Review of Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

orgill_jazz daystar2 Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
by Roxane Orgill; 
illus. by Francis Vallejo
Intermediate    Candlewick    54 pp.
3/16    978-0-7636-6954-6    $18.99    g

On August 12, 1958, fifty-plus jazz musicians, famous and emerging, gathered together in front of a brownstone in Harlem for a group photo shoot. The resulting photograph has become iconic, a single image that captures a generation of stories. Orgill uses this photo as the springboard for a series of twenty-one poems, and Vallejo for a set of personality-rich illustrations. Some focus on individuals (Thelonious Monk, late as usual); some on the event itself (photographer Art Kane trying to herd them all into formation). Two feature musicians who didn’t make it into the picture: pianist Willie Smith, who got tired of standing, and Duke Ellington, who was out of town. The poems vary in form and mood from an alphabetical acrostic of clothing to a pantoum in the voice of the young and awestruck drummer Eddie Locke. The rhythms are contagious. Saxophonist Lester Young’s porkpie hat: “Roll the crown halfway down all around— / that’s called ‘busting it down.’ / Turn it over and poke out the pit just a bit, / ‘bringing the lid back home.’” The words take you back to the photo — reproduced here as a gatefold spread, and placed in the perfect dramatic spot — and the excellent list of sources leads you back to the music. An inspiring example of art that arises from the simple question, “What did you notice in the picture?” Appended with an extensive author’s note, biographies of the participants, source notes, and a bibliography.

From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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