Archive for from the tapes

Bull City Party

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the excellent work that’s happening right here in the Jazz Loft Project’s administrative home town: Durham, The Bull City. This April, in particular, offers a lot of wonderful documentary work, much of it in kindred spirit to the JLP.

As part of the Bull City Soul Revival, an exhibition called “Soul Souvenirs: Durham’s Musical Memories from the 1960′s and 1970′s” opens tonight, April 19, at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, NC. Follow those links to read more about tonight’s opening event, featuring several veterans of Durham’s soul scene and next Friday’s concert with a similarly powerful lineup (April 27).

Simultaneously, at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, there’s another remarkable exhibition opening: “Full Color Depression: First Kodachrome’s From America’s Heartland.” It’s curated by Bruce Jackson and he’ll be in house to give a talk and sign his new book In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America (co-authored by Diane Christian and published by the University of North Carolina Press and CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies).

(And those are only the events with two miles of each other pertaining to tonight at 7pm. Looking forwards and backwards through this month, there’s more. A reminder for this similarly nearby exhibition opening showed up while I cobbled this entry. Fortunately, it starts at 4pm. )

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival happened here in Durham last weekend. The Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award went to an extraordinary film called Special Flight. This documentary focuses on a Swiss detention center in Frambois, where a group of immigrants live in purgatory after they’ve been denied requests for asylum while they await a (forcible) “Special Flight” away from a country that had become their true home. It shows another sort of “timeless time” or placeless place.

Full Frame also featured a new documentary with a direct tangent to the Jazz Loft Project. Radio Unnameable covered the career of late night NYC DJ Bob Fass, whose shows W. Eugene Smith often recorded. I talked with Fass on the telephone about a year ago and he alluded to a friendship with Smith. It’s not surprise that Smith would gravitate to a kindred-spirited night owl. On Smith’s tapes, there’s one night when Smith was listening to Fass’s radio show, Radio Unnameable. Smith left the recorder running and made his way to the station, onto the airwaves, and back onto his own tape that was being recorded in his loft. Smith went to the radio station for a number of reasons that night. He wanted to bring Fass a Peter LaFarge record that couldn’t be found at WBAI. The record was one of thousands in Smith’s collection and he wanted to support  folk singer Peter LaFarge, who was Fass’s guest that night. And it’s clear on the tape that LaFarge is struggling with whether or not he will sing again,k among other things. Smith had met LaFarge during the singer’s childhood while visiting New Mexico on another project. Fass interviews Smith, who facilitates a live performance by LaFarge, and they all wind up on Smith’s reel-to-reel tape in the Jazz Loft Project collection. I touched on it here.

Where can you find a similar collection of visual arts, spoken word, and musicians these days? Next week, in Durham: The Center for Documentary Studies and The Hinge will launch Professor Diablo’s True Review at the Casbah club on Tuesday, April 24. Then you’ll be able to check out the Bull City Soul Revival on Friday the 27th. This week you’ll have to choose between some great events. Next week you can go to both. There’s a lot more happening in Durham this month. If you can’t attend the events, there is plenty to take in by exploring the website links above. To quote Smith, “I’m saying it very badly.” But the word is out.  So many worthy projects may seem like a rambling list in this blog entry. These events, exhibitions, and books can’t be contained summarily in a blog’s box. They need to be experienced in depth, in real time where they might truly live and breathe.

-Dan Partridge

(At last weekend’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, there was also a documentary about letterpress printing called Kiss the Paper. Head down to Durham’s own letterpress studio,  Horse & Buggy Press for Maji Moto: Dispatches from a Drought to see their shop, new book, beautifully pressed broadsides, and exhibit).

Bull City Party!

