Colter Harper, author of “Jazz in the Hill,” Interview

On June 6, the Music Hall will be hosting a joint book discussion and jazz concert headlined by Colter Harper. This is the first event in the Summer Studio Jazz Series taking place from June-August. Harper is promoting his recently published book Jazz in the Hill which details the impact jazz music had on the Hill District starting in the 1920’s. This is a particularly interesting subject considering Harper is not from Pittsburgh. He did, however, receive his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, and has been living here off and on for several years.  

But he found there was still a lot for him to learn about the City of Bridges.  

Harper feels that “so much of jazz history is about the communities around the musicians.” He learned about the atmosphere; the way people treated each other and the way that it affected the music. Jazz clubs were a “controversial” place at the time because there was interracial socializing, which was still frowned upon. Something that stands out to me after interviewing Harper is what he said about jazz music; it’s “musicians having a conversation.” This is especially important knowing there was so much conflict inside the jazz clubs. Maybe this enabled people to communicate through music rather than words. 

The other part of the evening will be a performance with Harper on guitar, along with vocalist Treasure Treasure, bassist Denzel Chismar-Oliver and drummer James Johnson III. The music they’ll perform is inspired by what was played at the Crawford Grill in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s “as a way to remember those spaces.” Even if you aren’t familiar with the genre, you can still enjoy the music! Jazz is typically made up of improvisations from various members of the ensemble, giving musicians the flexibility to live in the moment and play off each other. Harper said that as “someone who grew up on rock n’ roll” he noticed that there’s something “interactive” about jazz music.  

Jazz is a learning experience, as musicians not only learn the notes but also learn to match the vibe of the room.  

Speaking of learning, Harper also has experience teaching and researching. He enjoys teaching because it “is a process for learning.” That process isn’t restricted to students and teachers, however. He realizes that as a musician, artist and writer he is “always seeking new ways to learn about different problems.” And he’s not complaining! He appreciates being able to recognize diverse perspectives and discover new solutions. Harper calls it a “never ending process.” 

If you want to continue the “never ending” learning process, join us on Saturday, June 6 to learn about Jazz in the Hill and get a taste of what jazz in the hill sounded like. 

Colter Harper will be performing at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall on June 6 at 7:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased here.  

Harper’s book “Jazz in the Hill” can be purchased here.