Teenie Harris Photographs: Erroll Garner and Jazz from the Hill

December 10–July 23, 2017

“Music and art, they make us know who we are.”—Geri Allen

Jazz bandleaders on stage 

The time period from 1935 to 1960, often considered the golden age of jazz, was a pivotal moment in American music history, particularly in Pittsburgh. It was when the Hill District, a neighborhood that Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay once referred to as “the crossroads of the world,” became a vital destination for jazz musicians from across the country. Teenie Harris Photographs: Erroll Garner & Jazz from the Hill celebrates the social and cultural history of this era by focusing on the work of jazz pianist and composer Erroll Garner (1921–1977), who alongside close friends and collaborators such as Billy Eckstine, Leroy Brown, Stanley Turrentine, and Dizzy Gillespie helped define the sound of a generation while performing in venues like the Crawford Grill and the Hurricane Club.

Jazz is inherently a cross-cultural phenomenon as its history holds deep roots in Afrocentric music culture—arising through the beat of the plantations and the syncopated sounds of ragtime, embracing the lessons of the blues and the dance spirit of New Orleans. Garner’s joyful sound blended the swing of the big band horn with his own uncanny ability to play different rhythms and tempos with each hand, all produced from a single voice: the piano.

There are few better to speak on jazz culture and its importance to Pittsburgh than Geri Allen, director of the jazz studies program at the University of Pittsburgh. Her re-creation of Erroll Garner’s 1955 performance Concert by the Sea was nominated for both a Grammy and an NAACP Image Award, establishing her as an authority on Garner and his influence on jazz today. As guest curator of this exhibition, Allen provides crucial musical knowledge and a keen eye to help tell the story of Garner’s miraculous career through the photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris.

Dominique Luster, Teenie Harris Archivist, Carnegie Museum of Art

Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908–1998) photographed Pittsburgh’s African American community from ca. 1935 to ca. 1975. His archive of nearly 80,000 images is one of the most detailed and intimate records of the black urban experience known today. Purchased by Carnegie Museum of Art in 2001, the Teenie Harris Archive was established to preserve Harris’s important photographic work for future generations. For more information, visit teenie.cmoa.org. You can also read essays inspired by the social, cultural, and political content of Harris’s photographs at storyboard.cmoa.org.