Pain Relief Beyond Belief





From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlan to Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.


Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?


Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.


For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.


Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.






Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin



       In Her Own Words

MOMENTS LIKE THIS – Michele Bensen with the Bob Alberti Trio

Bob Alberti – piano

Lee Burrows – bass

Chris Russell – drums

Ben Tucker – bass (on “Don’t Go to Strangers”)

Rarely does one encounter a studio recording that isn’t processed through multi-tracking with the intent of producing a flawless product through electronic debugging.  Listeners may become so accustomed to such products that they may have forgotten how purely beautiful a gem can be created with live musicians playing together in naturally synchronized musicality, speaking music directly among themselves with complete understanding of every nuance that occurs among them.  Finding such a product offers never-ending and even increased pleasure upon repeated listening.  It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Moments Like This are rare treasures that cannot be manufactured but only captured.  It is clear from the opening 16 bars of the title song that a musical love affair was occurring among the musicians.  By musicians I mean the quartet because Michele (a former trumpet player) leaves no doubt that she is a true musician whose instrument is her voice.  Every song is an adventure into a musical sanctuary with Michele as preacher and the trio as her “amen corner.”   If you are a sophisticated listener, you will find yourself smiling numerous times during every rendition from the subtle and ingenious interplay of the spontaneous performances.  If you are a music lover of good taste only, you will add this to your playlist favorites.  If you are a romantic, you will find yourself falling in love again or remembering how it felt to be in love. If your heart has ever been broken, these songs will remind you that it was worth it.

The choice of songs is tailor-made for gourmet audiophiles.  The menu of 13 tasty selections by masterful composers and lyricists is so delicious in its own right that it only requires a classy serving staff to present it with love and respect for the storylines, harmonies, rhythms and emotional palette each song was composed to convey.  If you have never tasted the fare of a 5-star restaurant, you will surely be licking your chops as you sample each item on this menu.

I could write a full page of accolades about each tune but would rather leave that to you, the listener to discover on your own.  I’ll simply say that having listened at least 8 times so far, I discover new delights with every hearing.  This CD will stay in my car so I won’t mind traffic congestion ever again.

Instead I will offer some impressions of the musicians.  With this long-awaited offering Michele Bensen leaves no doubt that she ranks as one of the best vocalists of modern American music.  Her voice is at once clear, warm, and sensitive to her accompanists and material, as she caresses each phrase to highlight the intrinsic beauty of the music packaged in her unique, subtly stylistic delivery.  Her graceful nuances are perfectly in sync with the entire musical palette provided by her colleagues.  Billy Eckstine told me on many occasions that the jazz insiders judge singers by the way they sing Lush Life.  He related how upset Billy Strayhorn would become when a particular note (C natural) in the second phrase of the main chorus was not acknowledged on several famous recordings by major artists but was very happy when it was respected and sung where he placed it.  Michele passed the test with flying colors on her rendering which in itself will gain her much respect among major league vocalists.

Bob Alberti, has musical magic in his fingers that is impressively evident in his piano introductions and accompaniments that consistently engage in conversation with Michele musically and rhythmically.  He is also a harmonic genius who can say volumes with one chord or a melodic motif in a split second.  You might detect that he inserts a blues bent into his solos where you would never expect it.  I almost fell on the floor when he inserted a phrase from “Stardust” in the last 3 beats of the second bridge of “Too Late Now.”

Lee Burrows is a bassist who seems to psychically anticipate Bob’s ever fresh and innovative chord progressions with just the right choice of notes and direction of movement.  His presence blends so well with Bob and Bob’s understanding of harmonic roots is so stylistically synchronous with Lee’s that one must listen carefully to realize that at times Michele and Bob are performing in duo format, yet when Lee joins them the transition is barely noticeable.  Lee’s bass solos further display his total sense of melody, harmony and swing.

Chris Russell fully realizes his role as percussionist is such a quartet.  He stirs the stew just enough to create almost unobtrusive waves of energy that will make you move your head of pat your foot without any distraction from the other players.  When it comes time to swing, Chris has the finesse of a Jo Jones, who laid down the laws of swing for all drummers.

Ben Tucker, well-known as a bass players’ bassist, appears only on Track 6, “Don’t Go to Strangers.” Here he shows his appreciation and respect for Michele’s artistry as he blends seamlessly and tastefully with Bob’s musical portraiture of this classic and poignant ballad.

Without saying anything further to spoil your adventure through this wonderland of beautifully performed music, I leave it to the listener to enjoy what I can only describe in a few words as “ear candy.”


Nelson E. Harrison, Ph.D, composer, lyricist, arranger, veteran trombonist of the Count Basie Orchestra.

Links to the music:



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