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Sara Fishko uncovers a creative haven in her documentary The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith

Acclaimed photographer W. Eugene Smith captured the sights and sounds of the jazz musicians who performed in his New York City loft.
Thelonious Monk and his band perform in W. Eugene Smith's jazz loft in 1959. (© 1999, 2015 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith)

Director and WNYC producer Sara Fishko tells the unlikely story of a dilapidated New York City loft in her new documentary The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith. The Jazz Loft was a place where musicians would congregate and jam night after night, while acclaimed Life Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith would quietly capture the performances, as he lived in the space adjacent to the loft.

Thelonious Monk and Hall Overton at W. Eugene Smith's jazz loft in 1959. (© 1999, 2015 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith)

The Jazz Loft became Smith's home when he moved away from his wife and family after a failed attempt at freelance photography. "It was already a hangout for jazz musicians when he first arrived there," says Fishko. From Thelonious Monk to Salvador Dali, Smith recorded over 4000 hours of audio and exposed 45,000 negatives, capturing the lives of musicians and artists between 1957 and 1965.

Salvador Dali and Ultra Violet attend a loft party in the 1960s. (© 2009, 2015 The Heirs of w. Eugene Smith)

"Smith was obsessive and he was a huge music fan," says Fishko. Since he spent most of his time in the darkroom exposing film, Smith "just loved listening." Fishko explains that the loft was a five story building, so Smith placed tape recorders throughout the entire complex. "He had a switching system, so he could turn off the tape recorder on the second floor if nothing much was happening there and switch on the one on the third floor and catch Thelonius Monk and Hall Overton." Smith's work resulted in many rare jazz recordings you couldn't hear anywhere else.

W. Eugene Smith's self-portrait at the jazz loft window. (© 2009, 2015 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith)

The Jazz Loft According to W Eugene Smith is the first ever feature film from WNYC studios and it's available now on iTunes.  

WEB EXTRA | Watch the trailer for The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith below.

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