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Various Artists: A Great Day in Harlem

One of the most beloved jazz documentaries ever gets the deluxe treatment in this two-DVD edition. The film documents the famous 1958 Art Kane photograph for Esquire that featured 57 jazz musicians posed in front of a Harlem brownstone. Director Jean Bach (who was a complete novice when she undertook this project) manages to bring the photo to life through interviews with many of the people who were there that day.

Bonuses include a documentary about making the film that’s almost as fascinating as the main feature. The charming Bach had to fight through a lot of failing memories to get to the true story about that Harlem day. The outtakes showing a hard-of-hearing Art Blakey misidentifying fellow musicians and claiming the brownstone was his (it wasn’t) are a bit sad, and Bud Freeman is shown to be particularly rambling.

The second DVD features three hours of profiles on the artists in the photos, while the first DVD includes an extended interview with Bill Charlap and Kenny Washington and two other featurettes: “The Copycat Photos” and one about Kane, who suffered from manic depression. He killed himself the day after the documentary was nominated for an Academy Award.

Originally Published