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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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Freedom Riders

The Parchman Hour, photo by Chris Fowler

The Parchman Hour, photo by Chris Fowler

W. Eugene Smith’s tapes contain a lot of civil rights coverage that includes radio and television news, documentaries, and conversation. Recently we found a Channel 13 documentary segment about the Freedom Riders. This show contains several first hand accounts of the original Freedom Rides of 1961 as well as interviews with civil rights activists, commentary, and related music. Jerome Smith provides powerful testimony about the violence and challenges faced by the riders. He also provides some memories of working for civil rights here in North Carolina in general and in Greensboro, with an emphasis on grass roots change.  There’s some history of the New Orleans civil rights struggle from Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)  member Oretha Castle and she illuminates the positives effect that the Freedom Rides had on New Orleans and the state of civil rights in 1963.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary Bob Moses was interviewed the day after the murder of Medgar Evers in June of 1963. He speaks thoughtfully and profoundly about the sacrifices of civil rights activists in Mississippi before describing the ongoing issues of fighting for civil rights at that time.

This week, fifty years after the first Freedom Rides in 1961,Center for Documentary Studies students and faculty are traveling through Mississippi  in partnership with Mike Wiley Productions and the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Their play is called  The Parchman Hour. . And here’s a Durham Herald Sun  article by Gregory Childress about this traveling production of the Parchman Hour. Follow the links to read more about it and to find out how to attend the events if you’re nearby. They’ll be on the road through the end of this week.

Great work here from our colleagues at the home of the Jazz Loft Project, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

-Dan Partridge

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Recently Found

Lou Tannen's Magic Store Catalog No. 12

Lou Tannen's Magic Store Catalog No. 12

The Jazz Loft Project continues to catalog audio. Recently, I heard the following items on W. Eugene Smith’s reel to reel recordings.   ~Dan Partridge

  • Smith asking Carole Thomas to pick up a can of ammonia capsules from the drugstore: “…like they use on airplanes. They also snap me awake if I get very sleepy. And also, if we get airsick….” Presumably, Smith wanted these as pick-me-ups for his long sessions in the darkroom.
  • A radio discussion with seven psychiatrists, shortly after they attended the Congress on Mental Health Conference in Montreal. One of the experts was Smith’s doctor Nathan Kline.
  • Smith talking to “Tommy Johns” (Janda) about loft denizens, including Ronnie Free. He tells Johns that Free has moved to North Carolina, when actually Free was in Charleston, South Carolina at that  time. Free’s current trio played as part of the JLP presentation in Winston-Salem yesterday (Thursday) so Smith was actually accurate at the time I was hearing this recording.
  • Comments on the radio from Elia Kazan from a show hosted by the National Theater Academy.
  • Peter Lawford reading from Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums on WNYC’s “Spoken Words.”
  • Long John Nebel’s late night radio show featuring James “The Amazing” Randi. One of the recent Long John Nebel Show episodes featured a short debate about how many total satellites was too many at that time. The numbers were in the single digits. A recent web search suggests close to a thousand satellites orbiting the earth today. The segment featuring James Randi was a prerecorded interview with Long John Nebel which allowed the live guests to bolster themselves with coffee and to take a dinner break provided by show sponsor Carnegie Delicatessen. Both Long John and The Amazing Randi worked as magicians. During this prerecorded coffee break segment, Randi surprises Nebel by telling him of the weekly gathering of 30-40 New York magicians in a cafeteria in close proximity to  Lou Tannen’s famous magic shop on 42nd Street (120 W 42nd Street on the 12 floor, at that time). This important community gathering occurred on Saturdays at 3:30. It should be noted that Randi and Nebel were both friends of Smith. When I corresponded with Randi in 2005, he told me he helped Smith install a security system in the loft at 821 Sixth Avenue. If anybody remembers this Saturday gathering of magicians or Louis Tannen’s shop, please share your stories with us.

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ESP 1001: Ni Kantu En Esperanto

ESP 1001: Ni Kantu En Esperanto

Many of W. Eugene Smith’s reel to reel recordings have blank labels.  Recently, I cataloged one of these reels that begins  with a recording featuring Alice McLeod (Alice Coltrane) in the middle of a conversation. She briefly mentions a time when a dog joined her at the piano and played some notes with its paw. This casual conversation continues with several other voices, one  mentioning dolphins and their “fantastic” communication, a topic that also shows up following one of the Thelonious Monk big band rehearsals that took place in the loft in 1964 and can be found on one of Smith’s reels. You can read about this Monk conversation  in the prelude to Robin DG Kelley’s excellent Thelonious Monk:The Life and Times of an American Original.

