Friday, March 20, 2009

Marian McPartland's Birthday!

Today is Marian McPartland's 91st Birthday.

I listen to her show Piano Jazz every 9am Saturday morning on WRTI Temple University Jazz out of Philly, and enjoy how she banters and quietly duets with some old classic jazz cats or some new upstart.

Born in England, she married an American jazz musician Jimmy McPartland, came to America and was living and performing in New York when Art Kane was given the assignment of providing the photos for a special Esquire Magazine jazz edition.

Art Kane, (born Arthur Kanofsky), the art director at Seventeen Mazazine and photographer of numerous famous 33 1/3 LP album covers (ie. Duke Ellington's A Train, Dylan, The Rolling Stones, the Who, et. al.), decided not to take photos of the jazz musicians in the clubs while they were playing, but to try to get them all together for a group shot.

He put the word out on the street at all the clubs for the musicians to come to a certain street corner in Harlem, not far from some of the top clubs and near a subway station for others to come from downtown, and they all met there one morning after they had all played their regular gigs into the wee hours.

Somebody had a 8mm film camera going that was used to help create the documentary film A Great Day in Harlem, which the Somers Point Jazz Society recently screened for their premier jazz film series.

Kane can be seen in the film directing the jazz greats up the steps of a nearby brownstone row house, some still carrying their instruments.

Marian, I think is the only, or if not the only, one of only a few women in the photo, and is featured as a talking head in the documentary, explaining how her husband, after playing all night at some club, went to bed, while she went over to see what the photo shoot was all about. She made the picture and he didn't.

In any case, Art Kane got the photo, and Esquire published it (January 1959), posters were made of it, and it is now one of the most popular photos of all time, sparking the Academy Award nominated documentary that I don't think actually won the award, though it mgiht have.

I mention all this because Art Kane lived in Cape May near the end of his life, having started a photography school that was housed in the building that used to be Rev. Carl MacIntyre's Shelton college, behind the Christian Admiral, before they tore that down.

When I realized that Art Kane was in Cape May and he's the guy who took the famous photo, as well as dozens of other famous jazz picures, I went looking for him to get an interview and write a feature story.

I had also heard he was part of the "Ghost Army" during World War II, which engaged photographers, film makers and magicians to try to fool the Germans as to Allied intentions before D-Day.

Since I lived at Cape May Point at the time, I didn't have to look far for him, but I kept missing him, as he was always out of town when I went calling to his school or apartment.

Then he committed suicide, shooting himself on the front lawn of his ex-wife's home, which really put a dent in my story idea.

Although I had never met the man, I went up to New York to his funeral, and was one of a few hundred people who attended a service for him at the school he attended in the East Village, which was conviently near one of my favorite pubs of all time, McSorley's Ale House.

I tape recorded some of the eulogies people delivered, including one by a guy who said he wrote a book about the travels of the soul after death, and other such stories. Art Kane was an interesting guy, with a lot of interesting friends, and I'm sorry that we lived in the same small town and never met each other.

But his photos and the Great Day in Harlem photo survive him. When the documentary film came out (1994) a few years after Kane's death, I got a video tape of it and gave it to Carol Stone and Woody, who really appreciated it.

And I caught Marian McPartland when she performed at the Ocean City Music Pier a few summers later, and went out of my way to shake her hand, but didn't get to ask her any questions or talk to her.

But I listen to her show every Saturday morning with the hope that she will talk about Art Kane and the photo, but so far, after years of listening, she hasn't even mentioned it.

I'm sure that she's probably done an entire show about it, but I'll have to go back through her on line archives to find it, and just might do that.

And then there's that corney Steven Spielberg movie The Terminal with Tom Hanks, about a guy from Europe who is stranded at Kennedy airport in New York for years, and takes up residence there, originally coming to America to complete his dead father's collection of autographs of all the musicians in the jazz photo.

In the meantime, I'll continue to listen to her show, which has already featured a few people I know, including Carlton Drinkard's protege, John Coliani, a former Margate guy who plays once a week with legendary guitarist Les Paul. Maybe one day they'll talk about Art Kane and his photo, or repeat the show that they did talk about it.

God Bless Art Kane.

Happy Birthday Marian!


Christopher Voelker said...

Art Kane was just a wonderful visionary !!!!!

The world needed more Art Kane.


Christopher Voelker said...

Christopher Voelker said...
Art Kane was just a wonderful visionary !!!!!

The world needed more Art Kane.


karinablacktie said...

Nice anecdotal account but I think your years are a little off. Kane killed himself a year AFTER the documentary was released and just days before it was announced that the movie was nominated for an Academy Award.