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

Nathan Davis, Music Educator, Performer, Composer

A life’s recounting in the subject’s own words
Photo by Renee RosensteelNathan Davis, Music Educator, Performer, Composer

Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, are twin cities, with nightclubs and great musicians in both places. The only thing that separates the two cities is a bridge.

I grew up playing saxophone in Kansas City, Kansas, and went to the University of Kansas as a music education major. One night, a friend and I won first prize in an amateur contest at a club called the Orchid Room — 50 dollars— which we split. I took my half, bought a bus ticket, went home and said, “Mama, I’m goin’ to Chicago.” After she stopped crying, she phoned my aunt, whom we called “Big Mama.” She was a big lady — something like 6 feet tall, 300 pounds — and a self-​ordained Pentecostal minister! I had to stay with her when I went to Chicago.

Big Mama let me go play in the clubs at night because that’s what I wanted to do. That’s why I went there. But when I’d come home early in the morning after hanging out and playing in the clubs until dawn, she’d jingle her tambourine and say, “Lord have mercy, here comes Nathan! He’s been playin’ for the devil all night. Now he’s gotta come down and play for the Lord. Get down here boy!” (Both the church and her home were in the same building, which she owned.) So I’d get myself down there and join in with the sisters. It was really something.

My mother and father were separated when I was born — they later divorced — and I stayed primarily with my mother, who was a singer. When I started playing the saxophone, I started traveling with her. We’d go to churches and tea parlors and do mostly religious songs, like “Precious Lord.” Later, I began to play more popular songs like “Deep Purple” and a couple of others during our performances together. Back then, I also had this visitation thing with my father, who was a big jazz fan. He had every record of Jazz at the Philharmonic that Norman Granz ever produced, and he used to tell me about all the great players. I learned a lot from him. He helped deepen my love for jazz.

After college, I went into the military. I was in the 298th Army band stationed in Berlin, Germany, and we’d go around entertaining the troops. During that time, the great sax player Joe Henderson, who was also in the Army, visited Berlin, and we became best of friends. One night, Joe and I were hanging out, playing and talking, and the question came up: “When you get out of the Army, what are you gonna do?” We both agreed that we would like to live in Paris, study music with Nadia Boulanger, and play at night in the Blue Note with Kenny Clarke, the great drummer from Pittsburgh. That was our dream. But when I got out of the service, I stayed on in Berlin to play the local clubs, mainly because it was steady work. The truth is, it was at this time that I decided that I really wanted to work as a musician, not as a schoolteacher.

In Berlin, I worked with guys like trumpeter Benny Bailey and Joe Harris, another great drummer from Pittsburgh. Then a cat named Joachim Berendt produced and recorded a concert called Expatriate Americans in Europe. I was asked to substitute for the great tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson, who couldn’t make it due to illness. Kenny Clarke heard me and invited me to join him in Paris at the famous club St. Germain des Pres! It was amazing. I went to work in one of the top jazz clubs in the world. One night, Dizzy Gillespie would come in. Another night, it would be Miles Davis, or Dexter Gordon, or Johnny Griffin and Sonny Criss, Carmen McCrae, or Nancy Wilson and Erroll Garner, another Pittsburgher. Everybody was coming to hear Kenny Clarke play. I was working seven nights a week, and started thinking, If I go back to the States, I ain’t gonna be workin’ seven nights a week, that’s for sure; and I’ll never have a chance to play with cats like Dizzy, Miles or Dexter. So I ended up staying in Europe for almost 10 years, about seven of those in Paris.

Now, how is it that I got to Pittsburgh? In 1969, I was still working in Paris, and planning on living and dying there. Around that time, the University of Pittsburgh had decided they wanted to add jazz to their music program. People started to get into jazz as a cultural thing. It was happening all over. Between 1966 and 1968, I taught a jazz history course at the Paris American Academy, which was founded by another Pittsburgher named Richard Roy. Bob Snow, chairman of the music department at Pitt at that time, contacted David Baker at Indiana University in Bloomington, and David recommended that they try to see if I would accept a new position at Pitt. It was Richard Roy and David Baker who negotiated that agreement for me to come back to the States. Most of the musicians I knew — Arthur Taylor, Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan, and so on — were against me returning. But not Kenny Clarke. He said that, when he was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, there were few (if any) blacks teaching at the University of Pittsburgh. His advice was to take the job, and go and tell the truth about this great music.

