Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

The Underground Story of Photographer W. Eugene Smith and the Jazz Loft is Told in a New Multimedia Exhibition at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts


Photographs and audio feature the anonymous and celebrated, including; Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, Salvador Dali, and Norman Mailer. The Jazz Loft Project on view from February 17, 2010 to May 22, 2010 in the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery


New York, NY – The story of a little known five-story loft building in New York City’s wholesale flower district that was a popular late-night haunt for some of the biggest names in 1950’s and 60’s jazz is told in The Jazz Loft Project, a new multimedia exhibition opening February 17, 2010, at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The exhibition features never-before-displayed vintage black and white prints and rarely heard audio recordings by photographer W. Eugene Smith who spent eight years documenting the jazz musicians, artists, and underground characters who inhabited the scene at 821 Sixth Avenue. Smith’s remarkable photographs evoke the world of smoky jam sessions and after-hours rehearsals with musicians like Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, and Hall Overton. Curated by Sam Stephenson and Courtney Reid-Eaton of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, the exhibition features more than 200 images, several hours of audio, and 16 mm film footage of Eugene Smith working in the loft. The Jazz Loft Project will be on display from February 17, 2010, to May 22, 2010, in the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts located at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. Admission is free.

“The photos and recordings included in The Jazz Loft Project, provide remarkable documentation of the creative atmosphere in Eugene Smith’s loft, which has been little-known until Sam Stephenson’s work on The Jazz Loft Project,” said Jacqueline C. Davis, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director for the Performing Arts. “They also provide a fresh trove of iconography and audio that will provide new insights for scholars and jazz fans. We are very pleased to host this exhibition.”

About The Jazz Loft

In 1957, former Life magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith moved out of the home he shared with his wife and four children in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, and into a dilapidated, five-story loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue (between 28th and 29th streets) in New York City’s wholesale flower district. The building was a late-night haunt of musicians, including some of the biggest names in jazz—Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk among them—and countless fascinating, underground characters. Smith found solace in the chaotic, somnambulistic world of the loft and its artists. He turned his documentary impulses away from Pittsburgh – where he was working on a documentary project – and toward his new surroundings.
From 1957 to 1965, Smith exposed 1,447 rolls of film at his loft, making roughly 40,000 pictures, the largest body of work in his career, photographing the nocturnal jazz scene as well as life on the streets of the flower district, as seen from his fourth-floor window. He wired the building like a surreptitious recording studio and made 1,740 reels (4,000 hours) of stereo and mono audiotapes, capturing more than 300 musicians, among them Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Roland Kirk, Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, and Paul Bley. He also recorded such legends as pianists Eddie Costa and Sonny Clark, drummers Ronnie Free and Edgar Bateman, saxophonist Lin Halliday, bassist Henry Grimes, and multi-instrumentalist Eddie Listengart. But guests to the loft included more than just jazz musicians. Norman Mailer, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Salvador Dali all visited during its active years.

More than 200 vintage prints will be on display in the exhibition, including approximately 40 master prints. Smith’s 5x7-inch work prints will further tell the story of the loft. Listening stations will give access to remastered selections from Smith’s reel-to-reel tapes which caught everything from rousing jam sessions to historic radio and television broadcasts, loft conversations, and street noise.

"Smith was an idiosyncratic master of darkroom printing,” says Sam Stephenson, Director of the Jazz Loft Project, a multiyear initiative based at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. “He said 95% of his art occurred in the darkroom, not in the exposure of negatives.His vintage prints—most of them exhibited for the first time—accompanied by his recorded sound will provide unique access to a bygone time and place."

All of the photographs featured in the exhibition are also included in the new 288-page hardcover book The Jazz Loft Project written by Sam Stephenson and published by Alfred A. Knopf. More information about the book can be found on The Jazz Loft Project’s website, The Jazz Loft Project is also the subject of a ten-part radio series produced by WNYC and the Center for Documentary Studies. More information and the opportunity to hear episodes from the series are available at

The exhibition was organized by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, in association with the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. The Jazz Loft Project at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University was made possible through the generous support of the Reva and David Logan Foundation, with significant additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (The Grammy Foundation). For more information about the Center for Documentary Studies, see

About The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses the world's most extensive combination of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. Its divisions are the Circulating Collections, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Music Division, Billy Rose Theatre Division, and the Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound. The materials in its collections are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts - whether professional or amateur - the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters, and photographs.

About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. Its renowned research collections are located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem; and the Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. Eighty-seven branch libraries provide access to circulating collections and a wide range of other services in neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English for speakers of other languages. All in all The New York Public Library serves more than 17 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at


Contact: Jonathan Pace, Publicist, The New York Public Library| 212.592.7710 |
Contact: Lauren Hart, Jazz Loft Project Coordinator | 919.660.3668 |

jp: 12.14.09