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.

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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

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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

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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.


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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 Tonesas 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 Finnin 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



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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

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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.

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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

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JLP in American Photo

This piece in American Photo magazine is by Dan Abbe, from May 31, 2012.

-JLP Staff.

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Recent Media on JLP from San Diego

The JLP exhibition runs through October 7 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego.  Here are three recent pieces of media coverage from the proceedings:

Sam Stephenson live on public radio, KPBS’ Midday Edition.  KPBS San Diego.  May 30, 2012.

Tapes Force a Rewritten Chapter in Jazz History.” – San Diego Union-Tribune.  May 20, 2012.

Jazz Loft Project at MoPA.” - San Diego Union-Tribune.  May 19, 2012.

In addition, here’s a piece from the Rocky Mount Telegram about the recent unveiling of a historical highway marker in honor of Thelonious Monk last month.

-JLP Staff.

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