By Sarah Steighner
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – An intimate crowd of approximately 20 people gathered to view the photography jazz exhibit of Kenan Foley, Nelson Harrison, and Ronald Jones during a reception held at Penn State New Kensington on Feb. 7.
The evening was set in a tasteful environment that jazz often evokes. Jazz music floated through the air, as people walked through the Art Gallery admiring the photography, while picking at cheese trays and sipping glasses of Merlot. The night’s theme was, “Photo Jazz: Come and See the Music.” The reception, a chance to view the artwork, and hear jazz music was open to the public free of charge. The exhibit itself was open to the public for viewing until Feb. 27 at the Penn State New Kensington (PSNK) Art Gallery.
The wall dedicated to Harrison’s work, highlighted the Crawford Grill. The Crawford Grill, located in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, opened in 1943 and closed in 2003. Harrison described the Crawford Grill in its heyday as a sacred place similar to church. “There used to be 30 clubs just in the Hill District, but the Crawford Grill was a jazz shrine,” said Harrison.
Harrison’s photographs of various musicians performing throughout the years, showed different angles of the Crawford Grill. Photographs of tap dancers, musicians holding instruments larger than themselves, and people grinning ear to ear at the bar were immortalized in Harrison’s jazz exhibit.
“When the Crawford Grill was open, you couldn’t walk down the street without hearing music. Jazz was the soundtrack of the community,” said Harrison. “I’ve been in the Crawford Grill since it closed and you can still feel the vibes in that place.”
The next wall of artwork featured photographs by Kenan Foley. Foley is a former adjunct instructor at PSNK. He explained that he has taught many aspects of music and jazz including jazz in films, women in jazz, the influence of jazz, and understanding jazz. “People all respond to jazz differently and students respond to parallel stories,” said Foley.
Some of his photographs included the Crawford Grill, as well as some of Nelson Harrison playing trumpet on the street. “These pictures of Harrison are evocative of corner bars in African American communities, like Homewood,” said Foley. “I feel like these pictures bring to mind all the little no name bars and clubs that played jazz. It is where everyone had the opportunity for jazz to develop.”
As Foley introduced each photograph on his wall, he demonstrated the precise alignment of some and the “accidental composition” in others.
Foley credited his favorite musical mentor, Mike Taylor of Bridgewater. Taylor played at the Crawford Grill in the mid 90’s. The exhibit even featured a long lost photograph of Taylor taken by Foley. “This exhibition was an excuse for me to find the picture of Mike Taylor,” said Foley. “I eventually found it in mixed in with my family photos and was able to dig it out for this exhibit.”
Foley recommended the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy located on the Northside of Pittsburgh for those interested in what is left of the local jazz scene. The James Street Gastropub is a family owned bar and restaurant that has regular jazz nights from local artists. It is located on 422 Foreland Street in Pittsburgh.
The final wall of photographs was taken by Ronald Jones. Jones’ artwork featured multiple dark backgrounds that highlighted the musicians. Jones is a self-taught photographer who has recently retired after 33 years as an electrician.
Art Gallery Director, Tina Sluss, admired the photographs as she mingled around the gallery with the other guests. “You can just see the history jumping out of these photographs,” said Sluss.
Harrison has founded the Pittsburgh Jazz Network. He explained that this online network reaches every continent. “Its purpose is to tell jazz stories and welcome comments to keep jazz thriving,” he said.
Those interested in upcoming jazz related events or simply looking to connect with other jazz enthusiasts are welcome to visit the site of the Pittsburgh Jazz Network at jazzburgher.ning.com