This Alice McLeod conversation soon ends when a second microphone is turned on and Julius Balbin recites his Esperanto translation of Babij Jar or “Babi Yar,” the poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. “Babi Yar” is an inspiration and a subject of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor (Op. 113, subtitled Baby Yar). Balbin survived his experience as a concentration camp prisoner of Auschwitz so his reading of this poem about the 1941 Nazi directed massacre at Kiev held some visceral power, even without understanding his Esperanto rendition of this poem.  It becomes clear while listening to this tape that Balbin reads this poem as part of a developmental rehearsal for the first ESP disk Ni Kanto En Esperanto. I also heard the voice of ESP label founder Bernard Stollman or perhaps Duncan Charters reading an explanation of the Esperanto language and demonstrating the Esperanto language. . At various junctures in this recording, Smith chimes in to direct the recording he’s engineering. They also refer to “Maceo”, who is likely Maceo Gilchrist who appears on ESP 1005: The Byron Allen Trio.  Kanto in Esperanto came out in 1963 so we know this recording was made before that record release and after Alice Coltrane moved into the loft at 821 Sixth Avenue.

“There is less noise around here on Sundays, or very late at night” says Smith, as they plan for a follow up recording session. Naturally, the activity of the wholesale flower district, where Smith’s 821 Sixth Avenue loft was situated, made for a high level of ambient noise except for late nights and Sundays.

We’re excited to find a second tape featuring Alice Coltrane. She lived in the loft for a month or so after returning from Paris and this may be from that era. Or she might have returned to visit and play a session or two after having her residence there. Hearing a recording that led to the inception of the grand ESP label is thrilling.  Since this reel isn’t labeled, then there might be others of equal importance in the remaining as of yet uncatalogued reels.  Another tape I recently cataloged, revealed the beginning of a jam session featuring Jimmy Stevenson and Warren Bernhardt from January of 1964. So these finds make us optimistic that the remaining collection of these recordings may yet yield the Ornette Coleman practice tape or the Diane Arbus photo meeting that oral histories have confirmed as taking place at 821. Or maybe some surprises like this one with Alice, Smith, and the ESP crew.

You can read more about Jules Balbin in this interesting profile by Alexander Kharkovsky ( which provided some background for this post). And a great interview of ESP Disk founder Bernard Stollman by Clifford Allen from (2oo5).

-Dan Partridge

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1025 compact discs remaining

smith jazz loft scans nov 07 073

The process of transferring and preserving Gene Smith’s 1740 loft tapes resulted in 5089 compact discs of recorded material.  Jazz Loft Project Research Associate Dan Partridge has been listening to these cd’s since 2003.  This week he counted the ones he hasn’t heard, yet.  The number is 1025.  So, he’s 4/5 done hearing everything.  When human history ends Dan will be the only person to have heard every one of Smith’s tapes.  Not even Smith heard it all.  Sometimes Smith turned on the recorder and left the room, or left the building.  Duke University should give Dan an honorary PhD when he’s done.

Dan gets to hear Monk and Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane and Zoot Sims and Paul Bley, stuff nobody’s ever heard before.  Yesterday he said he heard Smith’s cat Tabun birthing kittens.  Nobody’s ever heard that.  In the photo above, we aren’t sure which of Smith’s cats that is.  It doesn’t look full grown to me.  It could be a young Tabun, or one of Tabun’s kittens grown up as a teenager.  Or it could be a young Pending, or Brunhilda, or Tiger, or Quasimodo, or Al Most.  More research is required to get to the bottom of it.  When the JLP is packed up for mothballs, that research may be still undone.

-Sam Stephenson

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Thanksgiving in 821 Sixth Avenue

Last year at this time JLP Research Associate Dan Partridge did a quick sort through our database of Smith’s tapes looking for Thanksgiving related material.  I wrote a blog entry about it. Yesterday Dan did the same thing and found some new material (we estimate 700-900 hours of Smith’s tapes remain that Dan hasn’t heard, yet, out of roughly 4000 hours – he’s still listening every day).

