Charles “Teenie” Harris, 1908–1998, Billy Eckstine orchestra performing on stage, seen from above, including Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Lucky Thompson, Charlie Parker, Bob “Junior” Williams, Leo Parker, Charlie Rouse, Dizzy Gillespie, Marion “Boonie” Hazel, Howard McGhee, Howard Scott, Jerry Valentine, Taswell Baird, Linton Garner, Art Blakey, and Connie Wainwright, in Aragon Ballroom, August 1944
When I was in Paris in October, 2009, I went to a fabulous exhibit on Miles Davis, We Want Miles, at the Cité de la Musique. The first room of the exhibit featured photos of Davis’s early career and the jazz scene at the time, including a photo of the Billy Eckstine band. The caption read: “Photographer Unknown, Billy Eckstine Band, St. Louis, Missouri.” But I knew this caption was wrong. I had previously visited Carnegie Museum of Art to look at all of the photos from the Teenie Harris Archive featuring the Billy Eckstine band to find some images of Dexter Gordon, the jazz tenor saxophonist (and my late husband—I looked at all the photos and loved them all!). This was clearly a Teenie Harris photo, and I knew it was in Pittsburgh because I remembered the dress that Sarah Vaughan was wearing.
I emailed the curator, Vincent Bessières, to let him know about the mistake. “Photographer Unknown” simply was not good enough! He was very grateful, contacted Carnegie Museum of Art to order a better print, and corrected the caption. When the exhibit moved to Montreal and I went there to see it, I saw a thank you to me in the catalogue for catching the error. We historians love it when we can fix a mistake like that, and we especially like it when we can give credit to Teenie Harris because he deserves our thanks for preserving the legacies he captured over the years.
MAXINE GORDON is a jazz archivist, researcher, and writer, and is currently working on the biography of her late husband, Dexter Gordon, which will include interviews, photos, and letters. She is Senior Interviewer and Jazz Researcher for the Bronx African American History Project, Fordham University (Bronx, NY) and Director of the Oral History Project, Women Who Listen: An Oral History Project with Women Jazz Fans.