Sam Stephenson’s new book, Gene Smith’s Sink, Out August 2017

Sam’s new book, the culmination of twenty years of work, will be published in August by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  More information HERE.  The first event for the book will be a conversation between Sam and Eugene Richards, moderated by Arezoo Moseni, at the New York Public Library on September 19, 2017.  Info about that event and more HERE.

GSS Cover Hi Res

Comments off

JLP Based Documentary Film Opens September 23 in NYC



Opening in Theaters and On Demand Platforms in Fall 2016

Theatrical Debut Appears on Friday, September 23 at the Metrograph in New York City

(NEW YORK, NY – September 7, 2016) – FilmBuff announced today that it has licensed worldwide rights to distribute THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH, the first original production from venerable New York media institution and leading podcast producer WNYC Studios.

FilmBuff will release THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH in select theaters – including the Metrograph in New York City – on Friday, September 23, followed by a digital release on all major On Demand platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu, on Friday, October 7. WNYC’s award-winning radio host and producer and Emmy Award-winning film editor Sara Fishko, the director of the film, will be on hand to do a live Q&A after the evening show at the Metrograph.

The film, a follow-up to Fishko’s Jazz Loft Radio Series, as well as author Sam Stephenson’s book, The Jazz Loft Project, brings hundreds of photographs by acclaimed LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith to the screen for the first time, as well as some of the 4,000 hours of audio he recorded, The film features commentary by musicians Steve Reich, Carla Bley, Jason Moran, Ronnie Free, and many others on this fascinating chapter in jazz, photography, and New York City history.

In the 1950s, dozens of jazz musicians jammed night after night in a dilapidated New York loft building, not realizing they were all being captured in sound and pictures by Smith, who lived in the loft space next door. Thelonious Monk stopped by to rehearse; drummer Ronnie Free got hooked on hard drugs; Smith began to tape-record his own phone calls; the ‘50s gave way to the ‘60s. In a layering of interviews, vignettes and powerful music, Fishko recreates these stories of the vibrant culture of New York’s mid-century jazz era, resurrecting some of the characters captured in Smith’s evocative photographs.

In tandem with the film’s release, WNYC Studios will make available an updated version of the original award-winning Jazz Loft Radio Series – which takes listeners on a deep-dive into the music, voices, and sound Smith captured on audio tape – as a 10-episode podcast series on, iTunes and other places where podcasts are available.

“Jazz is an integral part of the fabric of New York City culture, so we’re excited to bring THE JAZZ LOFT to audiences in our hometown and beyond,” said FilmBuff’s Jake Hanly. “It’s a fascinating time capsule of an historic moment in our city, and FilmBuff is excited to be partnering with WNYC, a quintessential New York institution, on their first original production.”

“What gets us excited every day is the chance to tell stories that inform while delighting. And we’re always looking for new ways to do that,” said Dean Cappello, Chief Content Officer of WNYC Studios. “THE JAZZ LOFT project started as a radio series that showcased the incredible and unheard Gene Smith recordings. The chance to bring these characters to the screen with FilmBuff in WNYC Studios’ first film feels like the best way to honor these musicians and artists in a way that audiences will love.”

“We’re still not sure exactly what Gene Smith was trying to create in the loft,” said Fishko. “But he did remarkable work there, and his pictures by the tens of thousands and stacks and stacks of audio tape reels tell us things about community, music-making, obsession and art that we couldn’t learn in any other way.”

THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH screened at Cleveland International Film Festival 2016, Full Frame Festival 2016, Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema 2016, International Film Festival Rotterdam 2016, Copenhagen Jazz Film Festival 2016, DOC NYC 2015, and New Orleans Film Festival 2015.

The film was written, produced and directed by Sara Fishko, edited by Jonathan J. Johnson and photographed by Tom Hurwitz, ASC.  Producers include Calvin Skaggs for Lumiere Productions and Sam Stephenson. The deal was negotiated by Jake Hanly of FilmBuff with John Chao of WNYC.

THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH is funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Reva and David Logan Foundation, Oliver Kramer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Comments off

Behind the Scenes of a Doc Film Based on the Jazz Loft Project

A new documentary film based on The Jazz Loft Project is currently in post-production.  For more information and to see several production stills, go HERE.

