Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-09-10 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 16 user ratings

"The genre of Jazz Day is poetry picture book. This book of poetry was awarded with The Washington Post's Best Children's and young adult of 2016 and the Children's Literature Assembly's Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts award in 2017. This book is intended for children 8-12. This unique poetry picture book tells the behind the sense the scene story of a famous Jazz photograph. I gave this book 4 stars. I enjoyed the way the poems told a story. The illustrations were amazing and textured. Each poem is told from a different perspective. The theme was easy to follow and built up on the one before. There were words that I could see young readers needing to look up or ask an adult about. I think this book would be appealing to young readers who are interested in history or music. I would use this book to reference different Jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie. " said.

"I have a thing for books that tell the story behind photographs or moments in history, and this book does exactly like that in a series of poems. It was the brain child of Art Kane, a graphic designer who thought it would be cool to invite jazz musicians to Harlem for a photograph on one particular morning in 1958. Fifty-eight men and women showed up, and 57 of them posed for that photograph that ended up in a feature for of Esquire magazine, a slice of history captured forever, thanks to Kane's foresight. The poems and the acrylic and pastel illustrations effectively capture the unique personalities and styles of several of the musicians as well as the fears Kane had that no one would show up for the photo shoot. Choosing to acknowledge the young boys and other onlookers to this gathering, the author also seems to have channeled the very feel of jazz in some of the lines. Back matter includes thumbnail sketches of these talented individuals. Readers will surely want to search for their recordings if they aren't familiar with their work. What a pitch-perfect tribute to some of the great jazz musicians of that time! There is a playfulness to many of the poems as one girl just wishes they'd hurry up and leave so she can get outside on the street and play and several of the musicians are more interested in catching up with each other than with capturing this historical moment. The book won't necessarily appeal to everyone, but for anyone who loves music and photography or anyone who has been touched by a moment in cultural history, an event that seems almost larger than life, this book is a treasure. " said.

"This nonfiction picture book tells the story of the iconic photograph, Harlem 1958, which captured a one-of-a-kind meeting of 57 jazz musicians, many legendary, some just getting into the biz, in the same photo on one incredible day. Esquire magazine photographer Art Kane arranged to close off a street in Harlem and advertised for any and all jazz musicians to show up at the appointed hour. He had no idea how many might actually show, but he succeeded marvelously with 57 (one more came, but ended up not in the final shot because he was sitting on the stoop next door!). This photo has been the subject of a documentary film ("A Great Day in Harlem"), other books, a reunion photograph, and various homages ("A Great Day in Seattle," etc), as is explained in the excellent author's notes. The story of how the photo was set up and little anecdotes about the musicians are told in entertaining poems, giving details like the pale-yellow suit worn by Thelonius Monk, or how Lester "Pres" Young liked to create a porkpie hat out of a fedora; many of the musicians were so happy to see each other, it seemed like a big happy reunion, and of course, corralling a bunch of musicians to stand in any kind of formation was almost like herding cats. There were also several local boys who ended up in the photo, and although the book is nonfiction, the author explains that she did fictionalize them a little, since no one knows who most of them were, giving them names and adding some drama to some of their scenes. But the end notes also include nice short one-paragraph biographies about 16 of the highlighted musicians. The colorful acrylic and pastel illustrations are beautiful, realistic portraits with splashes of color and together with the text they convey a jazzy feel. Beautiful book." said.

"In 1958, in front of a nondescript brownstone in Harlem, a man named Art Kane managed to gather 58 jazz musicians, and using a borrowed camera, captured one of the most iconic photos that would symbolize the "Golden Age of Jazz." In the Author's Note in the back of the book, Roxane Orgill tell us that "the poems in this collection were all inspired by Art Kane's photograph Harlem 1958. The verses about the musicians are based on fact" (p. 43).

Orgill has recreated that day back in 1958 through a series of free verse poems. She begins by focusing on the photographer, Art Kane, and how he is alone on the street, wondering if anyone at all will show up. Subsequent poems focus on the arrival of some of the jazz artists, and some poems depict funny scenes involving the neighborhood children who hung around the location and were able to interact with the musicians. The free verse style of the poetry, combined with the slightly abstract style of illustrations, provides a reading experience that is both relaxed and slightly chaotic at the same time. It is laid back and free flowing, much like jazz music itself.

While reading this book, I was inspired to search for and listen to the jazz recordings of the artists in the book, and I am sure I am not the only one who will be inspired to do this. This book would make an excellent accompaniment to a program in jazz studies.

The topic and reading level of the poetry make this a picture book that is intended for an older reader. Kane's Harlem 1958 photograph is included, as well as an Author's Note, biographies of the featured musicians, source notes, and an extensive bibliography. The Author's Note does a very good job being honest with the reader and highlighting areas where certain events or people have been fictionalized.

Overall, this is an exceptionally well done informational text that is very creative in the way that the author and illustrator have depicted the events of the day and the artists that participated.
" said.

"Jazz Day has been getting a lot of really positive reviews. I think this book is clever in a lot ways, but I wonder a bit about kid appeal. Does any one else have a hard time selling poetry to their students? I’m not saying they won’t pick it up and read it, because some kids certainly will. Others seem to want to, but more often than not, when I read poetry out loud to the kids, I get mostly confused faces and “huh?”s. Then I just want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, yelling, “Listen to this language and think about it!! Isn’t it amazing?!?!?” It’s like if it isn’t in rhymed couplets (ugh, Dr. Seuss) they can’t follow it.

