A Great Day in Harlem

Members-only festival passes on sale Thurs, August 22.

Public tickets on sale Thurs, August 29.

Join us for a matinee screening of the film A Great Day in Harlem as part of the Within/Earshot Jazz Festival presented by BIMA in partnership with the Seattle’s Earshot Jazz.

About A Great Day in Harlem

Back in 1958 New York City clubs boasted nightly performances by the greatest players in jazz. Their music and their lives spanned four decades and linked styles and origins from across the country. This is the story of a moment from that era that brought dozens of these giants to a single frame.

A Great Day in Harlem is an hour-long documentary film that brings to life a remarkable moment in the history of jazz – a moment in which dozens of America’s jazz legends unexpectedly gathered together for a photograph that would become emblematic of the golden age of jazz. By illuminating this single, historic event, A GREAT DAY IN HARLEM is a window to an unprecedented era in music history which addresses broader issues of creativity and community in our own time.

It was a Summer day in New York City, 1958. A young photographer paced nervously in front of a Harlem brownstone. He had spread word that he hoped to take a picture for a special edition of Esquire magazine commemorating the golden age of jazz. Yet it was ten in the morning, long before most jazz players were up, and a meager turnout was feared. To everyone’s surprise, scores of musicians assembled to create what is now a world-famous, “class photograph” of America’s jazz legends.

A Great Day in Harlem zooms in and out of this astonishing photograph, interweaving archival performance footage, remarkable never-before-seen home-movie footage of the photograph being taken, and rare interviews with jazz masters present that day such as Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Art Farmer, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. Other interviewees include the photographer, Art Kane, who had never before taken a picture as a professional but who would quickly rise to the top of the field, and the Esquire graphics editor, Robert Benton, who speaks of what he learned that day that he would later use as a three-time Academy Award winning filmmaker. Finally, we hear the stories of some of the neighborhood kids who snuck into the frame to be photographed alongside their musical heroes.

Through this photograph, viewers will come to know some of the century’s most influential musicians. We meet such luminaries as Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charles Mingus, Marian McPartland, Gerry Mulligan, Mary Lou Williams, Maxine Sullivan, and Thelonious Monk. The result is a richly textured recreation of the event and the presentation of a cross-section of people and musical styles that comprised the evolution of jazz in the 20th century – and beyond.

As important, A Great Day in Harlem captures the spirit of an era when New York City was the center of the jazz world, when music history was constantly being made, and when creativity was fostered by an intense and nurturing community of musicians and fans.

It was indeed a great day when musicians met and joked with friends, family, and community residents – in one instance even blowing a few jazz riffs – on a side street in Harlem in 1958. Like the photograph it documents, A Great Day in Harlem is a vivid portrait of a unique community.