W. Eugene Smith made approximately 4,000 hours of audio recordings on 1,740 reel-to-reel tapes at 821 Sixth Avenue between 1957 and 1965. The tapes were archived at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona following Smith’s death in 1978. They had not been heard until the Jazz Loft Project began working to preserve and catalog this material. The transferred recordings reveal high sound quality and unique musical and cultural content, offering unusual documentation of an after-hours New York jazz scene.
Smith wrote 139 names of jazz musicians on his partial, haphazard tape labels: famous stars such as Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, Roland Kirk, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, and Lee Konitz, along with underground legends —drummer Ronnie Free, bassist Henry Grimes, drummer Edgar Bateman, multi-instrumentalist Eddie Listengart, and saxophonist Lin Halliday, as well as many unknowns. Research on the preserved tapes so far indicates that at least 300 musicians are represented. The tapes also reveal many of Smith's obsessions and other oddities, such as recorded street noise in the flower district, late-night radio talk shows, telephone calls, television and radio news programs, and random dialogues among musicians, artists, and friends and associates of Smith.
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