Sixty years in the past, 57 jazz musicians gathered in entrance of a Harlem brownstone at 17 East 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, for a photograph shoot. Though it didn’t look like a giant deal on the time, the ensuing , taken by Art Kane and printed within the January 1959 subject of Esquire, went on to change into probably the most iconic photos in jazz. The shot, which featured such legends as Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Lester Young, and Mary Lou Williams, captured the music at an inflection level. The subsequent 12 months, younger innovators like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Dave Brubeck would file now-canonical albums that modified jazz perpetually.
Jazz is usually solid when it comes to ahead progress, every epoch neutering the earlier one — small-group bebop usurping big-band swing, as an illustration. But “A Great Day in Harlem,” the topic of a not too long ago printed e book known as Art Kane: Harlem 1958, which incorporates a number of outtakes from the day, is a portrait of concord, outdated and new guard alike peaceably intermingling. The picture means that jazz is as a lot about continuity and custom as it’s about radical change.
Of the handfuls of musicians who confirmed up, solely two are nonetheless alive: the tenor saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Benny Golson. At the time, Rollins, who had already recorded such albums as Tenor Madness, Saxophone Colossus, and Way Out West (not too long ago reissued), was a titan of his instrument. But Golson, who has composed a number of the most enduring tunes in jazz, together with “Whisper Not,” “Stablemates,” “Killer Joe,” “Blues March,” and “I Remember Clifford,” had but to show himself, by his account. “I used to be the brand new boy on the town,” he recalled.
In a current telephone dialog, Golson, who turns 90 in January and wrote a foreword for the e book, mirrored on his profession in jazz, wanting again on that morning in August 1958 when he appeared on the 10 a.m. shoot — unreasonably early by the requirements of jazz musicians, who are likely to maintain unreasonably late hours — to seek out so lots of his idols in attendance. “It was,” he stated, “a small miracle.”
Tell me in regards to the picture. How do you know to point out up on the spot at 10 within the morning?
Do you keep in mind somebody named Nat Hentoff?
During that point, he was writing for DownBeat earlier than he grew to become concerned with politics, and he was the one who known as me. At that point, I used to be the brand new boy on the town, and I simply thought it was one other — go up there, click on, and that was it. But after I acquired up there, I noticed all of my heroes, after which I questioned, Why within the heck am I right here? Nobody actually is aware of who I’m. When I acquired there, most all people who was imagined to be there was there, however the issue was, as Art [Kane] was making an attempt to get all people collectively collectively, there was a bar on the nook, and he had a tough time getting everybody again from the bar on the identical time. Art was such a affected person man, he was making an attempt to get that each one collectively. It took over an hour to get that image. And once we lastly took the closing shot, Willie “the Lion” Smith was within the bar — he didn’t make the shot.
Wasn’t it a bit of early to be ingesting?
Well, it looks as if this was a special day they usually wished to reinforce it a bit of bit.
Where did you reside on the time?
Where I lived in the intervening time was 55 West 92nd Street. I used to be on the fourth flooring and Quincy [Jones] was on the sixth flooring. We have been in the identical constructing, however someway he wasn’t known as or he didn’t make it. Something occurred, and he wasn’t within the . In truth, there have been lots of people who weren’t within the . But , lots of people have been working: John Coltrane, Miles, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman. Buddy Rich ought to have been there. Greatest drummer I ever heard in my life. I’m not speaking about his fashion. His approach — no person may contact that man. I’m telling you, no drummer that you just ever communicate of — Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Gene Krupa. No means. He was in an area by himself, and I don’t know if folks understand that.
That’s fascinating that it is best to say that as a result of he appears to be kind of excluded from the pantheon.
That’s their mistake. But his character was horrible.
You talked about that you just didn’t really feel such as you belonged within the firm of a number of the different kind of legendary musicians.
Right, I hadn’t actually confirmed myself by then. Most of the blokes there, I knew who they have been, however I didn’t know them. Who did I do know? I knew Dizzy Gillespie as a result of I used to be together with his band. I knew Gigi Gryce — a few months after that image was taken, he was the most effective man at my wedding ceremony. I knew Art Farmer, who’s standing beside me, and I knew Art Blakey, and I knew Sonny Rollins. The different folks I didn’t actually know. Of course, as time glided by, I acquired to know most of them, however initially, I used to be the brand new boy on the town. I inform my audiences, a scenario like that, I may have appeared there nude and no person would have paid any consideration to me.
I really feel such as you’re promoting your self brief. By the time this picture was taken, you had already written “Whisper Not,” and also you’d additionally put out just a few data below your individual title.
