Shoulda Been There: A Swellegant, Elegant Party, 1957

This post from 2009 came up in conversation yesterday and is worth revisiting. What an incredible mix of people. I had great fun writing this and imagining the scene. 

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One of the saddest phrases in the English language is “You missed a great party.” Well here’s one we all missed.

In 1957 jazz historian and Harvard/Yale alum Marshall Stearns threw the ultimate jazz-Ivy shindig. Held in honor of sitar player Ravi Shankar, the party juxtaposed Indian music with jazz, and included a jam session with Dizzy Gillespie. LIFE Magazine captured the soirée, which drew the kind of crowd only possible in New York: a dazzling melange of socialites and hipsters, artists and businessmen, with everyone dressed to the nines. Though LIFE only devoted one page to the event in the magazine, the LIFE archives include an extensive photo set entitled “East-West Jam Session.”

Just what kind of party was it? The kind set against a backdrop of modernist sculpture and an enormous record collection:

Where drummers in knit ties and pinned club collars…

… entertained bearded intellectuals:

And where bankers and clergymen…

… rubbed shoulders with finger-poppin’ hepcats:

Where artsy women discussed the “Bhagavad Gita”…

… and surgeons mixed with society matrons…

… while a kimono-clad Japanese woman played the piano:

The kind of party where uptown divas and aspiring novelists…

… bespectacled librarians and Svengali-like philosophers…

Got to hang out with Dizzy Gillespie, who wore his shades and smoked his pipe…

… and everyone had a great time…

… until the party reached its inevitable conclusion.

Special thanks to AldenPyle of Andy’s Trad Forum, a deft LIFE archives searcher, for finding these great shots.

And since we can’t have a post about Dizzy Gillespie without music, here’s Diz’s orchestra doing “The Champ,” which you’ll recognize from “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” — CC

18 Comments on "Shoulda Been There: A Swellegant, Elegant Party, 1957"

  1. Nicely written. I wonder if the Japanese lady in the kimono was Toshiko Akiyoshi.

  2. Thanks, AP, and thanks again for bringing these great shots to our attention.

  3. Very likely that it is Toshiko Akiyoshi, since she began studying at Berklee in 1956.

  4. Looks like Quincy Jones nodded off in the photo above the one with Dizzy and the pipe.


  5. I am pretty sure that is Akiyoshi. You can see here face better in other pics.

    That does look like Quincy Jones.

  6. archbishop | March 10, 2010 at 8:50 pm |

    The “bearded intellectual” is Nat Hentoff.

  7. I live in that stone house and still smells music. Can anyone help me acquire a few photos related to this sacred address ?

  8. According to Dan Morgenstern, the director of The Institute of Jazz Studies ,the bass player is Al Cotton.

  9. Wow, a young Nat Hentoff..All I got to do in 1957 was see Elvis in Philly.

  10. Al Cotton III | September 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm |

    I am Al cotton III. My father played with so many jazz greats. my daughter, who is now a pre-law student at NYU, is at home, one block from the Blue Note, her grandfathers favorite place to play.

  11. All Cotton III, I am curious,; is the bass player in the photos, playing with Dizzy.Gillespie your father ?

  12. Alphonso Cornell Cotton III | January 29, 2016 at 2:35 am |

    Yes . My dad passed away in 1998, and my sister and I have been trying to locate his bass. When we were notified of his passing, the case was in his apartment but the bass was gone.

  13. Alphonso Cornell Cotton III | January 29, 2016 at 2:40 am |

    Go to Time magazine Archives: East-West Jam session source: life

  14. Edoardo Vaccari | October 4, 2016 at 11:50 am |

    I’m pretty sure the white guy playing clarinet is Tony Scott, a greatly talented and sadly forgotten musician. Italian director Franco Maresco directed a wonderful and moving documentary about him entitled “Io sono Tony Scott, ovvero come l’Italia fece fuori il più grande clarinettista del jazz” (English: I am Tony Scott. The Story of How Italy Got Rid of the Greatest Jazz Clarinetist). Highly recommended!

  15. Alphonso Cornell Cotton III
    Is there anywhere on the net we can learn more about your father?

  16. @MacM, yes; and I’d like to know more about how we can assist in finding that bass.

  17. For those youngsters who didn’t recognize the reference to Cole Porter’s High Society in the title:

  18. Dr. Karen Cotton McDaniel | May 31, 2018 at 6:45 pm |

    The only recording I have found of my father is the Hal Stein And Warren Fitzgerald Quintet which is on CD.

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