Art Kane: A Great Day Frame by Frame

In a new book, Jonathan Kane tells the stories behind his father’s most famous photograph: Harlem 1958

Cover of Art Kane Harlem 1958
Cover of Art Kane Harlem 1958

Besides the beauty of the photos, the book also has an interesting story, or bunch of stories. One of them was how the musicians ended up positioning themselves for the photo.

There are a couple of tellings of that story. I think it was probably somewhere in the middle. He [Kane] rolled up a newspaper and yelled through it for folks to please get into position. But the spaces that they chose were all on their own.

The pianists stood together. Same with the drummers. It was an organic thing.

One of my favorite stories is about Eddie Locke, the drummer who is seen standing shyly off to the left with Horace Silver. He was there because his son was in preschool with my older brother Anthony. Eddie was picking up his son at the preschool and my mom was picking up my brother and they got into a conversation, as parents do. My mom asked him, “What do you do?” He said, “I’m a jazz drummer.” She said, “Oh, listen, this weekend my husband is doing a shoot for Esquire—you’ve gotta go.” He said, “Thanks very much, I think I’ll go.” And when he got there for the shoot and turned the corner to see all those people, he nearly flipped. He got so nervous. Looking around, he sees Monk, Dizzy, Coleman Hawkins, Basie, Blakey, and he says to himself, “I don’t belong here.” But then he saw someone he did know and with whom he had played, and it was Horace Silver. He then stood next to him. There are all kinds of stories in there and you get to see them all played out frame by frame in this beautiful book.

(From left) Horace Silver, Luckey Roberts, Sahib Shihab, Eddie Locke, Jimmy Rushing (half hidden) (photo by Art Kane)
(From left) Horace Silver, Luckey Roberts, Sahib Shihab, Eddie Locke, Jimmy Rushing (half hidden) (photo by Art Kane)

Fascinating that, for an assemblage like we had there in August of 1958, everybody showed up on time, well-dressed, professional, and didn’t fuss or fight that there weren’t any location trucks. For a photo shoot, I don’t even know if they did things like that at that time. But if they did, they weren’t doing it that day, and yet there they all are, looking so proud. They’re representing their art and each other. It’s a beautiful thing.