Saturday, December 15, 2007

December 9, 2007 The Jazz Loft Project
I was finally able to arrange for Sam Stephenson of the Jazz Loft Project to appear on my show to share the incredible stories of a pinnacle period in jazz history ('54-'65), where over 500 jazz musicians gathered day and night over a 10 year period in a building in NYC to create new music and sounds together. The sights and sounds were recorded by the premiere photographer, W. Eugene Smith. Smith took over 45,000 photographs and recorded over 4,000 hours of music, conversation, building and street sounds. Sam Stephenson, with help from a team from the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, has made his way through almost half the recorded sounds and documented thousands of the photographs. Sam directs the Jazz Loft Project from Duke University, and in conjunction with the University of Arizona.

Sam Stephenson is a resident of Chatham County and is an expert in the work of W. Eugene Smith and Thelonius Monk, and how the lives of Smith and Monk were intertwined through the music and genius of what became known as the Loft Project. The photographs and tapes from the Project were donated to the University of Arizona just before Smith's death. While working on a W. Eugene Smith project, Sam found himself in a warehouse and saw a wall of boxes and asked - "What's that?" The answer was that the boxes were full of the recorded tapes that Smith had made - up to that point no one had the time or the money to go through the tapes and catalog them for the riches they contained. Sam stepped forward and decided to dedicate his life to the mining of this unthinkable jazz treasure chest. He has raised over a half-million dollars and will need to raise that amount again. As part of his work, Sam and others have interviewed over 250 musician survivors of the Project. One of the themes Sam and I discussed was the fact that although Monk left NC as a young child, his Southern roots can be heard in much of his music (article on such).

For the show we focused on the music of Thelonius Monk, who was the hub of the Loft Project. Other pivotal musicians included Ron Free on drums - he served as the resident drummer as others like Roy Haynes would sit in now and again. Over 500 musicians passed through that jazz space and were the best and the brightest. They were helped by the invaluable oversight provided by composer and teacher, Hal Overton (hear some of his arrangements). Composers like Steve Reich stopped by the Loft and were inspired by what they heard and incorporated it into their music.

  • Nina Simone (b. Tryon, NC); Anthology CD; I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free
  • Thelonius Monk (b. Rocky Mount, NC) Quartet; Misterioso CD; Nutty
  • Norfolk Jazz Quartet: Goodbye Babylon Judgment CD: My Lord's Gonna Move This Wicked Race
  • Mose Allison & Ronnie Free on drums; Autumn Song CD; Groovin' High
  • Thelonius Monk Quartet & Johnny Griffin; Thelonius in Action CD; Blue Monk
  • Roy Haynes; Fountain of Youth CD; Twinkle Trinkle
  • Charlie Haden; The Montreal Tapes CD; Turnaround
  • Steve Reich; Works CD Set; Four Organs - Bang on a Can
  • Thelonius Monk; Brilliant Corners CD; Pannonica (named and written for the Baroness Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter, friend, companion and supporter of Monk)
  • Sonny Clark, Paul Chambers, & Philly Joe Jones; Softly As in a Morning Sunrise
  • Billy Taylor (b. Greenville, NC); Music Keeps us Young CD; I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free
I thank Sam Stephenson for his dedication and commitment to the life works of W. Eugene Smith and Thelonius Monk and the over 500 jazz musicians who left their mark on the Loft Project. Thank goodness Sam breathed life into those hundreds of boxes of unlistened to tapes sitting in that warehouse so many years ago.


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