Pitt was interested in me I guess because I had a degree in music education. But most jazz musicians at the time were skeptical of institutions that wanted to offer degrees in jazz. They thought, How can any school offer a degree in jazz? You can’t teach it. It’s a club thing. You just have to do it. David Baker, Donald Byrd and me — we were the pioneers of this whole business, the first to create full-​curriculum jazz studies programs in the U.S., and the world. Everybody else came later. We often talked about the differences between musicians who came up through the clubs and musicians who learned in school. When you hear a club-​wise player and then you hear one of these polished guys just out of school, you hear two different things. I think David saw me as a unique combination. I was a club-​wise jazz musician who also had a degree. I could bring both the streetwise approach to improvisation and the academic structure necessary for a successful jazz program. So you see, I didn’t seek out a job at Pitt or any other university. Pitt found me in Paris. And I am eternally grateful because I have really enjoyed working at Pitt.

The University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar, which just finished its 36th year last fall, came about the way a lot of great things do — by accident. I was in Pittsburgh in 1969 trying to get Pitt’s jazz studies program off the ground, and I noticed that Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers were playing at the Crawford Grill. I had toured with them in ’65, so Art knew who I was. [The New Jazz Messengers then were: Art Blakey — drums, Reginald Workman — bass, Jackie Byard — piano, Freddie Hubbard — trumpet, and Nathan Davis — saxophone]. Word got out that I was in town, so Art called and said, “Come on down and bring your horn.” That night, I went and played with those cats. Art was so proud that he got up and said, “This man here is Nathan Davis, my ex-​tenor player. I taught him everything he knows. He runs the music department up at Pitt.” And I said, “Art, I don’t run the music department. I’m just teachin’ jazz there.” But he went on. “Nathan’s my boy and I want y’all to support him.” Now, I was new in town, and that was one hell of an endorsement. Then for some reason, I asked Art if he would like to come up and talk to my students. He said, “Hey fellas, let’s go up to Pitt and help Nathan get goin’.” That’s how it happened.

I remember one year I really wanted Dizzy to come, and he had a gig somewhere out of town on the night we needed him. But he flew in anyway and did our seminar with his own money and didn’t charge us anything. Word started to spread, like I had some kind of magic touch, bringing in such amazing people. But there’s no magic, I can tell you. I once read in one of those European books, like an encyclopedia of jazz history or whatever, and it said something like, “Nathan Davis went to Pitt and put Pitt on the map by calling on his expatriate friends from Europe.” That’s exactly what I did. People that I knew passed the word around and we always got great artists to talk and play at our seminar. In the beginning, we were paying them no more than 500 bucks. Can you imagine that? Things have changed since then. Now I have supporters like Mellon Bank, Dominion, Office of the Provost, The Ford Foundation, and private donors like Larry Werner who contribute on a regular basis. As a result, we have been able to expand the outreach part of our program by taking it international. We were selected by UNESCO’s International Music Council to be the first and only jazz group to celebrate International Music Day throughout the world in such places as Bahia, Brazil, Jordan (The Queen Noor Conservatory of Music), the University of Ghana, Bahrain, and elsewhere.

When I look back on everything, the main highlights of my career at Pitt have been the excitement of bringing many great artists from around the world to Pittsburgh and the Pitt Jazz Seminar, and being part of the first university in the world to establish an International Jazz Hall of Fame. (Scholars, critics, and musicians from 20 different countries vote on who gets inducted.) And then, of course, there was the premiere of my opera called “Just Above My Head.” I sincerely believe that Mildred Posvar and Jonathan Eaton of the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh should be commended (and supported) for their enormous courage in presenting this minority opera to the City of Pittsb

Jeff Sewald

Jeff is an award-​winning independent filmmaker and writer who specializes in defining the cultural significance of American people, places, things and events. Among other projects, he is currently producing a television documentary about the history of jazz in Pittsburgh, and is co-​authoring the memoirs of famed forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht.

