Skip to main content

A Jazz Weekend

With guests staying in town and tickets to the Village Vanguard to hear Bill Frisell's 858 Quartet on Sunday night, the weekend took on a jazz theme. In addition to also hearing snippets of free live jazz in Washington Square Park, we took a group excursion to the NYPL’s Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center to see the exhibit, The Jazz Loft Project. On Sunday afternoon, I ventured a solo trip to revisit photographer W. Eugene Smith's loft on Sixth Avenue, the subject of the exhibit, to see what remained of this jazz-infused block near W. 28th Street. Within forty-eight hours, a few trips on the A train and the walks around Lincoln Plaza, the parks, the streets, and the avenues assumed varying syncopated tempos on their own. Like Vachel Lindsay picking up the tempo of the elevated trains for his poetry, the walking excursions to places in jazz history tapped into the alternating syncopations and meters of the language of jazz. Listening to the street, the visits seemed to inspire riffs on an altered image, down beats strong enough to forsake straight photography at times for alternative sources of visualization. Jazz was making me look anew at the city's visual rhythms.

The Jazz Loft Project, a multimedia exhibition focusing on photographer W. Eugene Smith's documentation of the city's jazz scene in the 1950s and 1960s, closes at NYPL's Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center this week, and for serious jazz fans, it's not to be missed. The exhibit was organized by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in cooperation with the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona and the Smith estate.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 40 Lincoln Center Plaza.

A successful photographer for Life magazine, Smith quit the magazine in 1955 after arguing with the editors in order to pursue more creative freelance assignments. He joined the Magnum Photo Agency and soon headed to Pittsburgh for a documentary project. He managed to lengthen a short visit of a few weeks into an unmanageable project of thousands of photographs over a period of three years. Stressed and strung out, he moved away from his family and home up the Hudson and into a messed-up loft in New York at 821 Sixth Avenue near W. 28th Street. In the heart of the flower district, the five-story building had become a favorite late night hangout for some of the most celebrated jazz musicians in the history of the genre - Thelonius Monk, Zoot Sims, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Roland Kirk, and many more. According to the documentation by scholar and writer Sam Stephenson, nearly six hundred musicians, teachers or artists can be documented at one time or other visiting this mecca of jazz, creativity, and art during its heyday.
821 Sixth Avenue is the white five-store building at right. Smith lived on the fourth floor.

As a resident of the loft, Smith made approximately forty thousand exposures between 1957 and 1965, images of jazz sessions, portraits of musicians and colorful characters, and of street life from the vantage point of a window in his fourth-floor apartment. His night images in black and white - neon signs, cars slipping through rainy streets, smoke, and exhaust fumes - often evoke a seedy and slightly dangerous film noir city, one often depicted by other photographers and cinematographers in the 1950s. Many are straight shots, while others, such as a shot of the nearby Empire State Building seen through a jagged tear in a papered-over window, veer toward the experimental.

The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965
Fortunately, the photographer, enjoying the fad of the day for reel-to-reel sound recording, wired 821 Sixth Avenue for audio recording. Previously unheard before The Jazz Loft Project, Smith's preserved recordings reveal his wide range of interests, from recordings of jazz sessions to ambient street sounds to tapes of radio and TV programs. He taped Mr. Magoo cartoons, radio talk shows, poetry readings, and news coverage of John F. Kennedy's election and assassination.

The exhibit of The Jazz Loft Project includes sights and sounds, displays of his photographic and recording equipment, and a 16mm film of Smith working in the loft. Listening to the jazz in the headphones while looking at the photos encourages rich associations between image and sound. The exhibit continues through May 22, 2010. The official website is the main place for exploring the project online, and the companion book is great for offline browsing.

• The loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue still stands today (see above), although the jazz milieu along the block has given way to the wholesale trade in pashmina scarves and cheap handbags. Within the dwindling Flower District near Seventh Avenue and W. 28th Street, older loft buildings house inexpensive accessories and merchandise, but many of the buildings shown in Smith's photographs have since been replaced with high rise apartment buildings, unremarkable office buildings, or cheaply built fast food restaurants. A few remnants of the older city linger. A flower shop in Smith's photograph at the corner of W. 28th and Sixth Avenue, for example, is still a flower shop.


Contemporary scenes of Sixth Avenue and W. 28th St,

• Last weekend's sunny weather brought out the crowds and the musicians to Washington Square Park. The jazz cats often frequent the west side of the park, and it's possible to hear some great jazz standards while relaxing on a park bench and watching the world walk by. Help them out when they pass the hat or buy one of their CDs.



Richter 858• On Sunday evening, our merry group took in Bill Frisell's 868 Quartet at the Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Avenue), and while the composer and accompanying star musicians (Hank Roberts, Eyvind Kang, and Jenny Scheinman) played in one of jazz's best known houses, the music itself pushed through existing walls in the genre. Frisell originally composed the music for his 858 Quartet based on Gerhard Richter's Abstract Picture (858-1 through 858-8) - hence the group's name, so the music offered intentional dissonance and abstraction while still finding its way to Frisell's well-known lyricism. For an hour, sitting behind clusters of people gathered around tables, I became lost in sounds that defied my expectations. In the richly sonorous triangular basement room of the Vanguard, I heard new sounds that I immediately longed to hear again. And what better way to wrap up a walk through a jazz weekend in New York?

Empire State Building, from near the corner of Sixth Avenue and W. 28th Street. Made with an iPhone and Hipstamatic app.

Images and sketches by Walking Off the Big Apple. May 15-16, 2010.

Comments

I wish I lived in NY, very ecclectic and chic.

Not to mention the quality of music,Jazz is awesome to listen after a long days work.

And those sketches are amazing, its like you can see movement in them.

Thanks for posting this!
nick wood said…
You've really whetted my appetite. Next week we'll be back in New York and one of the highlights will be Ahamd Jamal at the Blue Note. Can't wait.
Teri Tynes said…
Thanks, Discountmugs (I assume that's not your real name). Come visit NY sometime soon.

Hi Nick - Great plan to take in the Blue Note on your visit next week. After going to the Vanguard on Sunday night, I wanted to get out and hear more jazz myself. Fortunately, several places in the Village feature jazz on any given night. I may have a whole jazz-themed summer.

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City. View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington. Recommended purchase - a map det

14 Useful Mobile Apps for Walking New York City

Texting and walking at the same time is wrong. Talking on the phone while strolling down the street is wrong. Leaving the sidewalk to stop and consult the information on a cellphone, preferably while alone, is OK. What's on Walking Off the Big Apple's iPhone: A List Walkmeter GPS Walking Stopwatch for Fitness and Weight Loss . While out walking, Walkmeter tracks routes, time, speed, and elevation. This is an excellent app for recording improvised or impromptu strolls, especially with many unplanned detours. The GPS function maps out the actual route. The app keeps a running tally of calories burned while walking, useful for weight loss goals. Another welcome feature is the ability to switch over to other modes of activity, including cycling. An indispensable app for city walkers. $4.99  New York City Compass , designed by Francesco Bertelli, is an elegant compass calibrated for Manhattan, with indications for Uptown, East Side, Downtown, and West Side. While facing a cert

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli