The Sound of Spontaneity

The Sound of Spontaneity

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Jazz Loft Project Radio Series was created using a remarkable archive of thousands of hours of tape recorded by a great photographer, W. Eugene Smith, in his loft building on Sixth Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets in New York. From that tape, certain sounds and stories emerged that became the focus of the series.

But what has become most fascinating element of this material is the cultural difference that has revealed itself along the way: imagine a world in which playing music was sheer pleasure, without any thought of its destination or outcome; where jamming together was the greatest possible joy for hundreds of musicians who worked until 3 AM in clubs and then – looked for a place to play for a few more hours! 

From this moment in 2009, in which everything anyone thinks or says is twittered or blogged or in some way used, it is revealing to go back 50 years and listen, closely, to something that was never intended to be used in any way.  Because of that, it sounds different.  The music is less structured, less self-conscious, more exploratory.  The conversation is uninhibited, frank and sometimes just plain boring.  The creaky steps and squeaky door of the building people describe as ‘smelly’ add to the profile of a place that was simply not ‘for show’ in any way whatsoever.

We’re not sure exactly what gave W. Eugene Smith the idea that recording and photographing life in The Jazz Loft would be of any interest, but he was right:

the spontaneous musical moments and intimate conversations he captured on tape tell us things about the post-World War II cultural world of New York that we could never know otherwise.

It is a trip to another world, that happens to be right down the street.


Sam Stephenson's book, The Jazz Loft Project, will be published by Knopf on November 24, 2009.

Visit The Center for Documentary Studies' Jazz Loft Project page here.



Host/Producer: Sara Fishko

Technical Director: Edward Haber

Consulting Editor: Julie Burstein

Assistants/Associates: Oliver Kramer, Nina Goodby, Noel Black, Alexander Yellen, Laura Mayer

Web Team: Laura Mayer, Valentina Powers, Allison Lichter, Otis Hart, Elizabeth Zagroba

Executive Producer   Dean Cappello


For The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke

Project Director: Sam Stephenson

Research Associate: Dan Partridge

Jazz Loft Project Coordinator: Lauren Hart


The Jazz Loft Project Radio Series was supported in part by a grant from The National Endowment for the Humanities; and by an award from The National Endowment for the Arts.



Produced by WNYC.


Sara Fishko

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Comments [11]

Richard S. Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Yes yes to Buddy.

In this day and age, if the station can air and stream, it should be able to provide downloads.

Feb. 08 2010 10:20 AM
Buddy Fey from Seagrove Beach FL

Not living in the NY area, I'm obviously unable to hear the broadcast. Much as I appreciate the opportunity to hear these broadcasts streamed at a later date, it would be a HUGE advantage to have them available as podcasts. Please...

Feb. 07 2010 05:06 PM
Richard S Mitnick from Highland Park, New Jersey

I just saw the video "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser", made in 1968. Strange, I saw no mention of the 1959 Town Hall Concert. Am I missing Something?

Feb. 02 2010 06:59 AM
Jeffery Scott from Pasadena CA

I was given the Jazz Loft book at Christmas in Detroit. I then went to a party there only to start talking to an old school friend only to find her father happened to be Jimmy Stevenson (Bass) who lived above WE Smith. Jimmy just died this Jan 6. This week I get a link to this series.
This is a remarkable effort and production and I am so thankful for the book and Sara Fishko for the in depth coverage and attention to detail. Accolades!!!!!!!!

Feb. 01 2010 10:31 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

I am curious about one thing:

I have listened to seven episodes. After at least episode 2 or 3, after what soundws like a sign-off pointing to the next episode, there is a pause, and then, something starts to play. It is not the next episode, it sonds like I have heard already it.

Seeing the reverse dates in the web page showing the MyPlaylist/ Most Listened. I ask is it possible that if I started with Episode 10, which has the earliest date of Nov 21, the episode would play one after the other?

Dec. 06 2009 10:47 PM
Harry Matthews from Brooklyn

Like the other posters, I am a great admirer of Sara Fishko and a frustrated listener seeking broadcast times.

I would like to add a sad note: the site of the Jazz Loft and the entire Flower District are rapidly disappearing. Zoning changes are consigning these unique sites to the fate of the neighboring Flea Market. Thanks to Mike Bloomberg and Amanda Burden, these specks of urban color are being replaced -- literally as you read this -- by towers full of luxury condos.

Thank you, W. Eugene Smith, for making sure this history lives.

Nov. 22 2009 09:58 PM

What a treasure. Thank you, Sarah. You are so talented: can I be your robot?

Nov. 20 2009 12:17 PM
Steve Schoenbach from NYC

I agree with previous commentors that scheduling information on wnyc for this series has been egregiously pauce, if not by ineptitude, intent, to sell us a complete series on cd or other in the future.

However, this is the best story I've heard on NPR/WNYC in a long time. Anything by Sarah Fishko is good, even a request for monetary support for the station. She is an extraordinary producer: structure, sound, story, intelligence. And I believe, the most attractive voice on radio.

I think I remember Sarah from WBAI.

Nov. 19 2009 10:51 PM

The link to the On Air Schedule can be found underneath the Jazz Loft logo at the top of the page, or by pasting this URL into your browser:

Nov. 16 2009 09:44 AM
Martin I. Hassner from Upper Saddle River, NJ

The specific times - starting Monday Nov 16th when we can hear the 10 parts of the Jazz Loft series...please?

The website doesn't contain any of this critical information - at least at this writing...

Nov. 15 2009 10:26 PM
Lawrence Bergner

What Time on Morning Edition for the Jazz Project???????????????????

Nov. 15 2009 08:50 PM

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