The Jazz Loft Project: W. Eugene Smith in NYC, 1957-1965

Thelonious Monk and Town Hall Band in rehearsal
c. 1957-1964
W. Eugene Smith Archive, Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona

In 1957, W. Eugene Smith, a former photographer at Life magazine, moved out of the home he shared with his wife and four children in Croton-on-Hudson, New York and moved into a dilapidated, five-story loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York City’s wholesale flower district. 821 Sixth Avenue was a late-night haunt of musicians, including some of the biggest names in jazz—Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk among them—and countless fascinating, underground characters. Between 1957 and 1965 W. Eugene Smith made approximately 40,000 exposures both inside the loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue, of the nocturnal jazz scene, and of the street below as seen through his fourth-floor window. He also wired the building like a surreptitious recording studio and made 1,740 reels (4,000 hours) of stereo and mono audiotapes, capturing more than three hundred musicians, among them Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Roland Kirk, Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, and Paul Bley. He also recorded legends such as pianists Eddie Costa, and Sonny Clark, drummers Ronnie Free and Edgar Bateman, saxophonist Lin Halliday, bassist Henry Grimes, and multi-instrumentalist Eddie Listengart. The Jazz Loft Project: W. Eugene Smith in New York City, 1957-1965 was organized by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. For more information, please visit