andrew sullivan – harlem jazz

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Andrew Sullivan

Harlem Jazz

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Tap dancer Omar Edwards thrust the metal toe of his shoe forward and scraped an arc on the Minton’s Playhouse stage. An audience of three heard the sound of saws cutting through logs. African drums echoed from Edwards’s feet, then the creak of chains on a ship sailing west across the Atlantic. Wiping sweat away, Edwards said, “It’s not just black history, but the history of man.”

Harlem’s jazz clubs evoke the age before rock and hip-hop dominated  rebellious musical expression. Spaces where crowds sit inches from the musicians once featured Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.  Edwards danced on the stage where Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie invented bebop after hours in the 1940’s.

The 1939 Art Deco Lenox Lounge glows red less than a block from a Starbucks. Customers scramble for the corner booth Billie Holiday used to sit in for dinner.

“When you walk in here, you’re taking a step back in time,” the Lounge’s owner Alvin Reid said. “This is where you can see the sweat falling off the musician. You have a one-on-one relationship.”

Jazz weaves threads of Harlem’s identity. On 125th St., near Hotel Theresa, where Louis Armstrong slept, a clothing store entices shoppers by adding “Jazz” to its name. Street vendors sell John Coltrane and Josephine Baker t-shirts to locals and  foreign tourists. Murals of musicians and dancers emerge when shopkeepers pull down decorated security doors at closing time.

Max Lucas, 98, has played his saxophone in Harlem since 1925, when his first gig was a duet with a banjo player in a barber shop. He performed in the Savoy Ballroom as 2,000 dancers covered the floor. During Prohibition and the Great Depression, Lucas worked rent parties, where the hosts had three-piece bands in their homes, sold bootleg liquor and charged 25 cents admission to help pay their landlords. When he joins his son’s band at the Lenox Lounge on Wednesdays, the crowd reveres Lucas as its connection to Harlem’s cultural legacy.

Every Sunday for 15 years, Marjorie Eliot has hosted concerts in her apartment, but she’s not trying to earn her rent. She lives in the building Count Basie called home and wants to preserve Harlem’s jazz tradition with her free shows. She begins by dedicating the performance to a late musician and then invokes the memory of her son Philip, who died in 1992. Eliot said sharing music brings her son back a little bit.

Jazz endures as its popularity diminishes. Songs of freedom drift out of Harlem where intimate spots preserve notes of the past and its speakeasy nights.


Photographer’s note:

My grandfather lit my imagination when he spoke of working in bands during the 1920’s and 30’s. He’d play his sax, and tell of a ship bound for the Caribbean at night, joining a hotel orchestra in Havana for awhile or heading below the Equator for a gig in Rio de Janeiro. The music finished his stories. After he died, I wanted to sense the life he led before he married my grandmother and settled down.

I saw him in the people I photographed and heard him in their music. Familiarity in strangers’ eyes made me pause. Fragments of his life appeared.


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Andrew Sullivan


116 Responses to “andrew sullivan – harlem jazz”

  • 12, 18, 19, 25, and 27 with the lovely Cotton Club in red are beautiful images. 24 seems out of place because everything else is in landscape. But a quiet intimate image anyway.

    You’ve combined my love for Jazz with my love for photography. I only wish the music/interviews/sounds continued throughout the photo essay, I thought I hit the mute button on my keyboard. It kinda killed the atmosphere a little for me but the wonderful colours, (especially the skin tones) last all the way through.

    I can’t fault it other than that.
    Thank you

  • I’ve been looking forward to this essay Andrew and you didn’t disappoint: wonderful photographs, intro, voiceover/interview … can’t fault it. I’m not even going to pick favorites because they all belong. Wonderful colour. A labour of love.



  • JonathanJK and Mike R- Thank you both for the early comments. My better half recommended against the lone vertical for the same reason you mentioned, Jonathan, but I liked the moment, and in the end, my opinion won out over hers. Although now I wonder.

    When I designed the soundtrack, everything was synchronized and the audio ran until the end of the slide show. I’m going to write Anton to see if it’s possible to have each image transition quicker. Hopefully that will clear up the sound issue.

