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PITTSBURGH JAZZ

 

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.

 

WELCOME!

 

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

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

CRAWFORD GRILL PURCHASED BY LOCAL INVESTORS

Information

CRAWFORD GRILL PURCHASED BY LOCAL INVESTORS

Your voices have been heard and the Grill will soon reopen. It's important to keep the buzz going to encourage the investors who are taking the risk to save and restore her. Thank you.

Website: http://jazzburgher.ning.com
Location: 2141 Wylie Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Members: 104
Latest Activity: Aug 22

Jessica Lee on the Crawford Grill Renovation from Little Red Media on Vimeo.

Crawford Grill purchased...Franco Harris part of investment group
Written by Christian Morrow - Courier Staff Writer
Wednesday, 14 April 2010 11:25

Standing on the corner of Wylie Avenue and Elmore Street in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, Franco Harris looks across the street at the names of jazz legends etched on the Legacy senior building—Billy Eckstine, Erroll Garner, Earl “Fatha” Hines—and starts nodding his head.

UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
—Members of the group that bought the Crawford Grill in February include, from left: Robert Meeder, Greg Spencer, Jules Matthews, Victor Rogue, Dwight Mayo, Franco Harris and William Generett.

“This is a good corner,” the Hall-of-Famer said. “You stand here and your head just starts bopping up and down. This is such a historic site that the preservation and history of it has to live on. So the question is, how do we do that? Well, the first step is to buy this building—so we did.”

The building Harris is referring to is the Crawford Grill, a Hill mecca for jazz that closed in 2003. He is among a group of four private investors and three nonprofits that purchased the property in February. The others include Randall Industries founder Greg Spencer, Transportation Solutions owner Dwight Mayo, former Fisher Scientific CEO Bill Recker; Pittsburgh Gateways, The Keystone Innovation Zone and The Hill House Economic Development Corp.

The group plans to restore and preserve the building’s interior space as it was in its heyday and to expand into a vacant lot next door—which the group is currently closing on—with new restaurant and nightclub space. There are also plans for an educational component that would convert the current building’s upper floors to studio, workshop, educational and meeting space, so the Hill District’s jazz legacy can be passed on.

“We had all these talented people who came from Pittsburgh like Ahmad Jamal, who I just saw at the first ever National Jazz Day concert here,” said Harris. “And though they went elsewhere to pursue their careers, they always came back and they were great ambassadors for Pittsburgh. Can we capture how things were and how they evolved? It will be hard, but we’ll try to preserve that feel as closely as possible.”

Pittsburgh Gateways President Robert Meeder said the nonprofits got involved to assist with development issues and will have no part in the eventual operation.

“We as a group are looking to bring back the Grill without compromise. The nonprofits would establish a music-programming theme. So we’re looking at preserving the legacy and establishing an entertainment venue,” he said. “I mean, nonprofits can’t own bars, but we’re involved because we thought if we didn’t do something, it might be turned into a butcher’s shop or torn down completely.”

Spencer said the group is probably a year away from beginning restoration work, and they are still ironing out design ideas.

“It’s a diverse group of investors, and there are diverse perspectives on what to do,” he said. “If it was up to me you’d go in the same door you always did, with the bar on the right and the stage where it was and have an arch into the new space.

“We want to keep as much of what the old Grill was as possible—jazz, a bar with lunch or dinner fare. To me, the more we can talk about it, the more we can get some of the folks who were part of it years ago to give us some insight into it.”

Victor Rogue, Hill House Association interim president and CEO, said the association became a partner because it is interested in restoring vitality of the entire Hill District and the Crawford Grill is part of that vitality.

“When I first came to town 15 years ago, this was the first place I stopped. We want to see the Hill come back as a prime area for housing and commerce,” he said. “This project attracted us because of its history. The history of the Grill is the history of the Hill.”

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Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on February 1, 2010 at 3:26am
How Can a “Music of the Spirit” Die?

Jazz is dead! Here we go again. The recent Wall Street Journal article by Terry Teachout, (the journal’s drama critic..why is he writing about jazz? With all their resources they couldn’t find someone to write on jazz?) declaring that no one is listening to jazz and featuring a prominent cartoon of a “black Jazz musician” being wheeled out on a cart speaks volumes to a continued bourgeois, arrogant Eurocentric lack of understanding of jazz.

