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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.

 

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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

Photo
Charlie Parker in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Credit Ray Whitten/Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

“They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But man, there’s no boundary line to art.”

Those are the words of Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist also known as Bird, who was born on Aug. 29, 1920. Parker was arguably the greatest genius of the bebop era and indeed, one of the finest American musicians of the 20th century.

You might be tempted to take his words literally when you hear the seemingly effortless grace and ease of his virtuosic improvisational style. His freewheeling solos made up on the spot are pure freedom, right?

Wrong. Jazz, like all serious art, is slavish in its adherence to boundaries and rules. And therein it achieves the nature of true freedom, in both art and life.

Fail on either of these dimensions, and you’re a hack who is laughed off the stage. Indeed, there is a famous story of Parker himself at age 16 at a jam session in Kansas City, Mo., with older, well-known musicians. When Parker lost track of the chords during a solo, Jo Jones (drummer for Count Basie) threw a cymbal at him and kicked him out.

Parker learned and improved. Listen carefully to his work 10 years later and you don’t hear a man missing chords or playing whatever he wants. Freedom in Parker’s music was the freedom to work within the melody and chords to make beautiful, life-affirming music. That meant the self-mastery to dominate his craft through years of careful practice, and the humble discipline to live within the rules of the music itself.

Many artists have known this truth. Leonardo da Vinci said, “You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself.” But the lesson goes far beyond art. Indeed, this is one of life’s great lessons for all of u

In 1897, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim undertook one of the first modern empirical studies of mental health in his masterwork “Suicide.” Prefiguring the methods that modern social scientists take for granted, he surveyed European populations to see what social patterns predicted self-harm. His results were clear: Individuals are less likely to hurt themselves in communities with more clearly articulated moral boundaries.

This is consistent with more modern social science research. For example, the “paradox of choice” is a well-established phenomenon, in which consumers get less satisfaction beyond a certain number of product options because choosing itself requires energy and resources. Effectively, Durkheim found that there is a “paradox of moral choice” that is that much more virulent in its effects.

The lesson: To be truly free to enjoy the best things in life, set proper moral standards for yourself and live within them as undeviatingly as Charlie Parker did in his music. As Albert Einstein once put it, “Morality is of the highest importance — but for us, not God.”

This brings us to the greatest irony of Parker’s life. He knew the formula for true freedom as a musician, but did not follow that formula as a man. His life was degraded and cut short by alcoholism and chronic drug use. How did it affect his art? Here are his own words: “Any musician who says he is playing better either on tea, the needle, or when he is juiced is a plain, straight liar. When I get too much to drink, I can’t even finger well, let alone play decent ideas.”

By his early 30s, Parker suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease. In the depths of his dissolution, the greatest musician of his generation pawned his instruments and played on the street for loose change from passers-by. His slow-motion suicide ended at age 34. The coroner mistook his body for that of a 60-year-old.

Some may see Parker’s demise as an excess of freedom, but his own work teaches us that this interpretation is a misunderstanding of the term. Had he exercised the discipline in the rest of his life that he possessed as a musician, he would have been truly free — free to make music for decades more, and free to enjoy his life while doing it. Instead, his lack of self-mastery brought him to addiction, which is the ultimate subjugation.

For me, Aug. 29 is an important day. As a lover of music, I focus on Parker’s preternatural artistry won through the freedom that comes only from self-mastery. And in the tragedy of his life, the lessons of true freedom are sadly reinforced. Happy birthday, Bird, and rest in peace.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing opinion writer.

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Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on September 3, 2017 at 9:55pm

Bob, You are a most valued member and your commentary is priceless.  This network is dedicated to preserving the memories of Pittsburgh's jazz legacy from first voice testimony and artifacts.  The commentary would never otherwise be available nor as authentic as the interactive dialogue from others with shared experienced.  Please post any photographs you would like to share on your "photo" page.

To respond to your question, yes, Thad's sculptures were prominently displayed at the Grill #2 during that era along with James Teamor's oil paintings and Carl "Dingbat" Smith's nail sculptures.

Comment by Bob Garvin on September 3, 2017 at 6:19pm

Dr.Harrison, My nostalgia for the Pittsburgh jazz scene is boundless. This site and the work you do to keep jazz alive there is greatly appreciated. I hope you can thank Thad Mosley for me with his enhancement of my fading memory of seeing Bird. I believe I may have met Mr. Mosley at the Crawford Grill decades ago. Was any of his artwork ever on display there in the 60s or 70s?  (BTW, he was from New Castle---just a short distance from Harmony where I lived for 50 years). 

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on September 3, 2017 at 3:54am

Bob. Thanks for mentioning this.  I was too young then and had never heard the story.  I mentioned it to sculptor Thad Moseley who is now 91 a couple days ago and he told me he was there.  He said Bird was at Johnny Brown's for 8 days with a string ensemble and he was there several of those nights.  He also said Bird played Pittsburgh about 8 times... once at Syria Mosque with JATP around 1946-47 and also at the Savoy on the Hill.

Comment by Bob Garvin on August 31, 2017 at 5:45pm

In about 1951, I was lucky to be able to attend a Bird gig with strings at Johnny Brown's Club in East Liberty. I believe Charlie had one or two of his own string instrumentalists supplemented with a couple from the Pittsburgh Symphony. The concert was sparsely attended. The Crawford Grill #2 would have been a better venue. To my surprise, Parker accepted my request to join my wife and me during a break. It was brief and all I can remember is that he was smiling but very quiet. Years later, when I told Frank Cunimondo about being there, he said that  he tried to get in  but was too young. Does anyone else recall anything about this concert? The Press and Sun-Telegraph must have covered it.        Bob Garvin   Bandera, Texas

Comment by E Van D on August 30, 2017 at 6:14pm
Yes, the wonders and teaching power of his music for succeeding generations.
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on August 30, 2017 at 5:49pm

It has been said that his appetites were insatiable regarding everything.  Though most such over-indulgences can lead to self-destruction, as his most likely did, his insatiability for music has done and will continue to do wonders for succeeding generations of musicians and listeners.  He said in an interview (you might have seen) that between the time Jo Jones threw the cymbal at him and his return to the scene, he practiced 15 hours/day and his mother had to move them several times due to neighbor complaints.

Comment by E Van D on August 30, 2017 at 5:23pm
Thank you for posting this discussion and your professional and historical insights. I can't speak theory but appreciate Brook's description of process that made Parker's notes seem to float effortlessly. And I agree with you: "It's even more astounding that he accomplished what he did despite his habit."
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on August 30, 2017 at 7:08am

I think you are justified in questioning Mr. Brooks' judgement.  It seems he doesn't integrate the timeline of Bird's addiction that started when he was a teen to combat pain after a back injury.  He just couldn't kick the habit as is true for many who are addicted to opiates.  I worked in a methadone clinic for several years as a psychologist and I fully appreciate that maintenance is far more likely than kicking the habit, especially in the era of Parker's life time.  It's even more astounding that he accomplished what he did despite his habit.

Comment by E Van D on August 30, 2017 at 1:13am
Although I agree that Parker's death robbed him and us of a lifetime of music, I don't make the same judgement on Parker's addiction that the writer makes. Seems presumptuous.

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