Well, what actually acquired me began was when Miles Davis file “Stablemates” [in 1955]. Before that, I’m embarrassed after I look again. I’d meet folks and provides them a lead sheet. Nothing ever occurred. But when John Coltrane left to hitch Miles, I noticed him one week afterward Columbia Avenue, the road in North Philadelphia the place John and I lived — I lived on 17th Street; he lived on 12th Street. I requested him the way it was going with Miles as a result of I knew he needed to come abreast with the repertoire, and he stated it was going good. Then he added, “But Miles wants some tunes, do you could have any?” Are you kidding? I had written this oddball tune known as “Stablemates.” John took it with him, and I didn’t assume any extra of it as a result of no person was recording something of mine. James Moody recorded the very very first thing, and it didn’t get a lot consideration. Then I bumped into John a couple of month later, and he stated “Guess what?” I stated, “What, he do this tune I gave you?” He stated, “Yeah, we recorded it!” I stated, “What? Miles recorded my tune?” He stated, “Yeah, Miles dug it.” And after I noticed Miles, Miles stated to me, “What have been you smokin’ while you wrote that?”
Miles can also be sorely lacking from that picture, in fact.
And Red Garland, who was from Philadelphia. He wasn’t within the image, however I assume if he have been on the town he would have been. But then, like I stated, numerous others weren’t there. And we by no means knew. What do you do while you get and also you end studying it? The one which had the in it, with the image, I threw it within the trash, like we at all times do. And then it began to realize fame. Those who have been nonetheless alive, we couldn’t imagine it. When I signed with Columbia Records, Bruce Lundvall, he had the image, and I lamented to him, “Ah, I had that image, and I threw that journal away!” I went again to Philadelphia — I used to be nearly to signal with the label — and a few weeks later, the doorbell rang and it was someone with a giant bundle; he’d despatched me a big-size copy of that image, which continues to be in my home in Los Angeles. That image actually grew to become iconic, after which ones, twos, threes, all people began to depart, after which we lastly wound up with Sonny Rollins and me.
Do you stroll by the spot in any respect?
Never, by no means, by no means; it’s out of my territory. It’s up on 126th Street on the East Side. I by no means go on the East Side for something. Not that I attempt to keep away from it. What I do by no means takes me there. So that’s the way in which it’s.
It looks as if you’re in fairly good condition.
You know, this January, I’ll be 90 years outdated. Now, I inform my audiences, it’s an excellent factor I selected music as a result of I’m nonetheless taking part in. It’s an excellent factor I wasn’t a quarterback. Who’s ever heard of an 89-year-old quarterback? So I’m nonetheless useful. I nonetheless do what’s in my coronary heart to do. I’m nonetheless in a position to play, nothing improper with my thoughts and my fingers. [When] I play my solo now, there’s a chair proper by the piano. I sit down, however I’m nonetheless taking part in. Of course, Sonny won’t ever play once more. Tragic.
What are you engaged on currently, something new?
Nothing new. What has occurred to me now, after being married 60 years — my spouse has Alzheimer’s, and my life isn’t the identical, not the identical. She doesn’t know who my daughter is. Sometimes she is aware of who I’m. Sometimes she’ll ask me the place do I reside. It’s humorous and tragic on the identical time.
That’s a great way to take a look at it.
So I don’t wish to be away. We had a spot in Germany for years — I needed to give it up, promote the automobile, give the piano away, as a result of I can’t be in Germany in the course of the summer time, as a result of she’s right here in a nursing residence. So we gave it up. And I wish to be right here as a lot as I can. I don’t wish to be gone too lengthy. I don’t wish to do something that’s going to take me away too lengthy. Yet I’ve to work; I’m not wealthy! So my life is kind of completely different. Sometimes I really feel like simply mendacity down and crying.
So you’re principally performing now?
No, I additionally do grasp lessons. I’ve been as much as Hartford and Stanford and all through Europe and completely different faculties. They need me as a result of I’m outdated and I’ve numerous data. I’ve seen all of it, Matt.
I really feel such as you and Wayne Shorter —
That man doesn’t present his age, does he?
That’s true, nevertheless it’s fascinating that you just’re each tenor saxophonists and also you’ve each written such enduring tunes. I really feel prefer it’s not typically the case that tenor sax gamers are composers.
He’s of the identical ilk, completely. He’s nonetheless taking part in, and he sounds nice.
A variety of the tunes that you just wrote have been very memorable, melodically talking, however I don’t hear that as a lot in jazz these days. Do you assume there’s much less of an emphasis on melody in trendy jazz?
Not as a lot melody as there was. Some of the tunes typically sound athletic, ? The memorable factor — , I really like writing ballads, however there’s no actual room for ballads anymore (like Peggy Lee, Diana Ross, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Tormé, Ella Fitzgerald), that’s type of passed by the wayside a bit.
In 2004, you have been featured within the Steven Spielberg movie The Terminal, with Tom Hanks. Do you be in contact with him?
I hear from Tom on a regular basis, not a lot from Steve. His spouse, Rita, she’s a singer. They’re each sweethearts. But they’re atypical identical to you and me. So is Steven.
Did that film deliver new listeners to your work?