  • Andrew,
    I want to watch it over and over; I want to head up to Harlem tonight; I want be immersed in that color and surrounded by those sounds and faces. Thanks I feel it!

  • Andrew, those are lovely photos and story full of warmth and insight. Thanks! You really communicate your love for jazz. I like how you use images of joyful listeners in your photos to create empathy and communicate your feelings, they are like surrogate viewers.

    David, on purely technical note, the images seem to load slow or pause too long on each photo to create a good rhythm. The soundtrack ended before the photos finished and the last half dozen pictures played in silence. I like what slideshow pro does for your video pieces on Burn, but for your audio/spoken-word with a slideshow, I think it is letting you down. I suggest you explore soundslides. It’s super easy to use and will allow you to cue your images to the soundtrack. I think pacing images to the music would have immeasurably improved Bob’s presentation. He could have gone through the atmosphere producing images fairly quickly and settled on the complex images to let the viewer contemplate and comprehend their depth.

    Advice from a neophyte, cheers.

  • ANDREW..

    yes, i wondered about the sound track too….and i discussed it with Anton…he was under the impression this is what you wanted…anyway, we will fix it soonest…sorry about that…and, i would pull the vertical if i were you..should i?? yes, nice feeling, but not so good for a slide show…

    cheers, david

  • I really enjoyed this! I have seen a few of these images before, but this is a story I can feel…

    These images are vivid, exciting, and at the same time very quite, intimate photographs- they speak to me!

    Well done!

    Cheers -Jeremy

  • Nice to hear that the slideshow does last all the way through. Would like to listen to it again.

  • Andrew,
    Really enjoyed your series.
    They create a mood that helps transport us,online viewers, to that environment.

    I do feel that the audio component comes across a little as an afterthought and felt,
    apart from the interview portion, that the audio didn’t support the imagery as well as it,perhaps,
    could have.
    It’s been suggested that one solution might be to speed up the image sequencing to better match the
    I would see it the other way. I could imagine the piece (as a multimedia presentation) would be stronger
    if the images ran longer and/or incorporated alternate frames in a number of scenarios to further draw
    us into the scene. With this in mind it might be better possible to add audio that would be a little
    more scene specific.
    As an example, in the opening frame I kept waiting for a sampling of the street sax players music to
    fade in over the traffic. Same with the accordion performer warming up in the bathroom- a couple of
    extra frames could have stretched the scene to 15 or so seconds allowing you to include audio that would
    have let us better get a feel for the moment.

    Anyhow, the visual content is beautiful and I don’t think there is a frame that doesn’t work apart
    from the vertical. I’m sure you’ll let your better half know what some others think :>))

  • Nice work and always important to document music scenes – they come and go. My faves are # 9 and 25. Love the energy in #9 and the weariness (the blues?) in 25. Congrats.


    i have pulled you off front page until we can get soundtrack fixed…

  • I think it is a very solid and professional journalist job. Nothing more nothing less. I loved the soundtrack, again very professionally integrated with the exception that it is several frames short (may be it is my browser or player problem). There are some beautiful shots – i.e. I loved 22 and 24 – just great. Again, very solid.

  • David,

    Sorry to be editing on the fly, but the consensus seems to be to cut the vertical. If you have the time, sure, cut it. I was stubbornly clinging to the moment apart from the presentation. The only thing I have to fear is Jen telling me, “I told you so!”

    Looking forward to being out front again.

    Thank you,

  • Andrew, you nicely captured the connection built by music between people on both side of the stage (even where there is no formal stage at all ;) and some great moments behind the scene (for example #3). Great tones in #6 and #7, and amazing colors and atmosphere in #10, #21 and #27; but it is a good well-balanced multimedia essay as a whole. I would get rid of the vertical shot too… and also #13 looks out of place to me (please consider that my knowledge of Harlem’s jazz scene is extremely limited… but do they really dance like that on jazz notes?? ;)

  • oh boy, do i want to stay in the hotel theresa and soak some of this up..

    really enjoyed this trip into a music scene and going to enjoy it more when i have more time later and something to drink.. will write more.