Among the items Dan found this year were lots of radio and TV coverage of JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963 and the funeral on November 25.  LBJ gave what appears to be his first speech as President on November 27 and Smith taped it.

Thanksgiving was on November 28 that year.  There was a high of 55 degrees in Central Park that day.  What a somber holiday it must have been.

There’s also some material that Smith recorded earlier in November 1963 that is haunting to hear today.  You know what is looming, but nobody on the tapes does.  On November 7 there were some feel-good pre-Thanksgiving cultural stories Smith taped from the radio.  There were typically elated, jingly advertisements for things like the new 1964 line of Ford automobiles.  There’s an unspectacular jam session with musicians we still haven’t identified other than a “Jimmy” and a “Ronnie” (probably Jimmy Stevenson, not Ronnie Free).

Navy’s Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy the week after JFK’s funeral and there’s radio coverage of the award on Smith’s tapes.

There are additional things recorded from the Thanksgiving periods of other years.  On November 13, 1960 Smith’s fifteen year-old daughter Juanita showed up at the loft (from the family home in Croton-on-Hudson) with her boyfriend “Johnny” and they talked about eloping after she turned sixteen three weeks later, with Smith’s tape machine rolling.

On November 28, 1961 Smith had a conversation in the loft with Eleanor Bach about astrology.  We wonder if she knew she was being taped.

Sixth Avenue, NYC.  October 2010.  Photograph by Dan Partridge.

Sixth Avenue, NYC. Fall 2010. Photograph by Dan Partridge.

All in all, it’s a pretty melancholy selection of clips.  To lighten this blog post I inserted the photograph above that Dan made from his iPhone in NYC recently.  He was standing near the front of 821 Sixth Avenue looking over at Superior Florist.  These pumpkins are huge.  It’s a good thing Superior delivers.

Superior, and this same sign, can be seen clearly in many of Smith’s window photographs from 1957-1965. Sam Rosenberg still owns Superior and runs it with his son Steve.  They’ve been extremely nice to us over the years, telling us stories about the seedy side of the Flower District back in the day, letting us up on their roof to make pictures, etc.  One day five or six years ago I was in Superior and there was a bouquet of flowers larger than any I’d ever seen, the size of a two-person love seat or bigger.  I walked over in awe.  I noticed an envelope clipped to a dowell inside it.  Jotted on the front was the word “Streisand.”

-Sam Stephenson

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Daniel Kramer at CDS: “Bob Dylan and Gene Smith”

Dylan album cover, "Bringing it all Back Home." Photo by Daniel Kramer

Dylan album cover, "Bringing it all Back Home." Photo by Daniel Kramer

This is a reminder for locals (or Dylan fans in North Carolina for his shows this week) that Daniel Kramer will be at CDS for a noon brown bag event this Wednesday October 13 to show and discuss his photographs of Bob Dylan from the mid-1960s.  We’ll also play – for the first time ever in public – clips of Smith’s loft tapes in which Kramer is recorded discussing Dylan and photography with Smith in 1965 (Smith photographed Dylan during this period, too, of course).  More information can be found on the CDS site.

Recent JLP posts about Dylan:

Which Direction Home

Which Direction Home Pt. 2

Whose Nikon SP is that on the Cover of Highway 61 Revisited?


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“Who killed Davey Moore?”


“You know, Gene used to, in the darkroom sometimes, put a red filter on a TV set so he could watch some of the games, some of the football or baseball games.  And some people are just horrified at this, that it sounds a lot better if he was just listening to music.  But you know, when you’re living, you do normal stuff.” -Carole Thomas

On November 13, 1961 American boxer Davey Moore fought a rematch versus Japanese challenger Kazuo Takayama, successfully defending his title as the Featherweight Champion of the World. The bout took place in Tokyo, where W. Eugene Smith was on extended assignment via Cosmo Public Relations on behalf of Hitachi. During the broadcast, Smith made a recording of the scene in his Roppongi apartment, which doubled as his studio. Smith is audible directing some of his Japanese assistants in the darkroom, where they are listening to and maybe watching the event. He also checks in with them about the results, since he’s presumably working in an adjoining room.

