Category Archives: Performance

Guest Blogger: Maxine Gordon


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, 1908–1998, Billy Eckstine orchestra performing on stage, seen from above, including Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Lucky Thompson, Charlie Parker, Bob “Junior” Williams, Leo Parker, Charlie Rouse, Dizzy Gillespie, Marion “Boonie” Hazel, Howard McGhee, Howard Scott, Jerry Valentine, Taswell Baird, Linton Garner, Art Blakey, and Connie Wainwright, in Aragon Ballroom, August 1944

When I was in Paris in October, 2009, I went to a fabulous exhibit on Miles Davis, We Want Miles, at the Cité de la Musique. The first room of the exhibit featured photos of Davis’s early career and the jazz scene at the time, including a photo of the Billy Eckstine band. The caption read: “Photographer Unknown, Billy Eckstine Band, St. Louis, Missouri.”  But I knew this caption was wrong. I had previously visited Carnegie Museum of Art to look at all of the photos from the Teenie Harris Archive featuring the Billy Eckstine band to find some images of Dexter Gordon, the jazz tenor saxophonist (and my late husband—I looked at all the photos and loved them all!). This was clearly a Teenie Harris photo, and I knew it was in Pittsburgh because I remembered the dress that Sarah Vaughan was wearing.

I emailed the curator, Vincent Bessières, to let him know about the mistake. “Photographer Unknown” simply was not good enough! He was very grateful, contacted Carnegie Museum of Art to order a better print, and corrected the caption.  When the exhibit moved to Montreal and I went there to see it, I saw a thank you to me in the catalogue for catching the error. We historians love it when we can fix a mistake like that, and we especially like it when we can give credit to Teenie Harris because he deserves our thanks for preserving the legacies he captured over the years.

MAXINE GORDON is a jazz archivist, researcher, and writer, and is currently working on the biography of her late husband, Dexter Gordon, which will include interviews, photos, and letters. She is Senior Interviewer and Jazz Researcher for the Bronx African American History Project, Fordham University (Bronx, NY) and Director of the Oral History Project, Women Who Listen: An Oral History Project with Women Jazz Fans.

 

 

La Belle Époque Cabaret: An Evening in the Bohemian Style


A grand, opulent setting for a cabaret

Oh, what a night! Here at CMA we are still in awe of the festive evening presented on July 27 together with the Pittsburgh Song Collaborative to evoke the spirit, history, and sounds of bohemian cabaret culture in La Belle Époque Paris. With a whiff of Pernod absinthe filling the air in the grandly ornate Music Hall Foyer, famous late-19th-century cabaret singer Aristide Bruant with his trademark red scarf, black hat, and bawdy, provocative sense of humor (portrayed by tenor Rob Frankenberry) acted as emcee and led us through an evening of songs, skits, and imagery. Tenor Joseph Gaines, mezzo-soprano Olga Perez Flora, and pianist Benjamin Binder (artistic director of the Pittsburgh Song Collaborative and assistant professor of music at Duquesne University) brilliantly brought to life songs from late-19th-century Parisian cabarets by writers and composers including Aristide Bruant, Claude Debussy, Paul Verlaine, Ludovic Halévy, Yvette Guilbert, and many others in a two-hour program. The performances were augmented by a colorful slideshow presenting paintings, photographs, song sheets, and lyrics to help illustrate the fascinating and rich history of Parisian cabarets, café-concerts, the opera, and music halls. Discussions of historic venues such as Le Chat Noir also were interspersed. It was truly a magical and fun-filled event complete with lots of laughter, delicious food, and drink.

Absinthe provided by Pernod

The cabaret evening was a fitting way to celebrate the exhibition Impressionism in a New Light: From Monet to Stieglitz (now on view through August 26). Impressionist artists banded together in alternative spaces—separate from the official academies and exhibition venues of the time—such as cafés and cabarets, to develop their artistic ideas and to engage in stimulating debates amongst themselves and the writers, actors, musicians, models, and other bohemian types that made up their social world. The cabaret program helped provide a sense of the context that was so important to the development of the art on view in the exhibition. The role that the cafés and cabarets played in this art world was well recognized and frequently discussed by the artists themselves.