    thanks andrew

  • “They would play on into the night and into blue mornings, growing louder the notes burning through and off everyone and forgotten in the body because they were swallowed by the next one after and Bolden and Lewis and Cornish and Mumford sending them forward and forth till, as [Bolden] could see them, their bursts of air were animals fighting in the room….–“Coming Through Slaughter”–michael ondaatje

    andrew :))))

    i Love this story…have always loved the story since i first saw some of it after David posted the work during the workshop you took: last year?…at the time, the short form david shared with us, caught my attention because of all the glorious hypnotic colors (the green wall in the apartment where people are watching, the red-face of the jazz pianist, the devilish-light in the Cotton club, the blue-breath of the night swing jazz, and on and one)…what i adore in this expanded version are all the ‘down’ beat shots, the down-swing of the folks at rest, of tributes to their tools and chops, all the great shiny buzz of the instruments punctuated with beebops of silence and punctual turns….the collision of these men, like old ghosts, like Buddy bolden, that refuse to give up the hop or the twich the the flight of the young…agile and damp, agile and damp, like wet hickory laying in the fields of mississippi….that wet spit of light and dark damp that croons along the back of the neck, and scratches you up damn good…..

    what i dig is that the story is not only a celebration of the musicians and the atmosphere of these clubs and the licks, but again, of the night train and wet train that all good jazz really is about: the mollon’ of the holin of the time, gone south…

    i dig the vertical, all those gorgeous curves in the picture and instrument that mimics the slow caress of Coltrane at dawn,…but maybe not where it’s placed…or maybe not here for the presentation…but, who the hell knows ;))…

    anyway, really really sweet stuff Andrew…as usual, i wanted even more :)))…more tunes, more night stuff, more morning stuff, more…when i see a story i dig, i just want more :)))…but, as my wife and sun remind me, in terms of a buddhist, im clinging, im greedy ;)))…well, i c ould take 50 of these moody night images and songs and bheind the scenes…

    very happy to see it pop up with light and color :)))

    a dipped danced upon the colored moon…

    great job andrew :))


  • Andrew…..said

    “… The music finished his stories. After he died, I wanted to sense the life he led before he married my grandmother and settled down.

    I saw him in the people I photographed and heard him in their music. Familiarity in strangers’ eyes made me pause. Fragments of his life appeared…”

    Andrew i watched the show without reading your statement.
    I felt the connection , i felt , i felt, im still feeling…. but i couldnt explain it..
    then when i read your statement everything made perfect sense…

    “… Wiping sweat away, Edwards said, “It’s not just black history, but the history of man.”…

    Hey Andrew you did something out of the ordinary here… You werent a tourist or a fan…
    You REFLECTED your self, your subconscious here… you were digging in your soul , in your
    neighborhood , in your backyard…tracing the history of the Man, of your grandfather,
    your history… your work its not about being a PJ or an artist.. you combined both…
    your work ia about you or ME, … YES I SAW MYSELF in there… i took a dive in my soul…
    You are not choosing a subject to impress … you are not SAVING the world…
    you are not the usual PROPAGANDA MESSENGER that is so popular today around newspapers and magazines..
    But hey, again thanks for not telling me what or how to feel with cheap emotional tricks…
    I dont need to know if a great musician is broke or pregnant…
    You searched , researched , gone back to the roots..
    thanks for not being a lier or another desperate photographer to impress an editor or get a job
    thanks, thanks, thanks… another great day for BURN…
    Ahhh and about your photos , or critiquing each and every frame…laughing…
    ahhh, im gonna leave this part for the “experts” here… the blind… the ones that can see a vignaitte
    or can see the “poor” photo vs “strong” photo, the “filler” and the “iconic”… but they cant feel..
    they cant feel for “s**t”… let them dissect it for us…
    The photo “coroners”… or as i used to call them , simply : “THE DEAD”…the constipated, the “good”…
    not driving today
    ( Andrew you have a great soul…. man, great soul )

  • CORI- If you go, Tuesdays are good for St. Nick’s Pub at 773 St. Nicholas Blvd and 149th St., but it starts late and goes late into the night. Wednesdays, weather dependent, you can see Max Lucas accompany his son Nate at the Lenox Lounge. Take the 2,3 to 125th St. It’s steps away from the subway stop.

    IAN- I used Soundslides to set the pacing and timing. Definitely easy to use.