Mr. Treachout’s methodology is the classic case of someone going out to investigate the flowers, but never getting off the horse to “smell the flowers.” Hence the article is so “lightweight” I had to keep a paper-weight on it to keep it from elevating and floating away on its own. Put another way, as Amiri Baraka in his latest book “Digging” would say, “The lack of knowledge about America’s richest contribution to world culture is a reflection as well of the deadly ignorance which stalks this country from the New York City Hall to the halls of Congress to the corporate offices to academic classrooms, like a ubiquitous serial killer…”

Treachout uses a number of useless (without context!) numbers from a National Endowment of the Arts survey to conclude that only those with their head in the sand cannot see a larger picture
of “lack of mass support for jazz” leading to its demise. There were fewer people attending a jazz concert; the audience is (graying) growing older; older people are less likely to attend jazz performances today than yesterday; and the audience among college educated adults is also shrinking. On the surface, this kind of approach can scare or misinform a great many people into following the ever present “jazz is dead” attacks upon the music. This kind of approach is not the approach of someone who wants to help jazz survive, but one that serves to drive people away from exploring and learning about jazz.

How about we come at the non arguable “less than healthy’ state of jazz another way? Once again we call on America’s foremost jazz critic for guidance.. Why not investigate and raise the question as to the “domination of US popular culture by an outrageously
reactionary commercial culture of mindlessness, mediocrity, violence and pornography means that it is increasingly more difficult for the innovative, serious, genuinely expressive, or authentically popular artist to get the same kind of production and the anti-creative garbage that the corporations thrive on.” (Digging, Amiri Baraka). I suggest that this is the inquiry that the Wall Street Journal should be making into the subject matter, the health state of jazz. But when you’re part of the problem, it’s difficult. From the standpoint of the WSJ, jazz’s mystery can/cannot be solved by market forces. “Look here are the numbers!”

From the great work “Blues People,” to his other book, “Black Music,” and the latest contribution from the peoples’ critic, “Digging,” there is one thing that stands out. Amiri Baraka insists that the music, from blues to
jazz, is a creation and reflection of the struggles of the Afro-American people. The music is an expression of a people’s culture and cannot be separated from such. Jazz, Afro-American in origin, universal in content and expression, is nonetheless tied to a people, expressing their greatest fears and joys, hopes for the future and repository of the past, that it can said, “the music is the people.” Hence the music can never die, because the people live. Bill Cosby is quoted in Digging as saying, “There’s a wonderful story I like to tell. It’s the end of the world…gray, blowing, turbulent… and there is this tombstone that says, ‘Jazz: It Broke Even!’ The music has its high and lows, but it can never die.”

Art is a reflection of a people’s culture. As Baraka says, “Whether African Song, Work Song, Spiritual, Hollers, Blues, Jazz,
Gospel, etc., no matter the genre, the ideas contained in Afro-American art, in the main, oppose slavery and desire freedom.” (Digging). For jazz to die, the entire history and Afro-American people would have to die. This is the content that an interloper like Treachout cannot understand. Jazz is as vital and fighting for its existence today as it was in the 40’s, 50’s or 60’s. Jazz is currently experiencing the “tale of two cities.” On the one hand, due to the advances and demands of the black liberation movement, Jazz enjoys a new found bourgeois respectability. This is evidenced by the fact that very many colleges and universities have jazz departments (some led by the creators of the music) that produces very rich programs and new venues for the jazz musicians to play. On the other hand, many of the formerly most popular jazz venues have “moved” downtown and have become inaccessible not only to the supporters of the music,
but also its creators. Many of the new downtown venues only showcase the “jazz superstars” of the music, hence subsidizing many new young white jazz musicians, while the new black creators and continuators of the music can’t get gigs. This is a sorry state of affairs that must be investigated. Couple with the new thrust in white jazz criticism, the old (black) cats aren’t playing anything new (like in Europe), but just continue to “swing.” How ironic, given that it’s the swing that is the heart of the music. Whatever happened to the maxim...it don’t mean a thing?

I often joke with Amiri that two months after he dies, the jazz powers that be are going to call a meeting declaring jazz dead, or an European creation. As long as he lives this can’t happen, because they know he’ll light fire under their asses.


But since jazz is what the great trumpet player Ahmed Abdullah calls, “the music of the spirit,” it can never die. While the WSJ declares jazz dead, refuses to get off the horse and smell the flowers, the music continues to thrive and fight for its life, for its expression. In New Jersey, new small clubs are opening up all over the place, anchored by Cecil’s in West Orange. You have the work of Newark’s own Stan Myers, who has run a successful Tuesday night Jam session at Crossroads for years; Papillion, Skipper’s, the Priory, Trumpets, John Lee’s annual concerts in South Orange, and countless other venues all testify to the fact that the “spirit” is alive. This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, the Oskar Schindler jazz program in the park in West Orange will take place with some of the greatest musicians in the world. This annual event continues to grow larger every
year. You can’t convince the people attending these venues that “jazz is dead.” In NYC, the opening of Creole’s uptown that now has a dynamite line up of jazz performances, to Sistas’ Place in Brooklyn; the great work of Bob Myers and the Brooklyn Jazz Consortium, the Lenox Lounge and St. Nick’s in Harlem, the reopening of Minton’s demonstrates that there are real soldiers in the field fighting to keep jazz alive in our communities. Countless other new, small venues in Brooklyn is a further testament that “jazz lives, will never die, and continue to find outlets for its expression.”

