The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith


photo by W. Eugene Smith

Thelonious Monk, 1959



In the late 1950’s, the photographer W. Eugene Smith happened to be Manhattan neighbors with musicians Dick Cary and Hall Overton, who used their apartment as a gathering place for the great jazz artists of the era.  In this small apartment space, Smith catalogued the lives of the likes of Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Lee Konitz in 4,000 hours of recordings and 40,000 photographs.  Among the most noteworthy is a recording of Monk and Hall Overton as they rehearse for their famous 1959 Town Hall recording.

The ongoing effort preserving this work known as “The Jazz Loft Project” includes the musical recordings and photos as well as conversations among the musicians, street sounds of the era, and radio talk shows.  The Project’s archive – which is housed at the Center For Creative Photography at the University of Arizona – also includes over 400 interviews with Smith’s friends, associates of the time, and pertinent musicians and scholars.

The Project is now bearing some serious fruit, with the release of a WNYC produced documentary, The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, which is the first movie to make use of the archive. 

According to WNYC’s website, the film is being shown in Washington D.C. at the National Gallery of Art on February 16, and it is also available now on various streaming platforms.  You can read a New York Times film review by clicking here, and the film’s trailer can be viewed below.