Comments off

The Most Haunting Band Picture I’ve Seen, Pt. 2

The staff band at Cherry Hospital, formerly known as the “Asylum for Colored Insane,” also known as “the State Hospital.” Goldsboro, North Carolina. Circa 1920s.

Earlier this year I made a JLP blog post about this photograph.  This week I was treated to an unexpected email from a descendant of two of the men in the picture.  Her name is Bianca M. Rhym and over the course of several generous and compelling emails, she filled out the story.  With her permission, here are excerpts:

“My great grandfather, Albert Hill Whitaker, pictured second from right in the rear row and holding what looks like a french horn, was the grounds superintendent at the hospital from the early 1920s through mid 1970s. His older brother, William Clemon Whitaker, pictured third from left in the rear row with the trombone, was a fireman on the hospital grounds. They were born in 1898 and 1900 and they were the best of friends. I’ve seen this picture before and always liked it.

I have an old newspaper article that was once accompanied by this picture.  It’s from the 8/17/1969 edition of the Goldsboro News-Argus and was written by Joan Broyles. It’s a remembrance piece on the band.  I’ve included the text from the article below:”

Photo Caption: ‘HOSPITAL BAND OF THE 1920s — This picture of the now defunct Cherry Hospital band was taken in the 1920s. Members, who also performed at a number of social and civic occasions, were employees of the then State Hospital. Left to right, kneeling, are William Staten and Will Eller. First row, standing left to right, are Ervin Ashford, John Shines, Oscar Hines, Willie King, William Henry Simmons, Levi Hamilton (band director). Second row, left to right, Clyde James, Eugene Patterson, William Whitaker, Will Odom, a Mr. Whitfield, Albert Whitaker, and A. B. Howell. Albert Whitaker, who tells the story of the band elsewhere on this page, says that many members are now deceased.

Article Text:  A former employee of Cherry Hospital reminisced recently about a hospital band of which he was a member in the mid-1920s.

“The band was organized during the administration of Dr. W. W. Faison when Cherry was still known as State Hospital,” Albert Whitaker recalled.

“A. B. Howell and the late Levi Hamilton interested Dr. Faison in having a band which would bring amusement and entertainment to the patients,” he continued.

Whitaker, 67, was a supervisor at Cherry Hospital until his recent retirement.

The band, in which Whitaker played an “upright baritone instrument,” consisted entirely of hospital employees.

“Mr. Hamilton selected and gave Dr. Faison a list of instruments needed for the band, which were paid for by the state. Many employees agreed to be band members before the instruments were purchased, and they also agreed to pay for half of the instructions.”

Whitaker said Hamilton selected suitable instruments for each one. “We then began to learn to fill our horn, learn our lines and spaces, valuation of notes, flats and sharps.

“We were soon able to play for patients in different courtyards two times a week and board meetings once a month,” Whitaker remembered. “Dr. Jackson and Wiley Thompson of Goldsboro would join us on these occasions, and there was always barbecue and plenty of good eating.”

Whitaker said the band rendered many concerts at the hospital and performed on many other occasions as well, such as laying of the corner stone of First African Baptist Church, the opening of James Theatre, parties at Judge Robinson’s twice a month and other functions.

“Mr Hamilton resigned eventually to take care of personal business and an Englishman named Roberts succeeded him as director,” Whitaker continued. “Professor Roberts, a violin teacher, stayed with us only a short while.

“Our last instructor was Mr. Basden who was band director at Goldsboro High School. He stayed with us for quite a while and when he left we were playing a very high grade of music.”

Whitaker said the band broke up about 1930. “Members of the band began to leave to seek better employment and the group was eventually discontinued.”

But Whitaker says he kept up his interest in music. He changed to trumpet later and performed solos in his church.

Bianca Rhym continues:

“Albert Whitaker was my maternal grandmother’s father. He and William were born in Henrico, Virginia and grew up near Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  They had another brother, Eddie, who died from Typhoid fever at 15 years old, and a sister named Rosa, who died as a toddler or small child.  They also had three other sisters, Alice Arrington, Beulah Silva and Bertha Smoot, who relocated to New York City.

