The Jazz Loft Project

From 1957-1965 W. Eugene Smith, a prolific American photographer, documented New York jazz musicians in his small loft and ended up with 4,000 hours of audio and 40,000 photographs. His dilapidated loft in the wholesale flower district was the place for late-night jam sessions for Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Steve Reich, Zoot Sims, Roland Kirk, and Alice Coltrane. He also recorded drug addicts, neighborhood cops, radio programs about aliens, MLK and JFK on the radio, James Baldwin and Frank Lloyd Wright in interviews. When Smith died, he accumulated 1,740 reels of tape. Below are some of his photos and tape boxes from his collection.

The Jazz Loft Project has done a great job archiving and sharing this extraordinary moment in American history.  WNYC radio did a ten-part series telling the story of W. Eugene Smith and the jazz loft with rare recordings and intriguing stories from friends and family. NPR just started a four-part series on the jazz loft and will continue to air stories every Sunday in December.


Also worth checking: Jazzin the Black Forest – The Complete Guide to Saba/MPS Jazz Records .

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Awesome, awesome. Love the photos and plan to listen to the NPR programs. My husband may think we named our son after Darius M. but I know it was really after Miles Davis. ;)


i Need to find this 10 part series!

Both as a jazz music lover and a photographer this is a rare one of a kind find! I am so glad Mr. W. Eugene Smith had the foresight to document all this awesome history of real life, real music, real accomplishment both in sound and in pictures. This project to me makes photography really swing with style and grit! Daniel S. Hagy in the West Village, NYC

Daniel Hagy |

Found design |

Beautiful pictures, and the design of those tape boxes is great too. Here’s a set of tapes I scanned:

Found reference to this website via apartment Therapy a couple of weeks ago and have the site bookmarked and if you go to WNYC’s website, you can then listen to the entire 10 series online, it’s very fascinating.

As a Jazz lover and a lover of history, I have found this project fascinating in many ways. The Jazz Loft Project website itself has images, 2 playlists taken from the tapes, more may be added later, stories of the people and residents of the loft and a blog and a timeline as well.

John |

Found design |

Stereophonic & monaural? Nobody uses those words anymore! Thanks for the great post!


chadwick III |

Found design |

I don’t see David X Young mentioned here in this piece. He actually did a lot of the recordings. They shared the place together. I used to have a bunch of the tapes from these recordings, David had given me copies. Amazing stuff, too bad most of it will never be heard……

As always, Grain Edits unearths more terrific stuff. Nice job!

However, one point of clarification:

W. Eugene Smith is a true icon and innovator of 20th-century photojournalism — one of the greatest and most influential practitioners of the discipline of the last 100 years, known particularly for his war photography.

Hope this doesn’t sound jerkish, but: calling him merely a “prolific American photographer” is akin to calling Paul Rand a “prolific American designer.” In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a single designer of any ilk who risked his life and fought to retain the integrity of his work more than Smith did during his lifetime.

The Jazz Loft Project is a fantastic body of work for Smith — but only a single chapter (though certainly a wonderful and sublime one) in a fascinating, unwaveringly humanistic, and at times very dangerous career. For more info, check out the “American Masters” documentary about him, or here’s a good bio (definitely worth reading throughout, as I’m sure many will find his quotes pretty inspiring):

Lastly: Knopf released a book of all this stuff — guess I know where my next $40 is going…

Anyway: thanks y’all, and keep up the great work!

stunning photos. what a time to be alive! thanks for sharing!!!

Damn. great stuff. I love when I see jazz gems show up in art and design blogs. Ever since Dick Buckley went off air in mid ’08 I have been needing some jazz radio love. Thanks!

Wow! What great tape graphics! Thanks for sharing.