Hank O’Neal Puts Out New Book: “The Ghosts of Harlem: Sessions with Jazz Legends”

From 1985 to the present, music producer, author, photographer Hank O’Neal interviewed 42 jazz legends who made music in Harlem during its heyday and decline. In their homes or immediate neighborhoods, he took their portraits with a large-format view camera and talked with them about what had been the best places to play, the interaction of the races, and about why the Harlem scene had faded.

For each ‘session’ with a jazz legend, O’Neal has supplemented the interview and portraits with many of his other photographs, historical photographs and memorabilia. From the archives of Chiaroscuro Records, O’Neal has produced a CD that accompanies the book, which features sixteen of the ‘ghosts’ playing at the ends of their careers, between 1972 and 1996, including Cab Calloway, Milt Hinton, Doc Cheatham, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Tate, Eddie Barefield, Earl Hines, and Illinois Jacquet.

Hank O’Neal has plenty of experiences from which to draw inspiration. It would be easy to assume that it was O’Neal’s stint as a spy that gave him the ability to walk into Harlem homes of jazz legends and come out with amazing stories and photographs. However, it is more likely that it was O’Neal’s love of jazz, knowledge of music and easy-going personality that made 42 musicians pour out personal tales that became The Ghosts of Harlem: Sessions with Jazz Legends (Vanderbilt University Press, July 2009).

The “ghost” stories are personal reminiscences of some of the jazz world’s leading musicians. As comfortable with O’Neal as with any insider, the performers talk openly about their life in Harlem, music in general, the people they knew, the places they played and what made Harlem a city within a city.


“This is a must read for all those interested in Harlem’s role in the development
of jazz, whether they are aficionados or new fans.”

-Arthur H. Barnes, Chairman, The National Jazz Museum in Harlem

“Hank O’Neal’s loving portraits, visual and verbal, capture the spirit and soul of the Harlem
that once was.”

-Dan Morgenstern, Director, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University

“The Ghosts of Harlem is a definitive work because at long last we’re hearing
forty-three important musicians tell us about their work in their own words.
The illustrative photographs are amazing and Hank O’Neal’s large format portraits
are extraordinary. This is a book of historic significance and I recommend it to
anyone interested in the development of jazz in America.”

-Bruce Lundvall, President & CEO, EMI Jazz & Classics

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