Sadly, Davey Moore would die on March 25, 1963 from injuries sustained in a boxing match four days prior. The event made worldwide news and both Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan wrote songs about it. Dylan’s song “Who Killed Davey Moore?” was covered by Pete Seeger, a brief  roommate of Smith’s in the 30′s. Each of these songwriters have songs that show up on Smith’s recordings. And Dylan and Seeger might have also been in Smith’s loft, though we haven’t confirmed it.

A 21 year old Bob Dylan played Town Hall in New York on April 12, 1963. And he played “Who Killed Davey Moore?” Robert Shelton’s New York Times article seems to be  reintroducing Dylan to the masses almost 2 years after his landmark September 29, 1961 review of Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City. In the later article, Shelton compares Dylan to Holden Caulfield, Woody Guthrie, Rimbaud, and Yevtushenko. The following year is when loft veteran Daniel Kramer began photographing  Bob Dylan. We’re excited to have Kramer visiting us this month and speaking on the 13th. This recently cataloged tape, featuring Smith and Moore in Tokyo, seems to resonate  with some of our latest blog entries and a set of somewhat disparate events.

-Dan Partridge

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Japan . . . a chapter of image (and sound)

It was late in the year of 1961 when W. Eugene Smith and Carole Thomas traveled to Japan. Smith was hired via the fledgling  Japanese public relations firm Cosmo PR to produce photographs for a publication on behalf of the firm’s first client, Hitachi. This assignment, like Smith’s Pittsburgh project/expedition/ordeal, started out as a simple one that got complicated and ended up taking the better part of a year to complete. The end result appeared in 1963 as Japan . . . a chapter of image. There were also excerpts  of Smith’s photographs and writing (in partnership with partner Carole Thomas) that appeared in Life Magazine, Pentax’s Asahi magazine, and Hitachi’s Age of Tomorrow. (With thanks for this list to Jim Hughes for his W. Eugene Smith biography)

In addition to the photographic and written work, Smith also made a lot of recordings during this trip. Recently, I have been listening to this group of tapes and trying to gain some insight into Smith’s experience in Japan during this stretch. We still have about 30 reels of unheard W. Eugene Smith tape recordings from Japan to catalog. A couple of tapes I’ve listened to over the last couple of weeks offer some specific insight into Smith’s motives for making this set of recordings. In a lecture at Hitachi, Smith had a Q&A  session wherein he described his photo work there in terms of continuing “to weave in a rhapsodic symphony this impression of balance that I wish to try to give to the rest of the world.”  It’s clear that Smith more concerned with making a great photo essay than fulfilling his contract and getting paid. There’s an earlier tape where Smith speaks to this same goal of representing  with “truth” and “respect” not just the company, but Japan’s people and land. Also, a great line about how Smith insisted on a clause in his contract that specified that no images he made for this assignment could be utilized for the support or exaltation of war.

There are also recordings that capture the ambient sounds of the Roppongi neighborhood where Smith lived and had a darkroom during this time.  A conversation with one of his assistants starts off about “honey buckets” or fertilizer buckets and ends up with an inquiry into the different sources of early morning and late afternoon street songs from sellers of noodles, tofu,  and seashells (for miso soup). Smith expresses a wish to bring in all kinds of street singers to record their different sounds and we hope to hear  these on his tapes. We hope to write more about this once we’ve heard these tapes and maybe post or transcript some of the more interesting meetings or outings, like the one that produced a fragment of 1962 Roppongi nightclub jazz.

It was an interesting juncture in history and Japan’s history. As Carole Thomas told Sam in a 2003 interview:

“Tokyo at that time was in transition, so you’d have a skyscraper next to a shack, where the guy would come out in the morning in his pajamas and sweep his front sidewalk, in his pajamas, next to a building that looks like a skyscraper in New York City.  So visually that’s fascinating.”

Hopefully, we will find some more fascinating audio to augment this history.

-Dan Partridge

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