AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
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Don't know jazz? As Louis Armstrong said, "Man, if you have to ask what it is, you'll never know." Harrison, a true master of this quintessential American musical form, knows the art form not only academically (he holds a doctorate), but also in his very bones. He's written more than 400 pieces, including movie scores and soundtracks, and has played with the likes of the eminent Count Basie Orchestra, Billy Eckstine and Earl "Fatha" Hines, as well as recorded with Walt Harper and Nathan Davis.
"Not bad for an unrehearsed group, eh?" Harrison asked during intermission. Unbelievable understatement. The musicians sounded in peak performance, as if they had played together all their lives. Not so. It was the first night Harrison (on his intricately convoluted, self-designed "trombetta" horn) played with the group, which also included drummer James Johnson III (who toured with Pittsburgh jazz great Ahmad Jamal for years);Jessie Willis, who came in with mellow, expressive vocals; Donna Davis, whose fleet fingers flew across her keyboard; Jeff Grubbs on sonorous bass; and Calvin Pearson, whose bongos provided apt punctuation.
"If I get the right people, I can do that," said Harrison, who played often at the renowned Crawford Grill. "Sheet music can't hold a candle to jazz."
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust offers the two-part and free JazzLive, first in Katz Plaza, from 5-7 p.m. each Tuesday until the end of the month, followed each night by more jazz in the Backstage Bar from 7 until 10. Last Tuesday, the Tim Stevens Project took the second dazzling shift.
And what a trust it is. From nurturing jazz in Pittsburgh, which contributed much to the genre, including favorite sons Ahmad Jamal and Errol Garner, to enhancing Downtown as a bustling cultural destination, the Cultural Trust deserves some plaudits of its own. Janis Burley Wilson, vice president for education and programs for the Trust, takes her mission seriously, not only planning an entertaining schedule of summer events but also ensuring her darling young daughters, Margaux and Liza, hear and know the best of Pittsburgh jazz.
Also on hand were folks like Maria Scherin and Jeff Bretton, as well as Vernon Morgan; Teri Dawne; Teresa Hayward; and Mischelle McMillan. Fanfare also spotted Ron Protz; John Loverti; and Nellie Curran and Dick Rhoton in the Backstage Bar. Lynne Figgins walked over after work to hear the group. Mary Davis proudly watched her daughter's keyboard talent. Bill Harrison reminisced about his and his brother Nelson's days at Westinghouse High School, which he noted fostered a flock of talented jazz and classical musicians.
Also spotted: Diane Zupi and Andrew Forrest; and Lorene and Denis Vinskias well as Carolyn Mozlack; Nancy Lee Cochran; Karen Miller; Bonnie Trucco; and David Douthett. Other jazz connoisseurs included Rita Wilson; Kathleen Morris; Donna Perkins; Bert McConomy; Ruth Mozzy; Heidi Mashiska; Tom Mozzy; Leslie Goodman; and the dapper Demetrius Hammett.
-- Sandra Donovan