    MARK- Thanks for the great suggestions regarding the audio. I wish I had thought of them! When I read your ideas, I saw instantly how well they would work. My thought was to keep the show under 2.5 minutes because I worry about keeping the viewer’s attention, but I’ll go back and try to work with your ideas. Many thanks, and BTW, I loved your work. Quite a few “Wows!” and at least one huge laugh in the Birds and the Bees.. the silhouette!

    CHARLES- I agree, very important, especially as the pioneers die out. How do you think we can show that music scenes become integral parts of a place or a culture’s identity rather than just something people do for entertainment?

    ABELE- Yes, those people are dancing to some fast jazz next to the bar while the club manager looks on disapprovingly in the background.

    DAVID BOWEN- Unfortunately they converted Hotel Theresa into an office building, but kept the name and the signage. When you visit NYC, you could stay at the Harlem Flophouse, a four room bed and breakfast dedicated to the Jazz Age.

    BOB- :)I love you man!! Just when I thought I had put this project down, you go and inspire the hell out of me. I’m going to print out your words and stick them in my camera bag to refer to in moments of frustration and ease. Ondaatje’s book is now on the top of my list for my trip to the library later this week. Many thanks.:))

  • harlem flophouse it is :ø)

    what strikes me about these photos is that you catch the unique atmosphere of this small corner whilst also catching the vibe at gigs through the decades..
    be it gill scott heron, primal screen or aphex twin, there are always common moments inhabited by us animals with different skin.. an exhibit at the photographers gallery of 1950´s soho can carry the same vibe as the 1990´s electronic music scene.
    these moments are not so easy to catch as you make it look here and infact for some they might even be difficult to see.

    so.. from your piece i can learn something about this little corner while also seeing something of the timeless, unfaltering pleasure.. exhaustion.. dynamism and desire which music holds for it´s masters and us all.

    i think it´s an accomplished essay for covering these bases with all the style and panache of the people existing within it.. flows like water tastes like wine.

    i´m in agreement about wanting to see more, though..
    while it may be accepted to leave a viewer with the urge to see more, in this case there is room for squeezing the last drops out of whiskey bottle.. it finished all too soon for me..

    perhaps that is just the way of a good gig or weekend blending with sounds..
    when the bitter end arrives it is always too early



  • Really lovely story, well told all round. Makes me want to go shoot some train[can it be shot instead of blown?]. shot jazz a few times before but mainly the young bloods, matanta roberts etc.. Frame 8 bugs me, but it really is a very small bug and in the overall scheme of things and its probably me just being glitchy.


  • PANOS- Efkharisto! I have to print out your note too. I can’t wait ’til we meet again. That’ll be part two of the Looseness Workshop. Thanks for looking deeply at my essay, sharing your passion and having the guts to speak what you believe. Now I need to channel some of that energy myself.You’ll find this funny or disturbing… When I was a newspaper shooter, one of the word editors said to me one of the benefits of working for a newspaper was “moral superiority.”

  • “moral superiority.”…
    good god !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i totally believe you…
    i started back in athens greece too, as a newspaper shooter….
    yes, yes, i’ve heard that “moral” thing too back in the day,
    maybe in different words but yes…. sad, sad, sad….

    I really , really felt that your essay was way “deeper” ( another word that i hate )… than just a “jazz” story…
    Its a personal story.. its starts from grandpa…goes to you… roots… You made me “feel”…
    your statement simply confirmed it…
    ( i tried to hide that i personally know you, because i didnt wanna let people here feel, that a friend kisses another friend’s ass… i would rather keep my mouth shut if it was for ass kissing… and if you read on the other thread my theory about Taliban beasts, you will find out that im allergic on kissing ass… laughing……)

    … and again i will never forget the feeling of “instant friendship” that i felt that night in the JFK airport… or the laughs in your car , you were driving, me riding shotgun….
    Again, you have a great soul… i hate to say this, but i owe you…


    FANtastic!!! You’ve made me feel very proud of you and all your quiet efforts. This is such a feel good piece without being too sweet. It uplifted my heart and my spirit, I felt the rhythm and the love. Many new images that I hadn’t seen, just great, love the bathroom shot, love the way you layer imagery front middle sidestep back, that you can shot digital and make it have the emotional feeling of film. he colors and tones, the real moments captured so proud!

