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Books in Brief: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill


Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, illustrations by Francis Vallejo; Candlewick Press, $18.99.


This lovely, oversize picture book tells the fascinating story, through poetry, of the day the great jazz artists of 1958 showed up on a street in Harlem to pose for a group photo for an Esquire supplement on “The Golden Age of Jazz.” Roxane Orgill, a classical music critic and author of other picture biographies for children, in an introductory note explains that New York City graphic designer Art Kane came up with the idea to issue a general invitation to all jazz musicians (a photo shoot, no instruments required), wondering if anyone would actually show up. Kane walked all over Harlem looking for a perfect brownstone for his backdrop, got the police department to block the street and even had to borrow a camera. Orgill’s lovely poems evoke a jazz beat, from the opening “Early,” as Kane waits and worries (“what if nobody shows, look up, will it rain”), to “Some Kind of Formation” (“he’s shouting rolling the Times into a megaphone,” trying to organize the unruly group). “Scuffle: The Boys” imagines what’s going on with the row of little boys sitting on the curb in the photo. The poems evocatively weave in details about a musician’s contribution to the jazz world with anecdotal details of the day. “Late: Thelonious Monk, pianist” notes “Ten in the morning was unspeakably early for Thelonious Sphere Monk, Who was always Late,” picturing Monk in pale-yellow linen, skinny tie, dark slacks, porkpie hat “and the inevitable bamboo-frame sunglasses/ The one he always wore to play ‘Misterioso.’ ” The delightful “What to Wear (from Z to Z) has great kid appeal. Then there’s “The Invitation Said No Instruments” describing the impromptu cornet lesson Rex Stewart gave a boy (“Make like you’re going to kiss a girl.”) “Tempo: Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, pianist” notes that Smith “languished on the step Missed the picture altogether.” Orgill includes marvelous short biographies of the musicians featured in the poems and helpful additional information about the day’s events, including places where she took artistic license with the facts. The gorgeous acrylic and pastel art illustrations perfectly capture the joyful chaos of the event. – Jean Westmoore