The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith

A very hip fly on the wall

In the middle of the last century, it was the habit of jazz musicians such as Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, Hall Overton, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Jimmy Giuffre to gather at a dilapidated loft apartment in Manhattan and just jam all night. 

This probably happened in more than one place in the wholesale flower district back then. The difference here is that the tenant of the apartment was renowned WWII photographer W. Eugene Smith, who has been described as “perhaps the single most important American photographer in the development of the editorial photo essay.”

Smith applied his trademark obsessive perfectionism and artistic skills to documenting the sessions. Through a complex system of microphones, he recorded 4,000 hours of music while taking 40,000 photographs. These were all preserved, and now Sara Fishko has benefitted us immeasurably 60 years later by arranging this massive audio/visual stash into a quintessential fly-on-the-wall documentary, and in the process weaves several other discreet stories into the larger narrative. 

My only beef is that, at not even an hour and a half, she gives us precious little time to just listen. I could have watched another hour of this stuff. And despite the title, it’s only peripherally about jazz. (87 min)