  • Yay! Now it is up, it is obviously much better. Though I do have to say that the second image should be 4th or 5th now, seems more appropriate.

  • Hello Andrew,

    You’ve captured some beautiful moments. You feel like you’re there.
    I see you’ve got some photos from St. Nicks Pub! A great place place to document the jazz scene. I used to live just a few blocks for there.
    Beautiful essay Andrew.


  • A wonderful essay, Andrew. What’s funny is that I saw some of these images as you were first making them — I had stopped into DAH’s loft to pick up a camera bag I’d “won” on the Road Trips blog, and your photographs from this essay were being projected for your fellow workshop participants and a visiting editor. I marveled then at the colors and compositions you’d pulled from these challenging shooting situations, and still am “jazzed” while viewing the pix again here. You’ve got some chops, man. Hoping the world at large will one day see more of your work. Congrats. Keep going! (And DAH — I regularly use your old Domke bag — it’s the gift that keeps giving. Thx.)
    – don

  • YES
    great to see this back online ..
    love it.

  • “Shooting digital…. feeling of film”
    Jee…there you go again…I , I’m … ok, I’ll zip it..
    I’m going for a walk…
    Welcome to 2009….

  • Andrew,

    Very good essay. How long have you worked for?
    You are very good photographer. You have good eye, and very sensitive piont of view.
    You are working for NGO? If not, you should.

  • Very nice essay on jazz in Harlem. Envious!


    you old (young) rascal…nice to see you here again…i do hope our paths cross soonest…it is always a pleasure to see you my friend…

    cheers, david

  • have i lost it? have i gone blind? has BURN burn-ed these images in my eyes??? but for the life of me i do not see the slide numbers anymore. is it just me?

    i am a nymphette in photography and pretty much do not know what is good or bad photos. so i might need the slideshow to be numbered i guess so i can follow. only way i can learn.

    and… i cannot follow where DAH’s online workshop is with roadtrips. unless i dig way back i guess.

    might need to meet the man himself…

  • Hey Andrew,

    Nice style/ quality, your images! Can you give some tips on how you get them to look like that? Thick/ heavy, rich images..

    Bye, David

  • Great images, sequencing, and I like the voice over and music. Just wanted more!

  • Love it! I remember the initial photos on the old DAH blog. I’m a jazz lover too, so I ate this up.


    you have not lost it my dear…in order to have slides and sound synchronized here on BURN, we have to go to a program that eliminates the slide numbers….just a tech reality….

    the whole of “Road Trips” was pretty much an online workshop for many…yes, you would have to dig around a bit and read a whole lot to catch up on all of it…

    i do not know if i am hard to meet (some say yes) or easy to meet (others say yes)….if you are near wherever i happen to be at the time, i always welcome a meeting….i am in New York this week if you are around….or, Spain next week if you are around…your choice!!

    cheers, david

  • Hey MARCIN,
    I’ve been freelance for one year, and was a staff photographer at a daily newspaper for ten years before that. I’d love to work for an NGO. Any ideas? Fantastic work on your site, by the way. You have a really interesting vision. I love the muted tones and compositions.

    Thanks Erica, Bill Luster and Don Hamerman! If I could follow in any of your footsteps, I’d be happy.

  • Excellent, excellent work! andrew

  • is David Griffin paying attention to this? put this project in line at the yellow magazine.. (if that’s what Andrew wants.) many kudos Andrew, very well done mi amigo!

