The book is being called a coffee table book, but it is more of an art installation between covers, annotated by Stephenson. He not only rescues a time capsule of art and artists in an improbable setting, he curates a transporting photoessay.
W. Eugene Smith, WWII photographer for Life and Look abandoned another assignment when he installed himself in an abandoned tenement 821 6th Ave in NYC in the 50s, in the middle of the wholesale flower district, that became the underground hub and ad hoc studio of jazz luminaries and writers, artists and photographers and junkies. It is the jazz version of Warhol’s factory.
Smith not only photographed everything and everybody, he wired the building for sound, so there are jam sessions from the jazz vanguard.
In the background, Smith taped radio shows of operas, plays, actors and authors reading poems and plays, political speeches, The World series, bulletins of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as they happened, they are his soundtrack to the legendary rehearsals of Thelonious Monk and Hall Overton’s seminal Town Hall Concerts.