JLP exhibition opens in Chicago tomorrow

This is a meaningful eve.  The Chicago Cultural Center opens the show.  First of all, it’s Chicago, an historic jazz and arts town, a remarkable city in general.  But it’s also Chicago, home of the Reva and David Logan Foundation.  I’ve told this story often, but it is important to tell it again on the eve of the Chicago opening:

In fall of 1999 I published my first story on the Jazz Loft Project in DoubleTake magazine, formerly published at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke.  It was my second piece on W. Eugene Smith in DoubleTake and my third piece in the magazine overall.  Alex Harris and Robert Coles deserve much credit for supporting my early work on Smith.

The DoubleTake article drew some attention – Susan Stamberg did a piece on NPR’s Morning Edition, Randall Pinkston on CBS Sunday Morning, and Jeff Greenfield on CNN.  At his home a half block off of Lake Short Drive in Chicago, on the same block as the Drake Hotel, David Logan, then 82 years old (now 93), caught a couple of those pieces and he sought out the magazine.

One night soon thereafter, I was sitting in the Pittsboro, N.C. home that I share with my wife Laurie – at the same desk where I’m sitting now – wondering how (and if) I’d be able to continue this work.  At the time I was working on my first Smith book, Dream Street (2001), and curating the accompanying exhibition as a consultant for the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (also 2001).  But I wasn’t making a living wage and I knew the Jazz Loft Project would be immensely expensive because Smith’s tapes needed preservation.

The phone rang and it was David Logan:  “Mr. Stephenson, I heard about your DoubleTake magazine piece on Gene Smith and the jazz loft and I found the magazine.  I run a family foundation in Chicago and I want to know if there’s anything we can do to help you.  I knew Gene Smith personally and my whole family are jazz and music fanatics.  Is there anything we can do to help you?”

One part of this anecdote I love is how David found me.  He had no idea who I was.  The first person he called was Vicky Goldberg, the brilliant, longtime photography critic of the New York Times.  That’s how achieving people like David Logan think:  wanting information, you go straight to the top.  Of course Vicky had no idea who I was, either.   But she knew that Smith’s archive was at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona so she figured they’d know how to find me out there.  And they did.

A few months later the Logan Foundation provided a seed grant of $65K to the Center for Documentary Studies, who generously supported me as a fiscal agent in the early years under leadership of Tom Rankin, Greg Britz, and Lynn McKnight.  The initial Logan grant bought time to write more grant proposals to NEH (the first two proposals to NEH failed), NHPRC, and Grammy Foundation, and we eventually raised about $1.2 million, with the Logan Foundation matching the other grants at roughly 200% and providing more than half of the total.

For the rest of my career I’ll acknowledge the Reva and David Logan Foundation with vigor.  Without them I’m not sure what I would have done.  To that stage in my life I’d worked in corporate banking for First Union in Charlotte, then I worked on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C. for three years – the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Rep Jim Moody (D-WI).  Then I pursued graduate degrees in Economics and Religious Studies, all the while working at Raleigh’s indy book store, Quail Ridge Books (the best university) where I met my wife.  If David Logan hadn’t called me I’m pretty sure I would have ventured into different writing projects, ones that didn’t require hundreds of thousands of dollars like JLP.  Who knows?  Maybe I’d be a more famous writer by now.  But, I feel lucky.  Certainly, there’s no way I’d be so versed in this incredible post-War, pre-suburban NYC content that I can mine for the rest of my life.

Another poignant Chicago connection I should mention is that loft principle Hall Overton, who was from Bangor, Michigan, attended music school in Chicago, where he met sculptor and Chicago native Calvin Albert, Overton’s best friend in NYC.   Before Overton died in 1972, of cirrhosis, Albert made a sculpture bust of Overton’s head.  One day soon we’ll post images of that work of art.

The official opening reception in Chicago is next Friday, July 23, 6-8pm.  We are very grateful for the work of Lanny Silverman and Greg Lunceford to launch this installation at the Chicago Cultural Center.  Also, exhibitions director at the Center for Documentary Studies, Courtney Reid-Eaton, deserves enormous credit again, as she did for the New York opening in Febuary.  Of course, nothing would have happened without my Jazz Loft colleagues Dan Partridge and Lauren Hart, as well.  We’ll all be there next Friday.

Also, there will be some photos of the Chicago installation soon.

Tomorrow/Saturday, I head to Albuquerque and Santa Fe for two JLP events put together by the visionary Tom Guralnick.  Reports coming Sunday or Monday.

-Sam Stephenson

p.s. this year I’ve contributed an essay about Jim Karales for a book authored by Vicky Goldberg to be published soon.  It’s very meaningful to have these circles closed.

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