  • DAH,

    thanks for your reply. i thought and thought and played it over and over before i posted my message before i wasted any of your time.

    we do have a mutual friend. i went to touzon’s santa fe class last year and enjoyed it so. if you mentor a mentor then you may be way out of my league so ill stay in the shadows for now and just hope until i have something to show. but he told me about BURN and i think now that i have dug in a (little bit) in your road trips i know i would learn so much more. i definitely do not have the skill but i have the “want to shoot” but the day job is the way to go for now because the bills need to be paid. but as the day wears on, i would rather write and shoot.

    i would have to say, burn is such a great site. during the weeks of james’ and lisa’s essays on Manila, i have to confess i turned BURN off because to me – coming from that country, it was pretty embarrassing and it hurt like hell to be exposed like that. this is what i think, poverty is NO EXCUSE to be ignorant and all aspects of society there: government, church, elite and the common people are all to be blamed. but though as strongly as i feel about this, my guts were wrenched as they spilled… because of my own guilt because i do not have a solution i could offer especially with myself here basking in good fortune.

    but on a lighter note, the last few featured photographs saved me: no pictures please, self portrait, fervent, even though the comments were a little intimidating for such a neophyte like me to follow (sorry for the rant)

    and this essay…

    i am glad andrew is responding to the posts also because i thought there at least once that maybe the photographers of featured essays and photos were “muted” for the week they were featured.

    this essay made me feel the music, and the life and the purpose of going through the thoughtless motions we do every single day. that at the end of the day when “nightlife” starts, as photographers, writers, or whatever you do, realizing that you’re doing something so passionately will save all of us in the end. then it’s all going to be all right…

  • Pinoy Photographer

    There are some weak images around the middle. Other than that, it’s an excellent essay – full of colour from your characters.

  • ANDREW :))))

    so happy to see this up again! :))))…and Im happy you enjoyed my ‘riff’ on your ‘riffs’ :)))))…it’s so lovely to write for project, words inspired by the run of the melody :))))….

    dont let it go for sure :)))


  • Like Jim P, I just wanted more. You’d taken me back in time, to the roots of jazz, into the intimate spaces where it all began…and I didn’t want to leave. Your audio adds so much to the work. Of course with jazz being all about sound, it figures that hearing traditional jazz, the street sounds in Harlem, and this 98 year-old living legend tell us his story brings it all home. And your photos take us there through our eyes. A sensory delight.

    Now, I’ve been a jazz lover for over 52 years and have lived in Detroit, a jazz mecca, for 4 of those years, so you can imagine how this hits me where I live. You have really captured the essence of this music and the people who give it soul. Bravo to you, Andrew!


  • correction: I’ve lived in Detroit for 43 of those years…



    yours is one of the nicest, genuinely sweetest letters i have received here on Burn…with a letter like that, i may just keep going a bit longer….

    thank you ….

    cheers, david


    laughing…i saw that “4 years” and i was just scratching my bald head when you fired in the correction…

    nice catch!!

    cheers, david

  • oh happy, happy..what a wonderful essay! I met Duke Ellington in Manhattan one time..these photos just warm all the cold places inside..thank you for a wonderful read and a heartwarming look-see..


  • sweet? SWEET???
    go ask raul and let’s do this over beer. maybe when i DO start talking, you’ll change your mind.

    youve got a great group going here… im not going to start naming names … but youve got to love panos. though i dont think i would want to dare and meet him.


    yea i thought you might not like “sweeeet”…sorry…just popped into my head…

    Panos…so many people get so angry with him and it is the biggest comedy show on the road for me because i know him in person and i know how he yanks chains….. anyway, i know what Panos is doing…he LOVES to freak out everybody..that is his THING….but let me tell you that boy is on the case..he is the most DEPENDABLE of all the photographers on this forum when it comes to getting things done…he is the ONLY photographer here who got his material to me on time , in good order….yes, the easiest person to work with of everyone here…and i love all the others who i have mentored online like Patricia, David, Rafal and Bob and Erica in another category, but let’s just say online relationships built..of all those nearest and dearest, Panos is the easiest to work with….and for all the Panos naysayers, i will just bet my money long range on Panos…he has one thing few have…total honestly with who he is….and he shoots THAT…nothing but that…who cares if the pictures are “good”…they are straight…raw…anyway, we will see…..we are going to edit tomorrow for a slightly cleaner version of his essay here (no no not too clean)…check it out in a couple of days….

    cheers, david

  • phew…DAH, you had me worried there for a second. Please don’t file off too many rough edges or pick off all those fleas off Panos because his work is so gritty and soulful that it would be a terrible loss to see it sanitized, homogenized, pasteurized and desensitized..but i’m trusting you and Panos to keep it real, for all our sakes :))) you go, Panos!


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