Standing in the footsteps of jazz greats

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“A Great Day in Harlem” building

17 East 126th Street
New York, NY

On a cool morning in 1958, many of America’s greatest jazz artists posed on these steps for the famous Esquire photograph, shot by Art Kane. Dizzie Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Marian McPartland, Art Blakey, Milt Hinton, Count Basie, Sonny Hawkins, Lester Young and dozens of others showed up.

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Images courtesy of NPR

Art Kane was not a photographer but an accomplished art director when Esquire magazine hired him to shoot his first professional photograph in 1958. Esquire art director Robert Benton was planning an all-jazz issue, and suggested to his boss that they hire Kane for the shoot. Benton thought Kane showed promise – and he loved jazz. It was Kane’s idea to create an enormous photo spread of as many jazz greats as they could persuade to assemble. It was also Kane’s idea to shoot the photo on the steps of a brownstone in Harlem, an innovative solution to his lack of studio space.

Art Kane was born Arthur Kanofsky in the Bronx in 1925, where his movie-fan mother helped nurture his love of images. After a stint in the Army during World War II, Kane attended Cooper Union in New York City. He got a job designing page layouts at Esquire, but left when he was made art director of Seventeen magazine. Although he won many awards and was considered a major art director, Kane was also interested in photography. He studied photography with Alexey Brodovitch, who had taught famed photographer Richard Avedon, among others. Kane’s first assignment was the photo shoot that became the basis for A Great Day In Harlem. The assignment inspired Kane to begin his long career as an innovative photographer.

(excerpted from A Great Day in Harlem website.)

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