When Blue Notes in Black and White came out in late 2011, another book on jazz and photography arrived at nearly the same time. Kathy Sloane’s volume was less a history than a moving remembrance of a time and a place. But her extraordinary photographs and oral history interviews in Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club seemed to pick up where my book left off, following the fortunes of the jazz image into the 1970s and 80s. Her beautiful homage to Todd Barkan’s club, its employees and patrons, and of course the great musicians who played there, easily won my admiration.
Little did I know that Kathy and I would soon meet in San Francisco. I was about to give a book talk at the Fillmore Jazz Heritage Center about photographers of jazz when the real thing walked in. She had already read my book and to my great relief, she liked it. I soon learned that Kathy Sloane’s rich life has yielded a remarkable documentary archive that blurs the dinstinctions among art, history, and activism and ranges well beyond jazz. She’s a vibrant person who remembers listening to John Coltrane at his legendary Half Note residency in New York back in the 1960s. I had a feeling that Kathy’s work could intersect with what we do at the Center for Oral and Public History.
On another visit to the Bay Area, Kathy invited me to breakfast, and over an egg we hatched a master plan: an exhibition of her work in Southern California, at my university, CSU Fullerton. Soon our little idea turned into a full-blown public history project in which my students got a crash course in the history of jazz and of San Francisco. They not only got to marvel over Kathy’s book but also met Ms. Sloane herself when she visited our class to develop plans for the project. She was an immediate hit with our students, which was no surprise. Later, the class took a day trip to North Beach in San Francisco to haunt Keystone’s old neighborhood, crossing the Bay later to meet Kathy and the distinguished photographer and scholar Lewis Watts (emeritus, UC Santa Cruz) in Oakland to see more of her work and that of collector John Valinch, a patron of Keystone back in the day who has an amazing stack of paper artifacts from the club. Lew Watts, whose Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era is essential, filled us in on the history of black San Francisco and the fate of the Fillmore District.
Months later, Kathy Sloane’s Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club will open in the Salz-Pollak Atrium Gallery in the Pollak Library at CSU Fullerton on February 11 at 4:30 p.m. with a reception hosted by the Center for Oral and Public History. Kathy Sloane will be on hand to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, which features her photographs and oral histories. The show, put together by CSU Fullerton history students, runs through March 24. The opening is one of three events at CSUF that week remembering Keystone Korner. The others:
Thursday, February 12: Kathy Sloane will present the Hansen Lecture in Oral and Public History, titled “The Chosen Ones: Preserving and Expanding Our History through a Wider Lens,” 5:30 p.m., Titan Student Union Pavilion A. Sponsored by the CSUF Center for Oral and Public History, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Department of History, and the Cultural and Public History Association.
Friday, February 13: The School of Music presents A Night at Keystone Korner, a jazz concert featuring pianist George Cables and an all-star small group of Keystone alumni, including trumpeter Eddie Henderson, saxophonist Billy Harper, bassist James Leary, and drummer Victor Lewis, 8 p.m., Meng Concert Hall. Cables is visiting professor at CSUF this spring semester and is garnering acclaim for his Icons & Influences album released last year. Cables, Leary, and the late Eddie Marshall were essentially the house rhythm section at Keystone Korner back in the 1970s.
Thelonious Monk called one of his tunes “Brilliant Corners,” and that seems to sum up what the club was all about. Sights, sounds, and a cultural space to call home. Keystone Korner meant all that and more to the many members of its far-flung family. Kathy Sloane’s remembrance of that place inspires us to think about how places come to have meaning and what the process of remembering can teach us about what we value most. Join us for a commemoration of one such special place: Keystone Korner.