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Replies to This Discussion

In the Spring of 1996 Prof. Olly Wilson sent me from the University of California, Berkeley to the University of Pittsburgh to study with Prof. Nathan T. Davis who we affectionately called, Doc. Whether you were one of his graduate students, undergraduate students, area high school students or an area musician, Doc took an interest in you and recruited you to play in the Pitt Jazz Band. As one of his graduate students and teaching assistants, not only did I hone my teaching chops under his tutelage, but also found my voice in composing/ arranging big band charts. Beyond his tremendous musicianship and phenomenal teaching, he was an amazing scholar and was extremely generous with his time & network. Like so many, I owe him so much! Rest in Peace beloved teacher & mentor.

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Dr. Nathan Davis:

He was a pioneer in the field of Jazz Studies. When he started his program at the Univ. of PGH, there were only 2 others in existence. (Donald Byrd's at Howard Univ., and David Baker's at Indiana Univ.)

I've told an abbreviated version of this story previously, but I can't help but recall it now, in light of Nathan's transition:

...Continue Reading
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Max Leake Great tribute!

Joe Misenko
Joe Misenko Fall 1974, my freshman yr at Pitt, I took a 3 cr elective course called "Intro to Jazz". The instructor was Dr Nate Davis. We also would see him play once in a while at a jazz club in Oakland called "Sunny Days". The club was located on Forbes ave. Harold Betters of Connellsville played there also.

Some sad news. I heard from Dr Kenny Powell today that my first Jazz Mentor, Dr Nathan Davis, founder of the University of Pittsburgh Jazz program passed away today. Nathan got me started in a practice method and I played lead alto in the big band and Geri Allen was on piano. Now we’ve lost both of them. Dr Kenny Powell was also in the big band as he and Geri were both in Graduate school. Dr Davis had just written me a letter of recommendation last year because I was considering going to school to finish my education. Dr Davis was friends with my father who taught in the Pitt Dental School, I was young and stumbling sometimes but Nathan always kept hope in me. He too overcame hurdles in his youth and later obtained a Doctorate in Music. He and David Baker were pioneers in the African-American formation of jazz departments at Universities. I met David Baker, James Moody, Grover Washington, Donald Baker, Joe Harris and a host of others who came to the Pitt Jazz Seminar each year at Nathan’s request. It was Nathan Davis who told me I needed to learn more than bebop (I was only interested in listening to Charlie Parker at that time) to work in this business and he also pushed me to play soprano, which I practiced for hours a day when the Pitt Band went to Trinidad, tenor and then baritone, all horns he lent me from the school. That is the sole reason that when I came to the east coast that I started getting jobs on Bari and tenor. I learned from him that each horn had to be approached as a separate voice and played to produce a sound representative of the horn. I learned later in life how proud he was of me and my accomplishments including the Count Basie Orchestra. Thank you Dr Davis for your years teaching in Pittsburgh and May you Rest In Peace. I guess my Dad can work on your teeth again now. God Bless.

Gordon Knox Gone to jazz heaven, the music up there must be awesome.... and I think that is the true use of the adjective

Carol Knapp Flinn What a wonderful testimonial. Thanks for sharing. Glad you had the time with those men that you did.

Carol Knapp Flinn What a wonderful testimonial. Thanks for sharing. Glad you had the time with those men that you did.

Dr. Nathan Davis passes.Davis, 81, leaves a legacy of establishing a curriculum-based jazz studies program at a major university. He founded the Pitt Jazz Studies Program in 1969, when only two others existed in this country—one at Howard University established by Donald Byrd and the program at Indiana University at Bloomington set up by David Baker.

Davis is credited with infusing the Pitt community and the Pittsburgh region as a whole with jazz education, performance, inspiration, and appreciation during his 43-year Pitt career. He died of natural causes in the hospital in the early morning hours of Monday, April 9. He was living in Palm Beach, Florida.

