W. Eugene Smith’s Jazz Loft Documentary

W. Eugene Smith, Roland Kirk, early 1960s. ©The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith

W. Eugene Smith, Roland Kirk, early 1960s. ©The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith

The photojournalist W. Eugene Smith is known for his long-form humanitarian photo essays — Country Doctor, Spanish Village, and Minimata, among others — and his work for Life and Magnum. But in 1957, he moved into a dilapidated building at 821 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan that became known as the Jazz Loft. Smith wired the building for sound and recorded such musicians as Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, and Zoot Sims, who hung out at the building and played music. He also took tens of thousands of photographs. On November 13 and 16, WNYC will screen its first-ever documentary film, The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, directed by WNYC host and producer Sara Fishko, at DOC NYC. The documentary is an outgrowth of the award-winning “Jazz Loft Radio Series,” a 10-part series that Fishko produced for WNYC in 2009.

Smith had recorded the sounds of jam sessions and rehearsals, as well as the radio and TV programs he listened to, and he shot his largest body of photographic work in and around and out the window of what became known as the Jazz Loft.

Sam Stephenson, author of The Jazz Loft Project (Knopf, 2009), found the tapes in Smith’s photo archive at the Center for Creative Photography and began studying and sharing the material. The film uses selections from that audio and photos, along with new interviews with participants, archival footage, and re-creations to tell the story of Smith and the Jazz Loft.