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A Great Day in Harlem/The Spitball Story
A Great Day in Harlem/The Spitball Story
Actors: Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Hinton, Marian McPartland, Art Blakey, Gerry Mulligan
Director: Jean Bach
Genres: Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary, African American Cinema
NR     1999     1hr 21min

A Great Day in Harlem (1994, 60 min.) - The story and sounds behind the most famous photo in the history of jazz. In August of 1958, in front of a Harlem brownstone, first-time photographer Art Kane assembled 57 of the gre...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Hinton, Marian McPartland, Art Blakey, Gerry Mulligan
Director: Jean Bach
Creators: Steve Petropoulos, Jean Bach, Matthew Seig, Stuart Samuels, Susan Peehl
Genres: Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary, African American Cinema
Sub-Genres: Drama, Blakey, Art, Gillespie, Dizzy, Jazz, Documentary, Documentary, African American Cinema
Studio: Image Entertainment
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color
DVD Release Date: 06/22/1999
Original Release Date: 02/24/1995
Theatrical Release Date: 02/24/1995
Release Year: 1999
Run Time: 1hr 21min
Screens: Black and White,Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
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Movie Reviews

A Great Documentary
James Morris | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 01/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In 1958, photographer Art Kane (on his first photographic assignment) assembled a group of legendary Jazz musicians on the steps of a brownstone on 124th Street and Madison Avenue in Harlem for a group photograph. The photo was to appear in a special edition of Esquire magazine. The result is one of the most famous photographs taken in the 20th century. This film tells the story of the photo, the photographer and many of the musicians who took part in the project.

Getting that many jazz musicians together at eleven o'clock in the morning was trickier than you might think - most of the participants were usually sleeping at that hour, as many by trade were working in nightclubs until the wee hours of the morning. Indeed, some of the musicians who were invited failed to show up, either unable to commit themselves to awakening at such unaccustomed hours or misunderstanding the depth of the project completely.

There are wonderful interviews with some of the original musicians, notably Art Blakey and Dizzie Gillespie, but a number of other musicians are heard from as well, including trumpeter Buck Clayton, singer Marian McPartland and the great saxophone player, Gerry Mulligan. The participants in the photo are a veritable who's who of Jazz; some of the musicians include Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Count Basie, Lester Young, Maxine Sullivan, Stuff Smith, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Rushing, Sonny Rollins, Theolonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Gene Krupa, Max Kaminsky, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, Art Farmer, Vic Dickenson, Lawrence Brown, Coleman Hawkins, J. C. Heard and Oscar Pettiford. The surviving musicians interviewed for the film offer fascinating comments on their peers.

The film notes sadly that many of the musicians in the photo are no longer with us. In fact, a new photo was created for the occasion using the survivors from the original shoot, and the number of musicians who have since passed away is shocking. The "new" photo is one of the most touching aspects of the special features; the survivors are each posed in the same spot that they occupied in the original photo, and the number of "blank" spaces (compared with the original photo) is somber, touching and somewhat eerie.

The DVD has a number of other wonderful extras. One menu presents a copy of the original photo; you can navigate to any image in the photo to see any musicians name, and clicking on the name will bring up a collage of all points in the documentary (including outtakes) where that musician is discussed by his or her peers.

To have a record of the story of this historical photograph is truly a blessing. It was a great day for my DVD collection when I acquired this wonderful film.
Pure jazz history
Drummer | Fort Myers, FL USA | 02/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This DVD set is a fine production in every way. This is not strictly a "music" DVD; it's a historical work about the people and their lives and experiences. There's some Monk performance footage that's fantastic. And interviews with Blakey, Rollins, Hinton, Mulligan, et al are pure jazz history.
The first disk shows Jean Bach's excellent film; the second contains bios, archival pix and film clips of everybody in the picture. The second disk is quite a bonus--it's over 3 hours long and is very informative!"
A great little film
bruce horner | 02/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In preparation for the onslaught of Ken Burns' 19-hour PBS juggernaut I looked at a few enjoyable, well-made, BRIEF jazz documentaries recently. A Great Day In Harlem is perhaps the most entertaining. You wouldn't think that such a fine film could be made about such a seemingly slight subject----a 1958 Esquire photo of as many jazz musicians as they could scare up at the ungodly hour of ten in the morning. But at least two factors help make the film good, even great: First, it's no longer than it needs to be; only an hour. Second, they got in touch with as many of the surviving subjects of the photo as possible, letting the jazz musicians themselves talk about the occasion. Simple things, but they work. Several of the musicians who talk in this film have since passed away, Dizzy Gillespie for one, making it all the more treasurable. It also reminds one of what a time the 50's were in jazz---modernists of several stripes were already working, many of the original boppers were still around, and major figures of the 30's and even the 20's were still on the scene. I'll stop short of calling it a rich tapestry, but to see it exemplified in this amazing photo (and home movies too!) is kind of breath-taking."
"A Great Day" is just great.
Bruce M. Bohner | Lakewood, Ohio United States | 03/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"If you are a fan of classic jazz, this dvd is a great investment. Loaded with interviews and reminiscing about the most famous photo in jazz, the film is an essential. The extras are entertaining and enlightening. The coolest thing about the dvd are the home movies (in color) taken at the photo shoot and the "point and click" about each person in the photo. Awesome for the schooled jazz fan or those wanting to learn."