“They moved to Goldsboro sometime after 1920 to work at the state hospital. They are each listed in a Nash County, NC census in 1920.  They are listed as living on the grounds of the state hospital in the 1930 census.  Albert’s occupation is listed as ‘attendant’ and William’s is listed as ‘fireman’.  Albert went on to become the building and grounds superintendent at the state hospital.  He was a leader at the state hospital and in the Goldsboro community, as a member of a Masonic lodge and St. Mark’s Baptist Church.  Albert said he planned to write a book about his experiences working at the state hospital.  I’ve seen a note written by one of the physicians at the hospital calling him an amazing man who could jump a six-foot fence with just a running start.  William eventually relocated to New York City, and then came back to Goldsboro where he was laid to rest.

“Albert and William each had children and grandchildren born in homes built on the state hospital campus, and they both retired from the state hospital.  Albert has children still living in Goldsboro, one of whom will be 90 years old soon, and William has one daughter living in Atlanta.  Albert was married twice and William was married four times, so they both have a lot of grandchildren, great grandchildren, great great grandchildren and even great great great grandchildren living around the world.

“They were the descendants of Annie Whitaker, born around 1820, on their paternal side, who was a slave in Nash County, NC, and her Whitaker ‘master’.  Their maternal lineage leads back to free African Americans, native Americans, so-called ‘Melungeons’ and European Americans.

“So, after reading the article again, I’d say the picture is from the early to mid-1920s. I also found pieces of Grandpa’s sheet music for the song ‘The Beautiful Garden of Prayer’ by J. H. Fillmore, which I’m assuming was one of his favorite songs to play.

“I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Albert’s oldest daughter – my maternal grandmother – moved to Boston with her husband around 1950.  I now live in Charlotte, NC with my husband and daughter.

“I think that about covers the pertinent facts, but if you have any questions, by all means, ask away.  Thank you so much for posting what motivated me to take another look at my family history.  I look forward to reading your updated post.

Bianca M. Rhym”

I’m very grateful to Ms. Rhym, and more curious than ever about this picture and the hospital.  What these men might have been able to tell us about Thelonious Monk’s father after his commitment there, for example, is one particular thing that comes to mind.  There might be no way to track that down in 2012.  The imagined and unimaginable undocumented stories from the general history cast a spell.  Ms. Rhym’s info makes this a less “haunting” band picture to me.  I had imagined that the band members were patients, not hospital staffers.

A final thought:  Goldsboro, North Carolina is remembered in John Coltrane’s song, “Goldsboro Express,” named after the railroad line that his uncle worked on.

-Sam Stephenson

Comments off

Scenes from Brooklyn Book Festival Event

Two weeks ago today, as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival, the first public reading of Jaymes Jorsling’s play based on The Jazz Loft Project and my forthcoming book, Gene Smith’s Sink, was held at the Invisible Dog Art Center on Bergen Street.  Below, belatedly, are a few pictures from the afternoon’s private reading/rehearsal and the night’s performance, all directed by Christopher McElroen, whose current direction of the first-ever adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday.

Afternoon rehearsal with the cast of the night’s reading


Actor PJ Sosko, who read the role based on Gene Smith, director Chris McElroen, and playwright Jaymes Jorsling discuss lines during a break.

The public reading at Invisible Dog.

-Sam Stephenson

Comments off

Doug Ramsey on Overton, Monk, & Jack Reilly

I’m overdue (due to the nasty recent JLP blog virus) in linking the invaluable Doug Ramsey’s blog post on Overton, Monk, and Jack Reilly from 2+ weeks ago.  Enjoy.  I also recommend Doug’s recent posts on Hampton Hawes, among others.  As followers of this blog may know, I’m assembling what will probably become a book on Sonny Clark (pieces one and two for Paris Review Daily and a longer third piece for Tin House), and Hawes will figure deeply into that story.


