Ms. Bach had been part of New York’s jazz world for decades as a hostess, knowledgeable fan, and friend to musicians. She had known Duke Ellington since she was a teenager and had worked in radio, but she had never before made a film.
It took five years for her and a few collaborators to weave together interviews, archival images, a home movie and music to create “A Great Day in Harlem,” a beguiling hour-long documentary that was released in 1994. Ms. Bach was 76 when her film was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary.
Jazz writer Gary Giddins of the Village Voice called “A Great Day in Harlem” a “wonderful documentary that manages to evoke deep feelings with a resolutely light hand.”
Nearly 20 years later, it is considered one of the most sensitive, informative and beloved films ever made about jazz. Ms. Bach remained one of the most cheerful ambassadors of jazz almost until the day she died, May 27, at her home in New York City. She was 94.
Loren Schoenberg, a friend and artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, confirmed her death. The precise cause was not disclosed.
In 1958, Kane was a novice who had never taken a professional photograph. He asked musicians to gather on Harlem’s East 126th Street at 10 a.m. — an hour so early for jazz musicians that one of them said he didn’t know there were two 10 o’clocks in the same day.
As the musicians filtered in, they represented practically the entire history of jazz. The oldest was 71-year-old Luckey Roberts, who had been active since 1910 and was one of the inventors of the stride style of piano playing. The youngest was 27-year-old saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who remains one of the towering figures in jazz.
Kane shot 120 images of the group, which included such important musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, Gene Krupa, Mary Lou Williams, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge and Pee Wee Russell.
Count Basie sat on the curb with a dozen children from the neighborhood. A 58th musician, pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith, can be seen in outtakes, but he wandered out of the frame before the final image was shot.
Pianist Marian McPartland — who stands in the front row in a slinky dress — described the photograph to The Washington Post in 1995 as “the greatest jazz picture ever taken.”
Several musicians brought cameras with them that day in 1958, and one of them, bass player Milt Hinton, asked his wife to capture the proceedings on 8 mm color film.
In the late 1980s, when Ms. Bach learned of Hinton’s home movie, she arranged for volunteers to dig through his cluttered basement until they found it.