Clockwise from left: Charles Mingus, Roy Haynes, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk.
By Peter Facini
A friend gave Bob Parent a tip: be at the Open Door on West 3rd Street on Sunday.
Mr. Parent, a photographer with a knack for showing up at the right time and place, didn’t need much encouragement. He arrived at the jazz club early in the evening of Sept. 13, 1953. It was unseasonably cool for late summer. The New York Times front page detailed the marriage of Senator John F. Kennedy and the glamorous Jacqueline Bouvier in Newport, R.I. The Brooklyn Dodgers had just clinched the pennant in Milwaukee.
The show that night was billed as the Thelonious Monk Trio. Monk, 35, was already a prolific composer and piano innovator, yet it would take a decade for his brilliance to be fully appreciated by mainstream America. The trio was rounded out by Charles Mingus, 31, on standup bass and the youngster Roy Haynes, a 28-year-old hotshot drummer everyone called “Snap Crackle.”
The Open Door was a dark little joint that Mr. Haynes would later characterize as “a dump.” The jazz historian Dan Morgenstern was slightly more generous in his description: “It was a strange place but had great music.” There was an out-of-tune piano in the front room that was presided over on most nights by a woman known as Broadway Rose. She sang popular songs of the day.
Mr. Parent set up in the back room where the bands played. Then 30 years old, he had been making good side money shooting photos for magazines like Downbeat and Life; record companies sometimes bought his pictures for album covers. “Bobby was a terrific guy,” Mr. Morgenstern recalled. “He had a job at the United Nations doing press stuff. He was always around.”
There was nothing about the Open Door to signal that magic was about to happen or that jazz history was about to be made. The place was half-empty, and Sunday was a dark night at many of the big nightclubs in New York City. Bob Reisner, a part-time jazz critic for The Village Voice, was also a promoter, and he booked minor clubs. Reisner knew he could get great musicians on Sunday, even at a second-rate venue like the Open Door.
With Monk, Mingus and Haynes, he had certainly booked a top-shelf trio, reason enough to make the trip downtown. The word on the street that afternoon — and what a savvy Bob Parent already knew — was that there was a good chance Charlie Parker would sit in with the trio
Monk was also working without his cabaret card. It would be four more years before he was able to recover his. The cabaret laws were a biased and punitive system that capriciously caused financial suffering for scores of musicians. Any police officer in the city could pull a musician’s card, and there was little they could do about it. On this night, Parker and Monk were taking a chance.
There are no known audio recordings of this gig. The only record of the occurrence of this particular quartet was captured by Bob Parent’s Pressman Speed Graphic camera. Mr. Parent developed a signature technique that allowed him to work without flashbulbs, which performers found distracting. It gave his work a dark and intimate feel.