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10am, August 12th 1958 at 17 East 126th Street in Harlem between Fifth and Madison Avenues – a collection of the most influential jazz musicians of all time gather to be photographed for the front cover of Esquire Magazine by Art Kane.

Harlem_58_copyright Strictly Smokin' Big Band. Use only with permission.

 

HARLEM ’58, tours the music of these iconic names whilst delving into their intricate personalities and the exciting world of jazz in 1950s New York City.

The story begins with Count Basie, an iconic big band leader, who’s musical career began only a few blocks away from the photo location watching master pianist Fats Waller perform at the old Lincon Theatre, NYC.

Each musician links to the next as members of Strictly Smokin’ tell their stories, drawing tales from the exciting world of the New York jazz scene and bring their relationships to life through liver performances.

 

Mary Lou Williams, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones, Gene Krupa, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver and many more.

The show is accompanied by an interactive projection, which not only brings the musicians to life in stills, but also contains rare video footage from the photo day itself.

HARLEM ’58 is the perfect blend of musical concert, theatrical story telling and documentary theatre all rolled into one production.

For booking enquiries, please use the Enquire Now link at the top of this page.

A Musical tour through the iconic photograph

Original spread from Esquire Magazine, January 1st 1959

The artists who inspired the show…

JIMMY RUSHING

JIMMY RUSHING. This image is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

He was known as “Mister Five-By-Five” — an affectionate reference to his height and girth — a blues shouter who defined and then transcended the form. The owner of a booming voice that radiated sheer joy in whatever material he sang, Jimmy Rushing could swing with anyone and dominate even the loudest of big bands.

Rushing achieved his greatest fame in front of the Count Basie band from 1935 to 1950, yet unlike many band singers closely associated with one organization, he was able to carry on afterwards with a series of solo recordings that further enhanced his reputation as a first-class jazz singer.

Read more on AllMusic.

This is a great couple of numbers from Jimmy Rushing with Buck Claytons Band in 1959… a fun moment only a couple of seconds in with a mic stand alteration showing a hint of Jimmy’s personality…

Image above is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

MARY LOU WILLIAMS

MARY LOU WILLIAMS. This image is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

“The greatest woman jazz pianist in captivity.” “The greatest woman jazz pianist in the world.” “Highly acclaimed as a deluxe tickler of the ivories.” “One of the foremost swing pianists of either sex.” By 1936, then-25-year-old Mary Lou Williams’ reputation already preceded her.

The pianist’s primary gig — Kansas City band Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy — was taking off, booked for packed dances around the country alongside artists like Louis Armstrong.

Williams was the group’s marquee attraction, a little for the novelty of a woman pianist but mostly because of her undeniable artistry — one critic, for example, questioned whether Art Tatum could really swing like Mary Lou Williams, with no caveat in sight. She’d even already garnered enough acclaim to record solo sides.

Read more on NPR.

How about this recording from MLW at Les Mouches in NYC in 1978?  Also featuring Carline Ray, one of the original Sweethearts of Rhythm, is on bass.  She is introduced as “a living history of jazz – the most important female in the world of jazz”…

Image above is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

COLEMAN HAWKINS

COLEMAN HAWKINS. This image is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

The Dean of Saxophonists – Hawk to his many fans – did more than any other musician to establish the tenor sax.

A suave and sophisticated player was the antithesis of what most people consider a jazz musician to be; although his love of drinking ensured he fulfilled that particular cliché. ‘Bean’ was a powerful, passionate and original tenor player who lived in London and toured Europe for five years during the 1930s, doing a great deal to spread the jazz word.

“As far as I’m concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right?” – Lester Young

Read more on Discover Music

Check out this video below of two incredible concerts from 1962 and 1964 – both feature stellar European and American side-musicians including Harry Sweets Edison on trumpet and drummer Papa Jo Jones both jazz legends in their own right.

The 1962 show is a newly-discovered one-hour concert from the Adolphe Sax Festival in Belgium.

Image above is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

THELONIOUS MONK

THELONIOUS MONK. This image is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

The most important jazz musicians are the ones who are successful in creating their own original world of music with its own rules, logic, and surprises.

Thelonious Monk, who was criticized by observers who failed to listen to his music on its own terms, suffered through a decade of neglect before he was suddenly acclaimed as a genius; his music had not changed one bit in the interim.

In fact, one of the more remarkable aspects of Monk’s music was that it was fully formed by 1947 and he saw no need to alter his playing or compositional style in the slightest during the next 25 years.

Read more on Blue Note

This magnificient recording of Monk’s Quartet in 1996 is a combination of Norewgian and Danish performances, featuring Charlie Rouse on sax, Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on kit.

