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Jazz in the Hill - Nightlife and Narratives of a Pittsburgh Neighborhood

Jazz in the Hill

Nightlife and Narratives of a Pittsburgh Neighborhood

By Colter Harper
Series: American Made Music Series

Hardcover : 9781496849854, 314 pages, 49 b&w illustrations, March 2024
Paperback : 9781496849861, 314 pages, 49 b&w illustrations, March 2024

Table of contents

Introduction: Jazz, Nightlife, and the Hill District
Part I: Dangerous Ground: Black and Tan Clubs, Vice, and Prohibition (1920–1934)
Chapter 1: Racial and Sexual Politics of Black and Tan Nightlife
Chapter 2: Claiming a Place for Jazz: The Collins and Paramount Inns
Part II: Pittsburgh’s Renaissance and Jazz’s Golden Age (1945–1968)
Chapter 3: Competing Visions of Modernity
Chapter 4: Life in the Jazz House: The Crawford Grill No. 2 and Hurricane Bar
Part III: The Paradox of Progress: Jazz as Black Musical Labor (1908–1977)
Chapter 5: Civil Rights and the Musicians Union
Chapter 6: Challenging Discrimination, Resisting Merger
Part IV: Jazz and the Community Archive (1968–1977)
Chapter 7: Hill Nightlife in the Wake of 1968
Chapter 8: The Community Archive in Practice
Epilogue: To Honor and Repair

The lively history of a cherished music scene and its ongoing social significance


From the 1920s through the 1960s, Pittsburgh’s Hill District was the heart of the city’s Black cultural life and home to a vibrant jazz scene. In Jazz in the Hill: Nightlife and Narratives of a Pittsburgh Neighborhood, Colter Harper looks at how jazz shaped the neighborhood and created a way of life. Beyond backdrops for remarkable careers, jazz clubs sparked the development of a self-determined African American community. In delving into the history of entrepreneurialism, placemaking, labor organizing, and critical listening in the Hill District, Harper forges connections to larger political contexts, processes of urban development, and civil rights struggles.

Harper adopts a broad approach in thinking about jazz clubs, foregrounding the network of patrons, business owners, and musicians who were actively invested in community building. Jazz in the Hill provides a valuable case study detailing the intersections of music, political and cultural history, public policy, labor, and law. The book addresses distinctive eras and issues of twentieth century American urban history, including notions of “vice” during the Prohibition Era (1920–1934); “blight” during the mid-twentieth century boom in urban redevelopment (1946–1973); and workplace integration during the civil rights era (1954–1968). Throughout, Harper demonstrates how the clubs, as a nexus of music, politics, economy, labor, and social relations, supported the livelihood of residents and artists while developing cultures of listening and learning. Though the neighborhood has undergone an extensive socioeconomic transformation that has muted its nightlife, this musical legacy continues to guide current development visions for the Hill on the cusp of its remaking.


"The history of Black jazz in Pittsburgh has been long overdue for a detailed treatment. Concentrating on the Hill District and the musicians, music fans, and economy that supported the scene until its demise, Jazz in the Hill makes a valuable start toward reviving this history."

- Aaron Johnson, associate professor and interim director of the Jazz Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh

"Colter Harper’s insightful and deeply researched Jazz in the Hill examines jazz performance in a Pittsburgh neighborhood over a fifty-year period. He looks at the relationships among the musicians, the venues in which they performed, the community in which those venues existed—all of that in relationship to changing political, economic, and social conditions in the city and the nation. The book is informed by Harper’s personal involvements in the scene and Charles “Teenie” Harris’s splendid documentary photos. Like all great case studies, it has resonance far beyond what took place in the small physical area that is its focus."

- Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University of Buffalo

"Colter Harper, a respected musician in multiple genres in the Pittsburgh music scene, has made an impressive additional contribution. Blending an informed theoretical approach with meticulous research, he documents the musical and cultural history of Pittsburgh’s significant African American jazz venues and patronage in relation to twentieth-century urban policies and community development."

- John Miller Chernoff, author of African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms