A gritty, dilapidated five-floor walk-up in Manhattan’s seedy flower district is an after-hours haunt of musicians, artists, junkies and prostitutes. The fuse of American culture burns below the surface. It’s the last explosive heyday of jazz and the inhabitants of the building jam night after night, while a compulsive photographer documents everything with round-the-clock reel-to-reel recordings and photographs.
Inspired by true events at 821 6th Ave between 1957 – 1965, (A)loft Modulation traces the turbulent, roiling obsessions of artists and loiterers in their pursuit of purpose, while social chaos seeks to overthrow American culture. It’s angst vs. contentment, selfishness vs. benevolence, artist vs. layman – a struggle that plays out through the fractured lens of unlabeled reel-to-reel tapes which are stumbled upon 60-years after they were recorded.
Using archival video and sound, (A)loft Modulation will bring 821 6th Ave back to life for a few hours each night, including a live jazz band led by saxophonist Jonathan Beshay that will improvise nightly. Also featuring original piano composition by Grammy nominee Gerald Clayton.
In 1955 W. Eugene Smith, a celebrated photographer, quit his job at Life magazine, and left his wife and four children in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. In search of greater freedom and artistic license, he moved into a dilapidated loft building in Manhattan's flower district - at the time a seedy, unsavory neighborhood.
Smith's neighbor was Hall Overton, a teacher of classical theory and composition at The Julliard School of Music.
Their adjoining lofts were the late night haunts of some of the biggest names in jazz (Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk) painting (Salvador Dali, David X. Young), and of countless other fascinating characters.
Smith turned his documentary impulses toward his chaotic surroundings, making 40,000 pictures of life in the loft between 1957-1965. He also wired the entire building like a surreptitious recording studio and made 4,500 hours of audio tape, capturing anyone and everyone who wandered through.
For thirteen years Sam Stephenson - writer, instructor and director of the Jazz Loft Project at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies - researched Smith's life. This resulted in over 5,000 discs of material from the loft and culminated in a book, The Jazz Loft Project, and NPR radio series, and a traveling exhibition which opened at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in 2010.