Kings of Swing: Rock and Rhetoric class attends Hill District Beat


Nick Buzzelli, Assistant Sports Editor

After discussing the significance of visual images in the music industry in her Rock and Rhetoric class, Dr. Heather Pinson wanted a way to better illustrate her point, and found the perfect opportunity to do so after learning about the Hill District Beat, a Jazz & Fashion show hosted by the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.

“Music is a part of culture, so it dictates a lot of what people wear and it’s more visual than we think,” said Pinson.

Once Jay T. Carson, RMU’s Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement, was contacted by a member of the non-profit organization informing the university about the show, the Office of Student Life decided to purchase tickets, which encouraged the Interim Department Head of Communications to take advantage of the situation.

During the event, the MCG Jazz All Star group performed Hill District Beat, an original soundtrack that covered the history of the genre, while photographs from the Carnegie Museum of Art’s exhibit of Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, accompanied the tunes.

“When the music was played and the pictures were over it, you got a sense of Pittsburgh,” she said. “You can identify the sound with the city, which is really cool because it creates character.”

Although Harris was not a musician, he had strong ties to jazz music.

“Teenie photographed a lot of the jazz clubs in Pittsburgh, particularly the Crawford Grill, which was the equivalent of the Blue Note in New York City,” said the Associate Professor of Communications and Media Arts. “It was the place where all the famous musicians came to play.”

After the short intermission, the musician played select songs from the 1920’s-50’s, while actors, who were dressed in period appropriate garb, danced on stage. One of the performers was Jarvis Powers, a former tight end on the RMU football team.

Althea O’Brien, a sophomore communications major, believed that it was captivating to see the elements of photography, jazz music, and fashion come together during the performance.

“I was definitely excited to see how jazz and fashion got fused together and hopefully it will give me a few ideas for the visual images of music paper I have to write,” she said.

The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, which is located on Pittsburgh’s North Side, was founded by community leader Bill Strickland in 1968 while he was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. Strickland originally established the organization in order to teach children pottery skills, but soon developed it into an after-school program for students in the Pittsburgh Public School District.

Pinson said that Strickland, who is a member of the White House Council for Community Solutions, started the MCG as well as the Bidwell Training Center as a way to revitalize the neighborhood he grew up in.

“Sometimes there’s going to be drug related crimes in the North Side, however of all of the areas in Pittsburgh, those two building are never touched with graffiti,” she added. “The neighborhood respects those buildings so much and they know what kind of an investment it is to the city.”