Great thanks goes out in particular to Lucy Stewart, associate curator of education and adult programs for her enormous efforts organizing this beautiful and elaborate event! Additional thanks to Pernod Absinthe/Pernod Ricard for sponsoring the cabaret, and to Steinway Piano Gallery in Pittsburgh for providing the piano and to Kenneth Chu, Ryan McMasters, Stephen Baum, Anne Gaquere, and Emily Hipchen for helping to make this program possible. All photos by Jim Loomis Photography.

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Guest Blogger: Kelli Stevens Kane


Part of the Family

Okay, I give up. I’m a poet, playwright, and oral historian who’s protected her personal privacy like a museum guard protects the art on kindergarten-field-trip day. I’ve managed to somehow keep my public life separate from my private life. Yeah, I’m finally on Facebook—but I only talk about stuff related to writing and performance. And when I first created an account, I used an alias so I could participate while still hiding out! The idea of people posting photos of me or my family on the internet freaked me out completely.

Time to get over that! When Cave Canem contacted me to participate in a poetry reading inspired by Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, they didn’t know what they were asking of me, but I knew I had nowhere to hide. In that spirit, through Teenie’s lens, let me introduce you to…

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my dad, Eugene Stevens (pictured on the left, from August 1945, Exhibition No. 301)…

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…my uncle, Tim Stevens (pictured on the right, from 1972, Exhibition No. 967)…

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…and my aunt, Marlene Stevens McEnheimer (pictured in the doorway, from December 4, 1960, Exhibition No. 816).

The photo above shows the opening of Jones Funeral Home, where my grandmother, aka “Big George,” used to take us to visit the deceased, regardless of whether she knew them or not. This subject was so mesmerizing to me that it inspired me to interview about thirty people who knew her so I could find out more. The result, my oral history manuscript, Big George’s Wylie Avenue, sheds light on the workings of family and community in The Hill during its heyday.

Because these three people remembered Teenie so fondly and repeatedly urged me to contact him, one of the people I interviewed for Big George’s Wylie Avenue was Teenie himself. I didn’t realize at the time that all my subsequent literary work would be in conversation with his work.

So there you have it! Teenie’s work got me out of my comfort zone and gave me a chance to show you who I am and where I come from. Not only do I not regret it, I’m actually feeling pretty good about this! Despite being squeamish about family photos on the internet, there’s no denying that I’m proud to be descended from the people in these pictures, and I’m proud that my voice is descended from their voices.

Teenie also photographed so many friends of my family that, to me, Teenie Harris, Photographer: an American Story actually feels more like an extended family album than an exhibit. And I think it will to you too—even if you’re not directly related. Because Teenie’s work has the potential to make anyone, anywhere, feel like part of the family. His eye shows us the truth—we are related, all of us. If you haven’t seen his work yet, go. And if you’ve already seen it, go again. You won’t regret it.

KELLI STEVENS KANE is a poet, playwright, and oral historian whose grandparents were friends of Teenie Harris. In fact Teenie and her grandfather, Jasper Stevens, both played on the Pittsburgh Crawfords and are pictured together on the cover of Rob Ruck’s Sandlot Seasons. Kane’s literary works—an oral history manuscript, Big George’s Wylie Avenue; a play, I Never Laughed So Much at a Funeral; and a poetry manuscript, Hallelujah Science—represent four generations in her family, all rooted in the world that Teenie documented. Kane is also an August Wilson Center Fellow and the recipient of an Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Grant. For more information about her upcoming readings and performances, visit www.kellistevenskane.com.

Related Event: Don’t miss your chance to hear Kelli read some of her work, along with poets Terrance Hayes and Yona Harvey, this Thursday, March 29, at the Cave Canem Poetry Reading.