A Snapshot of History

A review of Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill

Have you ever looked a group picture and wondered what was happening as the shot was captured? Well, Roxane Orgill’s ‘Jazz Day’ does just that, and more. The photograph Harlem 1958 is now famous for picturing 57 jazz musicians in Harlem on August 12, 1958. Photographer Art Kane called for any and all jazz musicians to gather for the picture and ‘Jazz Day’ places you in the midst of it all through 21 poems.

Orgill’s poems tell the story of the jazz greats mingling with up and coming musicians like they’re at ‘a big happy class reunion.’ A group of boys playing on the street line themselves at the front of the photo, and instead of shooing them away, the photographer and poet include them in the story of the day. Throughout the pages you learn why one man has a trumpet but no one else has an instrument and you realize that someone is missing from the shot: the old “lion” of a man who couldn’t be bothered to move from the steps next door to get in the shot.

As Orgill tells the stories in poems smooth as jazz, Francis Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations draw your eye to a focal point on each page. Using color to illustrate the key aspect and muted tones for the background, Vallejo makes you feel like you’re one of those lucky boys, who happen to be on that street in Harlem with the jazz greats. When you near the end of the poems, Art Kane’s photograph folds out to give you a crystal clear image of the photograph itself.

When you finish the story, there are pages of notes about the day, location, photographer, musicians, and neighborhood boys to supplement the poems. There is even a key to identify each musician in the photo. The story itself is a puzzle in imagination, putting the pieces together of each character’s story to end with it completed when you see the actual photograph. The author’s notes allow you to fill in the questions that arise while creating the puzzle. 

‘Jazz Day’ takes one moment in 1958 and brings it to us today in a vibrant celebration of poetry, art, jazz, and photography. (Ages 8-13)”