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

Centennial celebration gives Pittsburgh-bred composer Strayhorn his due

1 /Composer Billy StrayhornNewsletters
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Suite Life Tribute Concert

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 28

Admission: Pay what makes you happy

Where: Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty


Daily Photo Galleries

By Bob Karlovits
Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, 7:21 p.m.
Updated 22 hours ago

In his life, jazz great Billy Strayhorn was something of a rebel — politically, socially and musically.

He was active in racial equality from his days at Westinghouse High School in Homewood to Manhattan get-togethers in the early '60s with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was viewed with near horror.

The composer of some of the most famous songs in jazz is called a “revolutionary” by at least one music archivist.

But it wasn't until years after his death from esophageal cancer in 1967 that his significance in the jazz world began to emerge.

This year, Strayhorn is being celebrated to mark the centennial of his birth with workshops, lectures and concerts all over the world, along with a new book “Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life” (Agate Bolden, $35), an oversized volume filled with essays, commentary and pictures that tell his story.

His life

Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 29, 1915, and his family moved to Homewood when he was 5. He spent some with his early days with his mother's family in North Carolina because of his father's drunken behavior, but more or less grew up in Pittsburgh.

He was performing and composing from his days in high school. A state historical marker honoring him was erected in 1995 at Westinghouse High.

He wrote “Lush Life,” one of his most dramatic songs, when he was 16. On Dec. 1, 1938, he met Duke Ellington after a concert at the Stanley Theater, Downtown, and performed for him.

It was a meeting that shaped the careers of both of them.

Strayhorn's “Take the ‘A' Train” became the Ellington band's theme song, but, for many years, the composer was virtually unseen in the shadow of Ellington, says Gregory A. Morris, Strayhorn's nephew and executor of his estate.

“Ellington was an overpowering force who had a homophobic agent who did anything he could to make sure Uncle Bill did not get the credit he deserved,” says Morris, 78, who worked for Pittsburgh Public Schools and the University of Pittsburgh before retiring to Arizona.

Researcher Walter van de Leur, a musicologist from the Netherlands, discovered Strayhorn while he was doing some research on Ellington. He would go on to write “Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn” (Oxford University Press, $45).

In “Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life,” van de Leur tells Robert Levi, director of the documentary “Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life,” that he came to Pittsburgh after not finding several important scores — “Chelsea Bridge,” “Upper Manhattan Melody,” “Rain Check” — in the Ellington collection at the Smithsonian.

“It suggested there was a possibility that they were authored by someone else,” van de Leur says in the book. “And they were all in the Pittsburgh collection” left to Morris by Strayhorn.

Strayhorn was the composer of songs as bouncy as “Satin Doll” to the tormented “Blood Count.”

“The beautiful, yet bittersweet, aspects of being human come alive in every single note (of his music),” says pianist Geri Allen, director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh. “He captures the emotion of joy and sorrow, regret and things hoped for.”

Bill Doggett, a California-based jazz archivist and lecturer who spoke at last week's Pitt Jazz Seminar, says harmonies and melodic lyricism create a “revolutionary nature to Strayhorn's music in American jazz.”

The book

“Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life” is filled with comments from singers like Nancy Wilson, Dianne Reeves and Lena Horne, along with photos of sheet music in Strayhorn's hand and essays from Morris, Levi, van de Leur and David Hajdu, who wrote the famous 1997 biography “Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life.”

“The book is designed to tell the story of Strayhorn's life in its many orbits,” says A. Alyce Claerbaut, editor of “Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life” and the composer's niece. “What this book shows is how many orbits Strayhorn lived in and contributed to both in music and in the way he lived his life.”

Claerbaut lives in Chicago and was chosen to act as the representative of Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc., an organization set up in 1997 to preserve the composer's history in the assembly of the volume.

Morris says he is glad to see the book — and the variety of programs around the country — giving Strayhorn the credit he deserves. Morris was in Pittsburgh in October to participate in a concert at Westinghouse High, which was put together by jazz educator and performer Nelson Harrison.

The new volume consists of a forward by pianist Ramsey Lewis, an introduction that is basically a biographical rundown, and then two long sections.

“Musical Orbits,” by Claerbaut, deals with Strayhorn's musical life and its role in jazz. “Moral Freedoms,” by Bruce Mayhall Rastrelli from Western Oregon University, focuses on the composer as a person.

Morris' essay, “Cherish the Legacy,” deals with the establishment of Billy Strayhorn Songs

When Strayhorn appointed Morris executor of his estate, he told Morris: “Take care of my stuff.”

He has been doing that since and helped direct some of that “stuff” to the production of the book.

The photos that dominate the book came from many sources, Claerbaut says: family albums, professional collections, the Hajdu collection and those owned by Strayhorn's godson, Chip Logan.

Claerbaut says the book took about 14 months to put together, a time that is relatively brief because the photos were at hand and the commentary came from close experiences with the composer.

It displays the varied elements in his life — as his music does.

“As easy as his music is to approach as a listener and fan, it is equally difficult to approach when attempting to render it,” Pitt's Allen says. “It speaks to his life lived in creative exploration, and Mr. Strayhorn was able to express those complexities through his compositions and through his elegant piano playing.”

The celebration

This month, musical groups around the world will mark Strayhorn's birthday.

At East Liberty's Kelly Strayhorn Theater — named for the composer and fellow Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly — Sean Jones and the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra will headline the 8th annual Suite Life benefit concert Nov. 28, with special guest Anqwenique Wingfield, a jazz vocalist and opera singer based in Pittsburgh.

The evening will include renditions of classic Strayhorn compositions and a tribute to the continued influence of Strayhorn's work on artists today.

Other Strayhorn tributes include:

• Seattle Art Museum presents “Art of Jazz: Billy Strayhorn Project,” Nov. 12

• Bologna (Italy) Jazz Festival Celebrates Strayhorn, Nov. 17 and 22

• EFG London Jazz Festival presents “Lush Life: A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn,” Nov. 20

• The Billy Strayhorn Festival, “Lush Life” concert concludes a three-month celebration at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Nov. 21

• “Strayhorn, The Giant Who Lived in the Shadows,” with the Lovejoy Group, Nov. 27, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

• “Take The ‘A' Train: Billy Strayhorn's 100th Birthday,” Nov. 29, Symphony Space, New York City

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