Recently I recorded an interview on Blue Notes in Black and White with Richard “Doc” Stull for his New Books in Jazz site, part of the New Books network. It was a fun conversation and we covered a lot of ground. You will also find a recent interview there with Bay Area photographer Kathy Sloane, whose Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club richly evokes the great San Francisco venue through the words of those who remember it, an accompanying CD, and Sloane’s darkly lyrical photographs. Sloane’s work picks up where Blue Notes in Black and White leaves off, providing a look at jazz photography in the 1970s during a time when the commercial fortunes of the music (at least in the United States) seemed to be a low point. Her photographs remind us that acoustic jazz did not die with the rock revolution or when major labels like Columbia started dropping important jazz artists like Ornette Coleman in the seventies. In Sloane’s memorial to Keystone Korner’s decade-long run, the music lives on, vibrant as ever. And her photographs not only take you there in a documentary sense, but the spirit of the music itself breathes through them.
I teach public history courses in which we discuss the ways historical memory is expressed through museum exhibitions, public memorials, and historic sites. But the built landscape and its attendant associations and activities is in itself a collection of memory sites, each waiting to be recognized. Keystone Korner is an example of the way a place maps culture, the way it structures cherished experience. Sloane’s book crafts historical memory of that mapping, weaving together oral histories and images that combine to evoke and interpret a place that was so much more than it appeared in its humble Vallejo Street locale. Something special happened there, over and over, and her book keeps the memory of that place alive.