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 »atest jazz stars of all time and snapped a picture that would live forever. Narrated by Quincy Jones, this Academy Award-nominated documentary includes interviews with nearly 30 jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey, home movies, and rare performance footage. The Spitball Story (1997, 21 min.) - A short film about the firing of Dizzy Gillespie by Cab Calloway for one too many practical jokes.« less
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."
Harlem, the number one Jazz empire!
Evelyn O. Simon | South Florida. U.S.A. | 12/05/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a documentary about the golden age Jazz greats. These are the stories and sounds of the legends in the Jazz industry. The famous Picture of the great Jazz musicians and singers combined on the sidewalk of a street in Harlem, N.Y.. The kids that were sitting on the curb with Count Basie, wasn't supposed to be in the shot; but was used to add a realistic setting to the picture. Then there was the spitball story, told by Dizzy Gillespie himself. Dizzy was always shooting spitballs on the stage when they would be doing a show. He coaxed another band member into shooting them also, and Cab Calloway knew Dizzy had been shooting the spitballs and gave Dizzy plenty of warnings to stop. In one show, while Cab was on stage singing and dancing with some girls, a spitball landed on stage in front of Cab and the girls; right in the spot light. Mr. Calloway stopped the show and yelled at Dizzy, but it wasn't Dizzy that time; it was the other band member. When the other band member admitted to the spitball, Mr. Calloway still claimed it was Dizzy's fault, and fired him. Mr. Gillespie and Mr. Calloway got into a heated argument. The argument turned into a fight, and Dizzy pulled a switch blade on Mr. Cab Calloway; slicing him on the hand. Mr. Calloway, lunged at Dizzy and banged his leg against a large luggage trunk; forming a large bleeding wound on his leg. Mr. Gillespie said in his own words, "That was the best thing that had every happened to me" The fact that Mr. Cab Calloway fired him from the band, Mr. Dizzy Gillespie went on and formed his own band, and created his own success. This is an historial documentary that shouldn't be ignored. I recommend it."