Jazz is not popular culture. To compare and demand that Jazz be equated with the lowest common denominator cultural expression, packaged for the most extreme exploitation by monopoly capitalism is to have no understanding of the music. By its very nature it is “rebel” music.
Treachout complains that it is not the music of the masses, of the youth, as determined by corporate measuring sticks. Well of course. I like hip-hop but I’m not going to any concerts. That’s youth music. Not particularly challenging. Jazz is a challenging experience, for all of the reasons stated above and yes must be able to attract younger listeners. But the commonly referred to model, “jazz must return to its 1930’s swing era roots, when big bands like Benny Goodman’s ruled the roost and young and old danced their lives away to the music. Most reputable jazz historians recognize that period as one of the worst in jazz history, as monopoly capital stripped the music of its vitalness, repackaged it to the public in a sanitized (racist) endeavor. Be-Bop was a rebellion against this commodification and bastardization of the music.

When we say jazz is “a music of the
spirit,” sitting in on a jazz program has the possibility of elevating the listener to heights never experienced by a poplar culture event. For many it is a shared communal experience, as witnessed by the common clapping in appreciation of a musical interlude, or the strictly individual experience of the music. Some can appreciate the full recipe of musical virtuosity on display, some may connect deeply in an emotional way with the music, some relate to the democratic display of the skills of the musicians, and some may not have liked the particular performance. Jazz is a broad palette, some things we don’t like, some things we like better than others. All of this is part of the learning curve as people come to appreciate jazz. It’s great when a young brother or sister after leaving their first jazz experience, say “I really liked what I heard.” Or to say, I didn’t understand what I heard. This too is part of the learning
process.

McDonald’s is popular fast food. Many like it, many do not. But McDonald’s is not the only food on the market. There is other food, much tastier, much more healthful in the long run, more beautiful in its presentation, that people should be exposed to, for a more elevating food experience. This is the difference between jazz and popular music.

Often times when inviting someone to a jazz club, you get the usual question? “How’s the parking, how’s the security, etc.? I usually chuckle to myself because this person has no clue to the different vibe in a jazz club than at a popular musical event. Because the music is so elevating and brings a different emotional approach given its history, the experience, as I said before is much more a shared and communal experience. Jazz does not attract
the kinds of persons prone to antagonistic conflicts with others, but just the opposite, in that it attracts the kinds of persons prone to spiritual connections with the music and other patrons. I’ve never seen a “weapons detector” at a jazz club or venue. As we used to say back in the day, “we ain’t about that!” This music means something else.

The WSJ approach to “summing up the current state of jazz” has the open or hidden affect of driving people away from the jazz experience. “Who wants to go hear music that no one attends anyway?” It can’t be any good if as the market numbers show that no one is listening.

In “Jazz and the White Critic (Thirty Years Later),” Baraka in Digg says, the theme of one of his former articles was that,” a fundamental contradiction, sharp, at
times antagonistic, existed between American Classical Music (jazz), its creators, mainly black, and the majority of commentators, critics, critical opinion about the music, which historically are not.” Sadly, the WSJ article confirms his observations, then and now.


Jazz, like the Afro-American people: We got problems, but still we rise. The music of the spirit will never die.. “It may break even!”

Ron Washington
Black Telephone Workers for Justice
9/10/09
Blacktel4justice@gmail.com
Comment by ian kane on December 14, 2009 at 2:36am
I am new to Pittsburgh and am fascinated by the Crawford Grille and its past. I tried to connect to the website listed above but it seems it's not working. Does anyone have any information on what kinds of organizations are out there to try to save the Crawford Grille? Is there any way to get funding from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, for example? Is there a benefit concert that could be put together?
I think saving this place is important. I understand another nightclub type of place called the Hurricane is located nearby. Maybe the two together could create a new nightlife in the Hill District. It's not impossible if enough people want it to happen!
Comment by Grant on April 15, 2009 at 8:00am
The Grill is not just a street address and building; to my mind it is a spiritual resevoir for the energy of the performers and patrons that have worked, played, and LIVED important chunks of their lives in that building. It certainly should be reopened, if only as a tangible memorial to the spiritual talent, hope and joy that it's prior inhabitents have vested it with. Much more important than memorials to politicians or single public figures .. Lets Get Er Done! Grant W Stapleton
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on April 15, 2009 at 6:41am
I first played the Grill in 1956 when I sat in with Harold and Jerry Betters. Over the years I have played all over the Tri-State area, the country and internationally. The Grill remains my favorite stage to play in the entire world. The memories are some of my most treasured of all. It is a shrine to our great Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy and the spirits are still whispering within its walls and through all of us who remember.
Comment by Greg on December 6, 2008 at 6:30pm
It’s interesting reading thru these posts… as most of you have experienced Crawford Grill in a very personal way – and the venue seems to have left you all with memories that will last a lifetime.
I unfortunately never attended a show there – given I was born in 84.
I have however been lucky enough to stumble upon AVA on a Monday night… and have attended several performances there since then. One of which was with my brother when he was home just recently for Thanksgiving break. I tried explaining to him that the music there is like nothing else he or I have experienced (the intimacy of the venue, the improvisation, the talent, etc.)… and naturally it didn’t sink in until he witnessed it personally. There is no doubt in my mind he and I will remember that show for the rest of our lives.

