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EC-CHAP Friday Night Film Series: "A Great Day in Harlem / The Spitball Story" (NR)

  • The PAcking House 156 River Road Willington, CT, 06279 United States (map)

EC-CHAP - Friday Night Film Series: "A Great Day in Harlem / The Spitball Story" (NR)

Suggested Donation $5.00

We are pleased to have Mr. Arthur Rovozzo provide an introduction to this important documentary film showing. Arthur, has served as DJ of the Saturday afternoon jazz program, "Musical Myriad", on WECS 90.1FM radio for nearly three decades. Mr. Rovozzo possesses significant expertise in the evolution of jazz and blues, specifically during the period spanning 1944 to present day.


A Great Day in Harlem

A documentary by Jean Bach, Co-produced with Matthew Seig, Editied by Susan Peehl. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature  in 1995. 

"Art Kane, now deceased, coordinated a group photograph of all the top jazz musicians in NYC in the year 1958, for a piece in Esquire magazine. Just about every jazz musician at the time showed up for the photo shoot which took place in front of a brownstone near the 125th street station. The documentary compiles interviews of many of the musicians in the photograph to talk about the day of the photograph, and it shows film footage taken
that day by Milt Hinton and his wife." - Written by Daren Gill (IMDB)

This is a radio interview I conducted in 1995 with Jean Bach who directed the 1994 film, A Great Day in Harlem, nominated in 1995 for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature. In this interview, Ms. Bach discusses the background behind the documentary and some insights about the

The Synopsis
Back in 1958 New York City clubs boasted nightly performances by the greatest players in jazz. Their music and their lives spanned four decades and linked styles and origins from across the country. This is the story of a moment from that era that brought dozens of these giants to a single frame.

A Great Day in Harlem is an hour-long documentary film that brings to life a remarkable moment in the history of jazz - a moment in which dozens of America's jazz legends unexpectedly gathered together for a photograph that would become emblematic of the golden age of jazz. By illuminating this single, historic event, A GREAT DAY IN HARLEM is a window to an unprecedented era in music history which addresses broader issues of
creativity and community in our own time.

It was a Summer day in New York City, 1958. A young photographer paced nervously in front of a Harlem brownstone. He had spread word that he hoped to take a picture for a special edition of Esquire magazine commemorating the golden age of jazz. Yet it was ten in the morning, long before most jazz players were up, and a meager turnout was feared. To everyone's surprise, scores of musicians assembled to create what is now a world-famous, "class photograph" of America's jazz legends.

A Great Day in Harlem zooms in and out of this astonishing photograph, interweaving archival performance footage, remarkable never-before-seen home-movie footage of the photograph being taken, and rare interviews with jazz masters present that day such as Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Art Farmer, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. Other interviewees include the photographer, Art Kane, who had never before taken a picture as a
professional but who would quickly rise to the top of the field, and the Esquire graphics editor, Robert Benton, who speaks of what he learned that day that he would later use as a three-time Academy Award winning filmmaker. Finally, we hear the stories of some of the neighborhood kids who snuck into the frame to be photographed alongside their musical heroes.

Through this photograph, viewers will come to know some of the century's most influential musicians. We meet such luminaries as Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charles Mingus, Marian McPartland, Gerry Mulligan, Mary Lou Williams, Maxine Sullivan, and Thelonious Monk. The result is a richly textured recreation of the event and the presentation of a cross-section of people and musical styles that comprised the evolution of jazz in the 20th century - and beyond.

As important, A Great Day in Harlem captures the spirit of an era when New York City was the center of the jazz world, when music history was constantly being made, and when creativity was fostered by an intense and nurturing community of musicians and fans. 

It was indeed a great day when musicians met and joked with friends, family, and community residents - in one instance even blowing a few jazz riffs - on a side street in Harlem in 1958. Like the photograph it documents, A Great Day in Harlem is a vivid portrait of a unique community. (http://www.a-great-day-in-


Here's the full list of musicians in the photo:  Hilton Jefferson, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Wilbur Ware, Art Blakey, Chubby Jackson, Johnny Griffin, Dickie Wells, Buck Clayton, Taft Jordan, Zutty Singleton, Red Allen, Tyree Glenn, Miff Molo, Sonny Greer, Jay C. Higginbotham, Jimmy Jones, Charles Mingus, Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Max Kaminsky,
George Wettling, Bud Freeman, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Wilkins, Buster Bailey, Osie Johnson, Gigi Gryce, Hank Jones, Eddie Locke, Horace Silver, Luckey Roberts, Maxine Sullivan, Jimmy Rushing, Joe Thomas, Scoville Browne, Stuff Smith, Bill Crump, Coleman Hawkins, Rudy Powell, Oscar Pettiford, Sahib Shihab , Marian McPartland, Sonny Rollins, Lawrence Brown, Mary Lou Williams, Emmett Berry, Thelonious Monk, Vic Dickenson, Milt Hinton, Lester Young, Rex Stewart, J.C. Heard, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie ( Click here for more info about each of these artists.

As of August 2017, only two of the 57 musicians who participated are still living (Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins).

The Spitball Story

Jean Bach, director of the remarkable A Great Day in Harlem, utilizes the same techniques of oral history and thumbnail jazz portraiture to tell the story of why Dizzy Gillespie was fired from the Cab Calloway band and how this transformed his career. This isn’t on the same level as Bach’s previous film, but it’s still a precious document, especially for its footage of Gillespie shortly before his death. 21 min. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

And it all went down during the summer of 1939 when the band had gone up to do three Sunday shows at the State Theater in Hartford. Complete details can be found here.

This film is a part of The Packing House Friday Night Film Series hosted by the Eastern Connecticut Center for History, Art, and Performance (EC-CHAP), a 501.3.c non-profit membership-based cultural organization. To learn more and how you can become a member, visit

Cabaret and group seating. Doors 7:00pm / Show 7:30pm. Soft drinks and snacks available. We are pleased to offer our exclusive "BYOB&F" model - Bring Your Own Beverage & Food (Wine & Beer Only - I.D. Required).

 Call 518-791-9474 for information and table reservations.


The Packing House  |  156 River Road, Suite 1301Willington, Connecticut 06279  |  (518)791-9474