Where can I get a high quality copy of this photo?

  31. James

    August 12, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    The high pitch ringing tone throughout the video is maddening. Couldn’t even watch this sadly.

  32. Lottin Giovanni

    August 12, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Wow!
    An idea just crossed my mind. I remember the song “We are the World” directed by papa Quincy Jones upon a piece of music by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The song will be there forever. I’m not saying there’s no jazz piece thta could be so eternal. When can we expect to have a piece of music with the still alive jazz legends performing to show the world that Jazz is even more universal than any other music in the world ?
    By the time they recorded “We are the World” way back in the 1980s, they forgot to invite black African musicians to join in. Well, that was “USA for Africa”. Can we do it something like “World Jazz for Africa”?

  33. Brent

    August 12, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Hey. Where’s Kenny G?

    • Michael Smith

      August 14, 2016 at 12:33 am

      Kenny G was only two years old when the photo was taken.

      • jazzmusicwoman

        August 6, 2017 at 11:25 am

        Kenny G is NOT a JAZZ musician…LOL

  34. pedro morales

    August 13, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    verve whit stan getz and Joao Gilberto,Astrud..58 very fine

  35. Jack Van Scyoc

    November 3, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    I still understand how they got all those cats together at one place, at the same time and that early in the morning…

  36. jazzmusicwoman

    August 6, 2017 at 11:34 am

    I, too, have a t-shirt with this photo on it, as well as the video on the making of, a copy of the issue of the mag when the updated photo was taken in the “90’s…in the same issue of that mag, a photo was taken of contemporary JAZZ artists, placed, specifically, in place of musicians who played the same instruments as in the original photo!

  37. Johnny Thorn

    August 12, 2017 at 5:25 am

    A magical moment. Thank you from NZ.

  38. Hector Luis Spinelli

    August 12, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Outstanding report many thanks !!! the golden days of Jazz

  39. Hans Eekhoff

    August 12, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    It’s Miff Mole, not Molo. He was the greatest trombone player in the world in the 1920’s.

  40. Bob Martin

    August 13, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    well, my favorite jazz hero and friend, clark terry isn’t there either, but oh well, still a pretty nice picture LOL 😉

  41. Gary J. Esposito

    August 27, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Man!!! If i could of just met Art Blakey! Well Mingus too, and Dizz, while i’m at it. Jazz in 1958 Harlem!

  42. Norma J.

    September 27, 2017 at 11:36 pm

    Thank you so very much! You cheered me up on a down day. Now I begin my search for the cd, poster, and a tee shirt or two.

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