So as a young jazz fan, I would naturally love to see the Crawford Grill reopen – assuming it could flourish and live up to expectations. However, is it possible to recreate what once was? Can a venue flourish in that location? And if it were to open as a non-profit would a place that small be able to support big name acts, as it once did in the past?
The reason I bring up my time spent at AVA is because I think there are new opportunities – that the pgh jazz community are really beginning to embrace – to create the same type of atmosphere that Crawford Grill once had… and I find that to be very exciting. So if the ultimate goal is to produce a new wave of musical memories that will last a lifetime… it seems there are already highly feasible opportunities to do so and we should all take full advantage of them. Potentially by doing so we create something special that folks are discussing many years from now in much the same way you speak of the Crawford Grill.
Comment by PittsburghBluesConnection.com on August 26, 2008 at 10:44am
Hello all, I am John Reilly, born and raised in Pgh, actually I grew up on Burrows St., not far from the Crawford Grill. It is very upsetting to me that we may not be able to save this part of our Pgh. cultural heritage simply because of the lack of financial support. I have started the PittsburghBluesConnection to help promote and preserve the blues in Pgh. for all to enjoy forever. I do this for free, many hours of my time to aid the blues community, benefits and organization that support the blues locally. I am working on becoming a 501 (c)3, non-profit organization and the comments by Mr. Greenlee and Phat Man Dee have given me a vision. Dr. Nelson Harrison recently expressed to me "The blues is the roots of the American Music Tree, jazz is the trunk and all the other genres are the branches and twigs". Wow! It is 5.00 am in the morning, I was awoken by a dream and these words came to me and the vision of the Crawford, re-opened, with laughter, music and memories yet to come. Who will help me awaken a dream? I believe it can be done! I believe we can get the support to re-open if we know where to look for help. This is what I need all your help for. This community is a wealth of experience, talent and knowledge that I kindly ask for your input. I ask only for your thoughts and advice and guidance to achieve something that needs to be realized, with God's help, and yours, before it is too late. We should at least try!
My thanks to all.
I am also at: www.PittsburghBluesConnection.com
myspace/pittsburghbluesconnection
Comment by Dwayne Dolphin on August 10, 2008 at 6:02am
I was one of many who learned how to play jazz in the Grill. The Grill is a almost magical place where the spirits of the jazz masters are in the room as you perform. The Grill is not just a club or a school for jazzmen. It,s a vital part of American culture!!
Comment by Frank B. Greenlee on July 21, 2008 at 5:38pm
We have all lamented that we miss "The Grill", the real question is what can we do if anything to save the site. Is it available for purchase? If so can this group become a force (incorporated as a nonprofit) to purchase it through funding and preserved as a Jazz Historical Site.

If you feel and/or think this is a possibility, then we need to get about the business of meeting and formalizing some action. If nothing is done it will continue to be only a memory of what was.
Comment by Elizabeth "Betty" Asche Douglas on July 21, 2008 at 4:11pm
Crawford #2 was one of the first places I ever sang as a jazz vocalist many years ago. Then during its last years, I sat in from time to time with my dear friend and fellow Beaver Countian, the late Dr. Mike Taylor. Then in 2003, when WQED's "On Q" TV magazine did a special segment on "The Grill," I was honored to be the vocalist with Nelson Harrison and Kenny Blake on the bandstand. What a memory! 'QED still broadcasts it from time to time, and it gives me chills.
Comment by Phat Man Dee on July 20, 2008 at 10:43pm
If wishes could be fishes.... I went to the Grill exactly once before it closed. It was awesome. The catfish was splendid, and though the band looked awfully cramped up there , jutting off the wall like living trophies of magic and soul, they seemed transported as was I...

But who has the kind of money to make a live music venue work? Somehow actually having a venue that can make enough $$ to stay open, much less pay the band, it's a really hard thing to do in this world. But somewhere like the Grill, well it would be nice even if you could get it a non profit status and be treated like the historical monument it is. Protected and celebrated, with a maybe a museum and regular performance series. I wish I had the kind of $$ it would take to do something like that right someday..... But for now if I could just pay bills and save enough to put out another body of work, i would consider that a major miracle and blessing from the multiverse.
 

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