Jazz Day: the making of a famous photograph

Jazz Day book cover

by Roxane Orgill; illustrated by Francis Vallejo
Candlewick Press, 2016.
ISBN 9780763669546.
Picture book, informational, poetry
2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Award
Interest level: Grades 5 and up
Reading level: 4.7
5 out of 5 stars


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.image from inside Jazz Day

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.

Additional information
To watch and listen to a performance by Count Basie: http://viewpure.com/tP1nYX6SITI?start=0&end=0

eJazzLines has lots of Jazz resources, including books about Jazz that are organized by age group: http://www.ejazzlines.com/

Connections to Indianapolis — Indianapolis has a very rich jazz heritage and has been the home to some well-known jazz musicians. Learn more about jazz in Indianapolis.

A Great Day in Indy: In 2008, photographer Mark Sheldon recreated the famous Harlem 1958 featuring over 100 Indiana musicians. View Indy 2008

Discover the members of the Indianapolis Jazz Hall of Fame

NPR provides a look at the history of the Indianapolis jazz scene: The Once-Thriving Jazz Scene Of … Indianapolis?

3 thoughts on “Jazz Day: the making of a famous photograph”

  1. You’ve completely inspired me with the selection. Your description has me hooked and I couldn’t help clicking on all of the links and listening to the Count Basie clip, and the nice piece by NPR. I’ve decided to do a reading out of the book at my next Teen Café and play jazz music by Indiana musicians, rather than our regular indie music. I hadn’t ever thought of Indianapolis as having a “jazz scene” and had relegated that to our sporadic Mardi Gras programs. Thanks for this post!

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    1. Stephanie, I was inspired to do a little more looking around and I found some additional resources you might consider grouping with this book if you wanted to do a unit study or a display. There’s a great website called http://www.ejazzlines.com that has loads of books and resources, including a book section arranged by age group. They have a series of books for teaching jazz across the curriculum which seems to fit Common Core requirements – what a fun way to include band/music concepts in the rest of the curriculum! This book could also be grouped with The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Kehoe, a popular teen fiction book in which Daisy uses jazz music to escape the difficulties of her family life, and Striders, Beboppers, and Beyond: The Art of Jazz Piano by Leslie Gourse which describes the artistry and influence of major jazz pianists. Leslie Gourse has written several books on jazz that include biographies and history, not just music. Evergreen Indiana has most of these along with CDs and recordings that librarians and teachers can request. And yes, they also have Count Basie!

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      1. Thanks for sharing these resources! The eJazzLines site is great! I have added it to the resource section of my book review, and I am also going to share it with a music teacher in another class I am taking. She is doing wonderful things with technology and music and I can see her liking the teaching Jazz across the curriculum books. Thanks so much!!

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