Smith and Monk (favourite album covers #2)


Thelonious Monk is one of my favourite musicians and composers. I like the fact that his manner of playing is not perfect - I once heard it said that his hands were too big for the piano and as a result he often used to hit two keys instead on one, adding an atonal twist to the timbre of some of his notes. I can (and sometimes do) listen to his music for hours.

In late 1958 and Ealy 1959, Monk was rehearsing for a concert at Town Hall in New York. His rehearsal space was in a loft at 821 Avenue of the Americas, where composer Hall Overton lived and helped Monk to prepare for the concert. Monk was not the only musician to pass through the place and many many sessions took place at this address.

Another resident of the building was photographer Eugene Smith, who was in the process of obsessively documenting the building, with much of the same enthusiasm that he brought to other projects, notably his insane desire to photograph Pittsburg - All of it.

Not only did Smith photograph compulsively, he also wired the whole building with microphones and recorded something like 3000-4000 hours of material. How's that for some raw bones for a 'mulitmedia' slideshow.



Having just read about this in a couple of places I wondered why I had not heard of it before and where could I check it out. Turns out the entire archive is in the possession of Duke University in North Carolina and they are busy compiling a radio series and a book from the photographs and recordings. Both should be ready by the end of the year.

I am waiting in anticipation....

Incidentally, the cover of Monk's eponymous 1964 album is one of my favourite portrait photographs. It was taken by Eugene Smith and if someone gave me a barrel full of cash to start a vintage photograph collection this would be my first purchase.

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