Image above is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

SONNY ROLLINS

SONNY ROLLINS. Public domain image: (c) Yves Moch

Sonny Rollins is, by any reasonable estimation, a genius.  He is jazz’s greatest living improviser, able to imbue his solos with wry humor, surprise, brilliant logical form and profound emotion.

Time and time again, he created something miraculous out of thin air, and he did it until he could do it no longer. The 89-year-old played his last concert in 2012, and in 2014, he stopped playing saxophone altogether, a result of pulmonary fibrosis.

That doesn’t mean we’ll never hear music from him again — Resonance Records will release a set of previously unissued performances — but it does mean that Rollins’s colossal record as a musician is a thing of the past. I wanted to know how a musician whose playing was always attuned to the present has forged a new life in the shadow of that stark fact.

“Happy’ is not the word,” said Rollins, seated on a couch under a large painting of Buddha at his rambling home in Woodstock, N.Y., “but I am the most content I’ve ever been. I have most things figured out.”

Read more on New York Times Magazine

Sonny Rollins here at the Jazz Jamboree in 1980 in Warsaw with Mark Soskin on piano, Jerome Harris on bass and Al Foster on kit… first track is “Keep Hold of Yourself”

Image above is in the public domain: © Yves Moch

HORACE SILVER

HORACE SILVER. Public domain image: (c) Dimitri Savitski

In 1951, he moved to New York and quickly found work with Coleman Hawkins, Bill Harris, Oscar Pettiford, Lester Young, and Art Blakey.

In 1952, as a result of a Lou Donaldson record session, he began what became a 28-year relationship with the Blue Note label. Between 1953-55 he played in the groundbreaking band the Jazz Messengers, co-led by Blakey.

The band was at the forefront of the hard bop movement that followed bebop.

By 1956, Silver formed his own band and Blakey maintained the Jazz Messengers name as his own. Both Silver’s band and the Jazz Messengers turned out to be proving grounds for a number of exceptional, aspiring musicians.

Among those who passed through his band were Art Farmer, Donald Byrd, Joe Henderson, Blue Mitchell, Charles Tolliver, Stanley Turrentine, Woody Shaw, and Randy and Michael Brecker.

Read more on NE for the Arts

Horace Silver’s Quintet in Rotterdam 1968 playing his enduring compositions “Song For My Father”… brilliant! What a line-up as well: Billy Cobham on kit and Randy Brecker on trumpet…

Image above is in the public domain: © Dimitri Savitski

LESTER YOUNG

LESTER YOUNG. This image is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

Together with Coleman Hawkins, Young was one of the most influential saxophonists of the swing era. His light, airy sound, and the melodic grace of his improvisations were in direct contrast to Hawkins’s gruffer, more harmonically-based approach. Young’s velvety tone and rapid articulation were major influences on the bebop generation of saxophonists that followed, notably Charlie Parker.

Young had grown up close to New Orleans, before going on the road with his father’s family band. As well as this practical musical apprenticeship – Young tried several instruments before deciding on saxophone – he absorbed the styles of Jimmy Dorsey and Frankie Trumbauer from records. In the early 1930s he played in various territory bands, and settled in Kansas City in 1933.

Read more on BBC

Shorter than many of the other videos featured on this page, but an incredably personal look at the playing of the Prez…

Image above is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

COUNT BASIE

COUNT BASIE. This image is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.

William “Count” Basie was one of the greatest jazz bandleaders of all time.

Starting in the 1930s, Basie, an accomplished piano player and composer, reshaped the jazz landscape by cleverly blending the genre with blues, elevating the art of swing in the process.

Basie was not a soloist like Benny Goodman or an arranger/composer like Duke Ellington. Leading his swinging rhythm section from the piano, Basie used his band as an instrument. The result is a widely influential body of work that earned him the title “King of Swing.”

The Count Basie Orchestra’s chart-topping songs helped them gain popularity both nationally and internationally. Hits like “One O’Clock Jump” (their signature song, first recorded in 1937), “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” (1938), and “April in Paris” (recorded in 1955) defined the big-band sound of the era.

Due to financial restrictions, Basie was forced to disband his orchestra in 1950. For the next two years, Basie worked with smaller bands featuring six to nine musicians. Basie recreated his orchestra in 1952 and began touring the US, followed by Europe and Japan. Basie’s new band was known as the “New Testament Band.”

Read more on Grammy Museum

TV studio recording of the Bassie band playing some of their classic numbers inclusing “All of Me”, “Flight of the Foo Birds”, “Jumpin’ at The Woodside” and “April in Paris”…

Image above is part of the William P. Gottlieb Collection held at the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.