Unfortunately, our first "In Memory" musician for 2019.  Nathan did arrangements for me in 1972, including those with 10 string players from the Pittsburgh Symphony, for our album project at the time.  He said years later that those arrangements were among his best.
Tim Stevens

Ten Facts About Nathan Davis (1937-2018)

Wednesday, 11 April 2018 05:01 AM Written by 


Nathan Davis, retired Director and founder of the University of Pittsburgh's Jazz Studies program from 1969 to 2013,  died Monday in Florida at age 81.  Here is a mini-history, with some music for good measure.  He was not born here, but he became an integral part of this City's jazz heritage. 

1. The Kansas City native was born not far from the home of the young Charlie Parker.

2. Like Parker, he apprenticed playing in the KC swing and blues band of Jay McShann.

3. After college (BA, Music Education, University of Kansas) and Army service, he decided to settle in Europe in 1962.

4. His first solo album, Happy Girl for the German SABA label, appeared in 1965.

"Happy Girl," the title track. Davis, tenor sax; Woody Shaw, trumpet Jimmy Woode, bass; Billy Brooks, drums; Larry Young, piano.

5. He replaced Wayne Shorter in Pittsburgh native Art Blakey's short-lived mid 60's band, the New Jazzmen, in '65.

Blakey wanted him to join the band permanently, taking Shorter's place as the main composer and music director, but Davis, married with an infant daughter, declined the offer so he could remain in Europe.  He and Blakey were lifelong pals.

"Crisis," With Blakey and the New Jazzmen Pittsburgher Blakey on drums, Freddie Hubbard, trumpet, pianist Jaki Byard with Reggie Workman on bass.

6. He often worked with another Pittsburgh-born jazz great: drummer Kenny "Klook" Clarke, the drummer who defined a new approach in the early bebop era.

"That Kaycee Thing" from his second SABA album The Hip Walk. Davis on tenor, soprano saxes and flute; trumpeter Carmell Jones, Clarke on drums; Jimmy Woode, bass; Francy Boland, piano;

7. He returned to America in 1969, and accepted the position of the first Director of Jazz Studies at Pitt.

1971: "To Ursula With Love," with the Nathan Davis Sextet, an original featuring Davis on soprano sax. The song is dedicated to his wife, from the album Makatuka, recorded at Pittsburgh's WRS studio with A-list Pittsburgh musicians: trombonist Nelson Harrison, pianist Joe Kennedy, Don DePaolis on electric piano; Roger Humphries, drums; Virgil Walters, electric bass, Mike Taylor, acoustic bass.

8. Davis received a Doctorate in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 1974.

9. He recorded an album-length 1977 Suite for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accompanied by bothnational and Pittsburgh jazz stars.

"Latin Happ'n"  Davis, soprano sax; Lew Soloff and Clyde Bellin, trumpets; Nelson Harrison and Daniel Poupard, trombones; Lee Gross, baritone sax; Frank Cunimondo, electric piano; Mike Taylor, bass; Joe Harris, drums; Steve Boyd, Arp Synthesizer and clarinet; Willie Amokau, percussion; Eric Johnson, guitar



10. In 2013, after 44 years, he retired from Pitt and received the BNY Mellon Jazz Living Legacy Award.

Aside from his teaching, his achievements here included creating the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame, the William Russell Robinson Recording Studio, Pitt Jazz Ensemble and the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives.

A Celebration of the Life
Dr. Nathan Tate Davis
June 3, 2018, 1:00pm
Heinz Memorial Chapel
University of Pittsburgh
Fifth & Bellefield Avenues
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
We hope you will be able to join us to share
music and memories in honor of the amazing
musician, scholar, dedicated family man, and
friend we all loved so dearly.
All are welcome. No RSVP required

A Celebration of the Life
Dr. Nathan Tate Davis
June 3, 2018, 1:00pm
Heinz Memorial Chapel
University of Pittsburgh
Fifth & Bellefield Avenues
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
We hope you will be able to join us to share
music and memories in honor of the amazing
musician, scholar, dedicated family man, and
friend we all loved so dearly.
All are welcome. No RSVP required


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