I don’t think this says anything about the importance or appeal of Jazz Day per se. Instead I think it points more to the need to read more poetry to the kids. (If you aren’t already familiar with Poetry Friday, check them out.) In my personal opinion we should all have amazing jazz book collections considering it’s a true American form of music and celebrates African American contributions to society. It also opens up a lot of very hard discussions about race, racism, and discrimination.

How is that we go from rhymed books and nursery rhymes sung and spoken to our babies and toddlers to nothing resembling poetry? Why does poetry in our curriculum and everyday lives seem so exotic? Is it all the boring and terrible poetry written by white men considered part of the Great Literary Canon that we’re forced to analyze line by line in high school and middle school? I know that certainly turned me off to poetry for a long time. Is it because they aren’t hearing spoken word poetry? I don’t really have the answer here, but it really impacts my ability to get kids to read incredible books like Jazz Day.

Okay, I went way off on a tangent here. The thing is Jazz Day is a pretty amazing collection of poems about a fascinating event that was a little slice of history and yet I don’t think it will be overly popular in our collections. Not because it isn’t worthy or worthwhile, but simply because our kids and teachers don’t know what to do with poetry. Or maybe that’s just my school?

The illustrations here have such an incredible vintage feel. The limited color palette and the lines in it really make the people leap off the page and yet feel like photographs. The reveal of the actual photograph is done beautifully with a fold-out page. The top page is black with one word in white “click” and opening the fold reveals the photograph. The thing is, it took me a minute to realize this wasn’t another painting, but the actual photograph. To my mind, the photo and illustrations blended together so seamlessly.

While the poems in this book are good and the illustrations beautiful, the back matter really shines. There is so much good stuff there that really fleshes out the poems, the history of jazz, and the story of the photograph. I will be forcing this book on our music teacher (who is absolutely incredible) and I know she will take to it and would probably incorporate it into her lessons. She does an entire unit on jazz (and not just during Jazz Appreciation Month). If you have kids who will read poetry, know you have teacher that does a unit on jazz, or want to have a jazz storytime I recommend getting this one. Otherwise balance the need to buy books the kids are most likely to pick up and read with your budget.
" said.

"By the late 1950s, jazz was as very popular and decidedly American art form, and so, in 1958, Esquire Magazine decided to do an article about it. Graphic designer Art Kane got the job, but his innovative idea about how he wanted to do the article was different and risky.

Kane's idea was to invite as many jazz musicians as were willing to show up early in the morning on Tuesday, August 12, 1958 after a long night of playing in clubs and photograph them on the front stoop of a Harlem brownstone (17 East 126th Street, NYC, to be exact). Oddly enough, Kane was a big jazz fan, but he didn't even own a professional camera when he proposed his idea. Esquire had put an open invitation out to members of the musician's union, Local 802, for anyone connected to jazz. Would Kane's idea work? Would anyone show up? Kane was a wreck until musicians started to show up, 57 in all, and so did a bunch of neighborhood kids.

Jazz Day is a collection of 21 jazzy, free verse poems that describe the events of that iconic moment in the history of jazz. Some of the poems describe the scene as the day unfolds on East 126th Street, the difficulty of getting so many musicians to listen to instructions when they are busy greeting each other - "they don't notice/too busy with how you been....musicians/don't hear/words of instruction/only music"

Musicians can be q quirky bunch and Roxane Orgill has really captured that trait. There is a poem detailing how some of the great jazz musicians got their nicknames, including Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday called Lady Day by Lester Young, who was called Pres, considered to be President of the Tenor Saxophone. One of my favorites is "How to Make a Porkpie Hat" about Lester Young's iconic hat. And there is "Late" about Thelonious Monk, late because he had spent so much time picking out what to wear. This was followed by a fun Alphabet poem listing what musician were wearing.

Orgill also gives voice to some of the kids who were there for the day - a young girl sitting at her front window twirling a lock of hair, watching and wishing she could be down there, too, waiting for it all to be over so she can go out and play. Then, there are the 12 boys sitting on the curb next to Count Basie, jostling each other, thrilled to be in the presence of such a great musician.

The 1950s was the golden age of jazz and that is just what the Esquire article called their article. In the end, it is the photograph that has lived on. The book includes a two page spread of the photograph that was finally used, and a praise poem for the cool, calm Art Kane for letting the chaos of the day determine his photograph.

Francis Vellejo's has painted his own jazz composition with his acrylic and pastel illustrations that perfectly capture the chaos, the excitement, the confusion, the grandeur of the musicians, in fact, all the events of the day. Be sure to take a close look at all of them to discover some wonderful details.

This is a wonderfully imaginative poetic homage to these great jazz musicians, some of it based on fact, some come from imagination, all come from a clear love of jazz. Back matter included Biographies of the individuals named in the poems, sources beyond the Esquire article, Source Notes, a Bibliography, Articles, Audiovisual Material and Websites for further reading and investigation.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

This review was originally posted on Randomly Reading
" said.

" I can't believe that this book was so interesting. And it was non fiction. So fun to read. The biographies were interesting. " said.

" I really liked the illustrations and I enjoyed the mini-bios at the end. " said.

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