Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph Book Poster Image
Poetic account of legendary gathering of jazz greats.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The epilogue offers concise prose biographies of the jazz icons portrayed in the poems and illustrations of the picture book. These profiles serve as informative introductions to the life, times, and legends of many of the most important figures of the Golden Age of Jazz.

Positive Messages

While the photo shoot was set up hastily and the assortment of musicians randomly assembled, the stories of reunion, reappearance, and remembrance that characterized the event emphasize the importance of connection among the jazz musicians of that era.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though many jazz luminaries aren't known for being ideal role models, the sheer volume of prolific virtuosos assembled on the steps for that photo in Harlem is staggering. Their contributions to American culture live on in their recordings and continue to inspire generations of musicians and artists of all stripes.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is a beautifully illustrated, informative, and poetic depiction of the circumstances and figures involved in capturing an iconic photo of many of the living legends of jazz on the steps of a brownstone in Harlem. The poems and paintings are followed by concise and quirky biographies of each of the musicians profiled.

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What's the story?

JAZZ DAY: THE MAKING OF A FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPH tells the strange but true story of one of the most iconic images in jazzArt Kane's panoramic picture, "Harlem 1958." It graced the cover of Esquire magazine's issue about the Golden Age of Jazz and featured 57 musicians of various backgrounds and levels of prominence. Music writer and children's biographer Roxane Orgill brings the epic photo shoot to life with poems based on facts that have emerged about the day's events, followed by brief profiles of each of the artists explaining the references included in the poetry and directing readers to recommended listening. While many of the most successful and well-known jazz cats make appearances, such as Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, and Count Basie, Gay also sheds light on less famous but well-respected musicians such as prolific bassist Milt "Frump" Hinton, big-band swing drummer J.C. Heard, and underappreciated composer, arranger, and pianist Mary Lou Williams. 

Is it any good?

Author Roxane Orgill tells a compelling story while evoking vivid images of late '50s Harlem. Her jazz-inspired poetry is surprisingly smooth and exciting, especially when read aloud (and with jazz accompaniment). The language in Jazz Day is complimented wonderfully by illustrator Francis Vallejo's warm, lively paintings. The renderings of each artist are carefully constructed and speak to the sense of their individuality while also emphasizing the sense of community and camaraderie shared on this special homecoming day for the scattered standard-bearers of New York's jazz scene.

Jazz Day is a perfect pick for any young jazz lover, though it can also serve as an excellent introduction to the genre and its most hallowed heroes. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the origins and explosion of jazz. How did the music change and evolve as it moved out of New Orleans to New York, Chicago, and beyond?

  • What is the significance of Harlem in African-American culture? Who are some of the musicians and writers most associated with this arts hub?

  • Do you have a favorite jazz musician? Is he or she in the photograph? If not, look up one of the artists and check out their music!

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love jazz and American music

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