Archive for December, 2011

Gene Smith’s Birthday

Dave Simonton sent me a reminder note this morning.  Smith was born December 30, 1918.  I spent a few minutes rummaging for something unique that I’ve never posted before.  Then I figured I couldn’t do much better than to re-post these two images of Smith, the first of him and Larry Clark in the loft in 1962, by Gernot Newman, and the second of him in Wichita in 1977, the year before he died, by Terry Evans.  He was 59 when he died.  He’d be 93 today.

Larry Clark and Gene Smith in 821 Sixth Avenue, 1962. Photo by Gernot Newman.

Larry Clark and Gene Smith in 821 Sixth Avenue, 1962. Photo by Gernot Newman.

Gene Smith in Wichita, 1977. Photo by Terry Evans.

Gene Smith in Wichita, 1977. Photo by Terry Evans.

-Sam Stephenson

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The Notebooks

~44 pounds.

~44 pounds.

“Someday I think you should come down and weigh my scrapbook.” -W. Eugene Smith

We have now heard all of the digitized audio material made from the tapes found in W. Eugene Smith’s collection. These notebooks hold the paper version of my notes as well as the contributions of fellow listeners Hank Stephenson, Will Harris, Beth Turner, Lauren Brenner, and Margaret Hennessey. Special thanks to these individuals for sharing in the discovery of Smith’s audio. And to Sam Stephenson, for creating the Jazz Loft Project and allowing me to hear this collection, in addition to sharing in the discovery of the wonders found in and beyond Smith’s recordings.  We are grateful for the support of our friends at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona Libraries as well as our friends here in Durham at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

This work would not have been possible without the generous support of the Reva and David Logan Foundation. Likewise, we are deeply grateful to the Heirs of W. Eugene Smith.

We are also thankful for crucial funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (The Grammy Foundation), the Duke University Office of the Provost, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Ken and Amelia Jacob, and Kimpton Hotels.

Many people have contributed to this listening and cataloging work. In thinking of people to thank, the list begins to grow towards the size of the list of names of people who passed through the loft at 821 Sixth Avenue. And there is a good deal of overlap in these two lists. We are very fortunate and most thankful to have met and heard the stories of many who lived in, worked in, and visited this loft building.  And we are fortunate to collaborate with a wonderful community of partners, archivists, audio  engineers, colleagues, advisors, work study students, interns, friends, and fellow Rome builders. Thank you!

At this juncture, we are working with our partner institutions on the next steps in the prospect of archiving this enormous collection so  that it may be made available to the public in the future.

-Dan Partridge

Photo by Harlan Campbell.

Photo by Harlan Campbell.

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Sonny Clark Playlist

Tin House has linked my Sonny Clark playlist via Spotify.

-S.S.

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Tin House Blog

Lance Cleland of Tin House magazine asked me to submit an entry on their blog to coincide with my Sonny Clark piece that’s in their current issue.  I called it “Outside Jazz History” and it was posted today.  Coming later today is a Sonny Clark playlist on Spotify that I created for their blog, too.

-S.S.

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Fixing the Shadow

Yesterday I had yet another inspiring conversation with the poet Betty Adcock.  Such conversations with her and her late husband Don Adcock have been the norm for me over the past fifteen years (I wrote about Don here).  I’m lucky.  This particular chat was about my growing efforts to go deep on Gene Smith’s background in Wichita, to learn what it was about his first eighteen years that he carried for the next forty.  We talked about John Keats and James Dickey, among others.  I told Betty I’d been reading the Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki, in particular his treatise on art, “In Praise of Shadows,” and his “Seven Japanese Tales,” which was recommended to me by novelist Allan Gurganus (I mentioned Tanizaki in a Paris Review piece here).  We ended up talking about the term “fixer,” in regard to the darkroom chemical, and also in regard to care giving and healing – themes that recurred in Smith’s work, and in regard to efforts to make solid shaky things in general.

Betty then pointed me toward a poem by her friend Claudia Emerson, Pulitzer Prize winner.  It’s called “Secure the Shadow” and I’ve read it six times in the past 24 hours.  I look forward to Claudia’s new book.

Check out Betty’s talk about Dickey here.  The talk provides a clear sense of her brilliance and humor.

-Sam Stephenson

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Blue Notes in Black and White

Photo by William Gottlieb

Photo by William Gottlieb

In yesterday’s Times Ben Ratliff had an interesting review of a new jazz photo book by Benjamin Cawthra, and he throws in a Smith/JLP mention.  In the recent past, a couple of editors have encouraged me to author a book on “the history of jazz photography.”  One day it might make sense.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I don’t think jazz music has been served well by jazz photography and, hence, jazz marketing.  So much emphasis on the individual doesn’t jibe with what the music is about, doesn’t jibe with what I think I learned in 12 years of the JLP nor what I learned from the work of Whitney Balliett, AB Spellman, Nat Hentoff, or Paul Berliner’s great book, “Thinking in Jazz.”  The losers in our urgent need for heros are the bass players and drummers, who are like catchers in baseball; essential to success but not recognized enough.  It’s not that Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax don’t deserve to be honored, it’s just that what really happens on a baseball diamond needs to be represented in full.  That’s what makes Whitney Balliett’s chronicle of jazz history essential.

-S.S.

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Gene Smith and Larry Clark, 1962

Last night Larry Clark sent me this photograph of him and Gene Smith in 821 Sixth Avenue.  According to Larry it’s from 1962 and made by Gernot Newman.  Larry and Gernot had hitchhiked from Milwaukee to NYC during a holiday that year.  Larry found the picture earlier in the week while rummaging through some boxes.  He gave me permission to post it here.

-S.S.

Larry Clark and W. Eugene Smith, 821 Sixth Avenue, 1962.  Photo by Gernot Newman.

Larry Clark and W. Eugene Smith, 821 Sixth Avenue, 1962. Photo by Gernot Newman.

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“You Gotta Have a Band.”

I love Ethan Iverson’s emphasis (in this blog post and all the time) on the need for jazz musicians to have a working band, a creative collective.  This is the standard in other forms of music, but in jazz it is rare.  It would be interesting to trace this development from the early days.  So much of the emphasis on the individual in jazz seems to emanate from the marketing, the need to showcase individual genius, the mythical hero.  It also comes from the photography.  Jazz photography is dominated by images of the individual, rarely the whole band.  Check it out.

Recently I inquired with the manager of a prime jazz musician if they had a photograph of the whole band.  They didn’t.  They didn’t have a single photograph of the whole band.  Not one.

If jazz is dead, this is one of the reasons.

-Sam Stephenson

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Branford Marsalis in Durham

My latest piece for Paris Review on Branford was just posted HERE today.  Photographs by Frank Hunter.

S.S.

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Progression: How and What?

Above is the title of a piece by John McPhee in the November 14, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.  Here’s a clip:

“For nonfiction projects, ideas are everywhere.  They just go by in a ceaseless stream.  Since you may take a month, or ten months, or several years to turn one idea into a piece of writing, what governs the choice?  I once made a list of all the pieces I had written in maybe twenty or thirty years, and then put a check mark beside each one whose subject related to things I had been interested in before I went to college.  I checked off more than ninety per cent.”

McPhee’s passage helps explain why I’ve made three week-long trips to Gene Smith’s hometown of Wichita and why I may make one more before this manuscript is finished next year.  The passage also has me pondering what it is about my first eighteen years that led me to spend fifteen adult years researching Smith’s Pittsburgh, then his goings on at 821 Sixth Avenue, and now the full story.  It also may help explain why I picked up tennis last spring after a twenty-five year layoff and have played four days a week since then.  Who knows?

-Sam Stephenson

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