They had a bit of gathering on the market in Hollywood as soon as, Dick Van Dyke was there. Incredible. This music has been unbelievable for me. I adore it. And , years in the past, I was a truck driver earlier than I actually acquired began professionally. The first job I had, I used to ship furnishings. And then I acquired one other job the place I grew to become an knowledgeable at hanging these massive mirrors. I may put up a mirror in 20 minutes. I hated each of the roles. And after I went in and advised ’em I wouldn’t be coming again, all of them requested me what I used to be gonna be doing. I stated, “I’m gonna be a jazz musician.” And all of them began to giggle. But I by no means went again. And there’s nothing improper with these sorts of jobs, there’s nothing improper with exhausting work, however I let you know, and I inform my audiences, being a musician is so a lot better than being a truck driver.
I don’t assume anybody would disagree with that.
Nothing improper with it in any respect, and I appreciated the cash, however I hated each second of it. I watched the clock from eight o’clock until 5 o’clock, day by day.
I don’t blame you.
And right here I’m on the finish of my profession. We’ve acquired so many younger ones, and I’m impressed after I see what they’re doing. They’re doing it a lot sooner. When I used to be arising, you couldn’t go to varsity and get a diploma for jazz. When I went to varsity, I used to be advised that if I used to be caught having something to do with jazz, I’d be expelled from the school. I used to be taking part in in Washington, D.C., and I used to sneak over the wall at night time within the again, after having performed the gig, and I went to work one night time, went up on the bandstand, and I circled and on the first desk there was the top of the idea division. And after I completed taking part in, what I used to be anticipating was, “See me in my workplace tomorrow at 9 o’clock,” however he stated to me as an alternative, “Great set,” and nothing else was ever stated.
I’m questioning a bit of extra in regards to the picture since you’re standing behind Art Blakey. The shot was taken in August 1958, after which two months later, you recorded “Moanin’” with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. It’s one of many canonical albums launched in 1959, together with Kind of Blue, Time Out, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Mingus Ah Um, Giant Steps …
That nearly didn’t occur, and “Moanin’” nearly didn’t occur. During breaks, typically Bobby [Timmons] would have a bit of factor he’d play, just a bit lick, no person actually performed any consideration to it. But as time glided by, we have been on the brink of file. I thought of that, and I stated, he’s acquired eight bars there, however he doesn’t have a bridge. I known as a rehearsal, and I stated, “Bobby, that little factor you play? You’ve acquired a possible tune there. We’re gonna sit right here and make up an eight-bar bridge.” He stated, “Oh, that is nothing.” I stated, “Bobby, it’s acquired nice potential, attempt to put a bridge to it.” And so he did. In a couple of half-hour, he had one thing collectively, and he performed it for me. I stated, “Bobby, no, you don’t have the identical feeling as the unique lick.” He stated, “You write it.” I stated, “No, Bobby, this has gotta be your tune. Try once more.” And so in 15 minutes, he had a bridge, and he performed it for me, and I stated, “That’s it.” I stated, “What are you gonna name it? What does it make you consider?” He stated, “Maybe ‘Moanin’’?” I stated, “Okay, name it ‘Moanin’.’” I stated, “We’re going to play it tonight, and the viewers goes to inform us what they consider it.”
I had simply are available in to the band, and Art wasn’t making that a lot cash. There have been so many issues improper, and I talked to him typically. One of our conversations in the course of the break was, “Art, the way in which you play these drums, you have to be a millionaire.” And after I talked about the phrase millionaire, his eyes widened. And he stated to me, “What do I do?” And I had the nerve to inform him, “Do the whole lot I let you know to do.” And he stated, “What do I do?” I stated, “Get a brand new band.” He stated, “All proper, inform them they’re fired.” I stated, “I can’t inform them they’re fired.” I had simply come into the band, however ultimately it did occur, and it’s horrible as a result of I knew all the blokes, however the guys have been going to sleep on the bandstand and nodding and every kind of loopy stuff.
And throughout all that point, all people was listening to what I used to be saying. I stated to Alfred Lion at Blue Note, “I’ve right here, Alfred, that one of many followers took of Art. It’s a head shot. I’d like that head shot on the quilt.” And they did the whole lot I used to be telling ‘em to do. Up to this present day, I can’t imagine it. Incredible!
Sounds prefer it was extra your band than Art Blakey’s on the time.
At the time, yeah, as a result of I’d get the cash, and I’d pay the lads.
In Jean Bach’s documentary in regards to the picture, A Great Day in Harlem, Marian McPartland says one thing early on that kind of struck me as insightful. She wonders aloud what it could have appeared like if each musician had introduced his or her instrument to the shoot and everybody had performed. What do you assume that will have appeared like?
That by no means crossed my thoughts. That would have been one thing. How about that. We’d have had someone from each instrument — piano, bass, trumpet, trombone. My goodness! Hmm. That by no means crossed my thoughts.