For the past 13-plus years I've been studying a nondescript five-floor brick and wood-plank walk-up in New York City's wholesale flower district that was an after-hours jazz haunt in the 1950s and '60s. The work became known as The Jazz Loft Project at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS). Over the years we documented more than 600 people that hiked the steep, dank stairwell of the loft building. The true number was probably twice that. In my old office at CDS we maintained a dry-mounted map of the United States with pins for the birthplaces of people we documented in the loft. The pins were all over the map, including the edges to indicate international locations, and they represented all kinds of family and cultural backgrounds. The community in that loft included icons, underground figures, and ordinary people alike. Pretty soon we realized that this wasn't really a jazz story, and it wasn't just a New York story, either. There was something universal about it. The story had a full range of human activity, a literary range, framed by one building. It just so happened there was jazz there, and a feverish master photographer who documented it all.
Flash to the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 7, 2009. Labor Day. I was sitting down the left field foul line at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP). The place was packed. Kids were everywhere.