Thursday, March 14, 2019

“The greatest photo in jazz”?

The New York Times has a story by Peter Facini about Bob Parent’s 1953 photograph of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Roy Haynes: ”Is This the Greatest Photo in Jazz History?” Facini asserts that this photo has “has been called by many ‘the greatest photo in jazz.’”

I know this photo well, having first seen it in a Parker biography many years ago. It’s a wonderful photo, but I’m not sure there’s any evidence that “many” have called it “the greatest photo in jazz.” I’ve never heard of the photo being described in that way; who the “many” might be, I don’t know. Try searching for greatest photo and bob parent and you’ll turn up this Times article and a 2018 article in which Facini makes the same claim: “widely considered the greatest photograph in Jazz.”

The idea of a work of art being “greatest” is foreign to me. But if there must be a greatest photo in jazz, the obvious contender is the 1958 Art Kane photo that has become known as A Great Day in Harlem, a photo that Facini doesn’t mention, a photo that’s spawned a documentary, a poster, a hip-hop homage, and at least two books. Kane’s photo is an extraordinary human-interest story in which every face is distinctive. As is the case with Parent’s photo. But it’s Kane’s photo that is known as immortal, legendary, the greatest, &c.

[Of the four musicians in Bob Parent’s photograph, only Roy Haynes is living. Of the fifty-seven musicians in A Great Day in Harlem, only Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins are living.]

comments: 3

Slywy said...

"Many people are saying," Michael. You know how that goes.

I'm not sure why it's necessary to have a "greatest photo," anyway. Depends on what defines "great" to you. Composition? Subjects? Historic moment? Etc.

Here's a list of "jazz photographers. The best in the world." Many people are saying, doncha know.

Michael Leddy said...

Claxton, Gottlieb, Leonard, Schiedt, check. Alas, many of the links have expired. The bassist and photographer Milt Hinton and the writer and photographer Val Wilmer should be on any such list.

zzi said...

Even I knew the one you presented is the "One". (A Great Day in Harlem)