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, Parlanto 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.
Thank you for asking. Sophia and Billy graduated together at Westinghouse in the Class of 1934. Sophia was the first black valedictorian of Westinghouse at age 15. Fanetta was to be the 2nd black valedictorian of the class of 1936 at age 15 but it was denied to her at the time because of racial skullduggery on the part of Dr. Kisler, the Principal who extorted young Carl McVicker, Sr. into falsifying her music grade to keep his job. As you know the honor was recently restored to Fannetta posthumously.
Billy was the 1st pianist in the orchestra and Fannetta shared the piano bench as 2nd pianist at age 13 in the senior orchestra as she was a child prodigy herself. She always told me how gracious Billy was to her during those years. Fannetta was the senior piano student at the Dawson School of Music and became the accompanist for the National Negro Opera Company. During her early years she had the opportunity to play for W.C. Handy at Forbes Field and on another occasion she accompanied Marian Anderson in concert. That was during the early 40s among the many benefit concerts Mdme. Dawson presented to raise money for the NNOC. Shortly after Mdmme Dawson moved to Washingto, DC, Fannetta opened her own piano school in her home at 7301 Monticello Street which soon added ballet, toe and tap lessons in her basement studio while she taught piano piano in her dining room on a baby grand. We nieces and nephews were all students of hers in one way or another. she held recitals annually in the Westinghouse High auditorium and they were always sold out performances. I recall the Yvonne Jones was the main dance instructor.