Comments off

Nina Simone & Jazz Books for the Time Capsule

Nina Simone

Yesterday I was on North Carolina Public Radio’s State of Things show, hosted by Frank Stasio, to talk about Nina Simone, who grew up in Tryon, NC.  During the show I described drummer Arthur Taylor’s book, Notes and Tones, as a “time capsule jazz book.”  A friend emailed to ask what other jazz books I’d put in the time capsule.  Here they are:

Whitney Balliett’s “Collected Works” and “American Musicians II.”

A.B. Spellman’s “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” republished as “Four Jazz Lives.”

Paul Berliner’s “Thinking in Jazz.

The collected jazz writings of Nat Hentoff, in all formats including his liner notes, a collection that hasn’t been assembled or published, yet, unfortunately, but is essential.  Like Balliett and Spellman what separates Hentoff is that his story of jazz is not just a story of the recordings, but a record of the human beings in their own voices.  (I volunteer to edit Hentoff’s jazz work into a massive compendium, which would immediately become perhaps the most indispensable non-audio jazz document in the literature).

Michael Ondaatje’s novel about Buddy Bolden, Coming Through Slaughter.

Sue Mingus’ memoir, Tonight at Noon.

Art Pepper’s memoir, Straight Life.

Robert O’Meally’s anthology, Jazz Cadence of American Culture.

Robert O’Meally’s introduction to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, in which he calls that novel the first “blues” novel.

Rafi Zabor’s novel, The Bear Comes Home.

Robin D.G. Kelley’s biography, Thelonious Monk.

Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s, Three Wishes.

Dan Morgenstern’s, Living with Jazz.

Ben Ratliff’s, The Jazz Ear.

Lawrence Gushee’s Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band:  Gushee did the impossible.  He documented the undocumentable.  The Creole Band was a New Orleans band that existed entirely west of the Mississippi, mostly in vaudeville theaters on the West Coast, a band that was never recorded and perhaps never played in New Orleans.  Gushee spent 20-30 years scouring locals newspapers in the western US and he put together this mind-blowing history of a band that was only a myth before his work.

-Sam Stephenson



Comments off

Chaos Manor in Brooklyn Book Festival September 20

Chaos Manor, last year. Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn. Photo by Kate Joyce. September 16-17, 2011.

For two and a half months a cast of colleagues (thank you Chris Sims and Dan Partridge) and associates have battled a nasty virus that struck this blog.  It was never a threat to readers, we’re told, it simply paralyzed things.

Now, we’re back, and the first note is an update on Chaos Manor, which will be a Bookend Event of the Brooklyn Book Festival again this year, Thursday September 20 at 8pm  Last year’s experimental multi-media extravaganza is followed this year by the first public reading of a more conventional play based on similar material, written by Jaymes Jorsling, who took part in all of last year’s workshops.  The event is directed again by Christopher McElroen, and presented by Brigid Hughes and her Brooklyn-based literary journal, A Public Space.  Again this year the event will be at the Invisible Dog Art Center.  More information can be found on A Public Space’s site.

-Sam Stephenson

Comments off

Musings from a Jazz Drummer

Ron Free

Ron Free

The Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, current host of the JLP exhibition, posts this blog entry from drummer and loft inhabitant Ron Free, who spent several years in San Diego after his New York loft years.

-JLP Staff.

Comments off

More Chaos in Brooklyn in September


We’re pleased to announce that another production based on The Jazz Loft Project will be part of the Brooklyn Book Festival on Thursday September 20 at 8pm.  Last year, Chaos Manor, a live multi-media installation at the Invisible Dog Art Center, was a “Bookend” feature of the Festival.  It was directed Christopher McElroen, produced by me and Brigid Hughes of A Public Space, and executed by a team of devoted artists and volunteers, with undying assistance from the remarkable staff of the Invisible Dog.  Paris Review Daily posted a piece on it by Dawn Chan.

Since then, Chaos Manor has evolved.  One new aspect is a more conventional theater production – a play by Jaymes Jorsling, who was a major part of the Chaos Manor workshops all last summer, based on The Jazz Loft Project and Gene Smith’s Sink, my forthcoming book for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  Jaymes’ play will be directed by Chris McElroen, who is currently directing the first-ever adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

On Thursday September 20 at 8pm at the Invisible Dog, there will be a public reading of Jayme’s script as part of the BBF.

-Sam Stephenson

Comments (1)