I am sidling up to a new home town. I spent several days in the mother ship, mother New York City, earlier this week while husband is settling into his new job and we continue our navigation between Philly and New York. Perched in our apartment at one end and hotel room at the other. Neither any longer or quite yet is home.
On this particular trip I did what I always do in Manhattan — museums, photography architecture, theatre. And this trip we added a new experience for this gal who has been visiting Manhattan for 40 years — we visited some actual rental properties on the Upper West Side, hosted by agent Sam. Who for some reason I kept calling Patrick. No winners uncovered yet but beautiful buildings explored and blocks wandered and a real feeling that the Upper West Side could be a comfortable home indeed.
Tuesday I wandered over to Lincoln Center because it’s not far from the modest hotel we’ve been using lately, and was mesmerized by jazz and photography. The jazz was both recorded and live.
W. Eugene Smith, photographer and New York City character, lived at 821 Sixth Avenue (between 28th and 29th) from 1957 into 1965. There he shot 1,447 rolls of film representing some 40,000 pictures and made 1,740 reels of tape representing 4,000 hours of stereo and mono recorded evidence of parties and jam sessions and other events in the loft space. At one point these archives were uncovered (for more about the details of finding and cataloging, read through the web sites below). Now there is a book and an exhibit and documentary interviews … and I’m here to tell you, I was transported.
[The exhibition web site:http://www.jazzloftproject.org/?s=exhibition. The project itself:http://www.jazzloftproject.org/. You will find a play list of music snippets here: http://www.jazzloftproject.org/?s=sounds. Fire ’em up!]
Pictures on the walls were often taken from the fourth floor loft windows, and more often of the loft guests and hangers on. Secret, public lives of people who live and work and wander in New York City. Spinning in the air are rifts of jazz improvisation — muddy and melodic. Drum, piano. Jazz. tuneful and tuneless and quietly driving .. somewhere. Recorded in this loft, some of the 1,740 tape reels pictured (boxes covers with scrawled cryptic notes about the contents within) — on banners and placed beneath glass in display cabinets.
Harold Feinstein, a photographer and Smith friend and sometime assistant, made the following reflections about his pal and the stance of photography as practiced by Smith.
“They say all photographers are voyeurs. So part of it is to look; part of it is to eavesdrop. And I also think Gene had a sense of history. There’s always a major project in the back of his mind.”
So here we have an artist, a life, an archive created out of the detritus and recordings of this professional photographer and family man who left all that and became .. what? a Beat? Whatever he was, whatever sense we make of it, this exhibit in its visual and aural wash creates a temporary and evocative testament to a life of observing and recording.
After viewing the exhibit I spied a flyer for a free concert about an hour hence in the Bruno Walter Auditorium (down the hall) featuring “The Gotham Jazzmen”. (Some names: Ed Bonoff on drums, James Lincoln Collier on trombone, Lee Lorenz — known as much for his art editing of The New Yorker as for his delightful cornet playing, Dick Miller on piano, and several others.) I wandered in with a few minutes to spare, found an aisle seat down front, and men on piano, cornet, trombone, and drums to start, soon augmented by bass and guitar, swung and whispered their way through jazz standards.
- Just You, Just Me
- If I Had You
- Did I Remember (and here I got to the church of happy/sad memories, as I often do while listening to jazz, recalling mom and dad and how much jazz was a part of our lives as children, with spare instrumental melodic treatments of standards like this one)
- Easter Parade (with righteous New Orleans volleying rhythms; the pianist strikes exquisite tingles stomping stride riffs)
- “A Blues for John Bunch”, 88-year-old jazz man who died the week before [New York Times obit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/02/arts/music/02bunch.html].
- Mean To Me
- “Some Other Time / So Happy To Be Me”
- Lady Be Good
- Black and Blue
- Sweethearts on Parade
- Everybody Loves My Baby
The audience featured a heavy helping of alert retirees and some tourists but mostly locals who knew of this treasure of a free treat, was conversational and respectful. During some tunes there was low chatter audible as if we were in a brightly lit club, adding to the atmosphere. I found it a bit charming to be honest.
And all of this, as just a fragment of this several day visit, underscores to me yet again .. and again .. and again .. how much I love New York and jazz and how much we have to commit ourselves to preserving our history. Personal, professional, cultural, institutional.