“Thelonious Monk and Town Hall Band in Rehearsal” by W. Eugene Smith, 1959. Working Print with Smith’s Grease Pencil.
By ’59 Smith had already cracked up,
fled wife and children to hole up
in the stinking no-plumbing loft on
Running on amphetamines and fear, he
shot endless spools of film from his studio window
and wired the four-story building for sound.
The place was open all night
and for more than a decade jazz musicians
-- the masters and the forgotten –
climbed Smith’s dank stairs to jam after the clubs closed.
Smith shot and taped them all, far into the night,
year after year – his fear, perhaps, that something would be lost:
the set of Zoot Sims’s brow when he was cooking hard,
the dissonance of Roland Kirk’s double blowing.
Here Monk is at the keyboard
as Smith shoots from the musician’s left,
squatting at the seated man’s level.
Behind Monk we see Hall Overton, out of focus,
and the shirtsleeves and music stands of some of the band.
But it is Monk’s bust in profile at the focal point,
and this Smith has marked, for cropping,
with the grease pencil.
Under the black fedora the head is thrown back, the eyes are closed.
Monk is far away. And he is still young, just 42 in ’59.
A clamp-light on the piano, outside Smith’s markings,
points to the ceiling.
Monk’s face, upturned, catches the light and shines.
When Smith died, years later, it took two semi-trucks
to empty the loft of his archive.
Benjamin Goluboff teaches English at Lake Forest College. Beside a
modest list of scholarly publications, he has placed imaginative work
in Hayden's Ferry Review, Anobium, Cabinet, Dead Flowers, Ascent, and