Pain Relief Beyond Belief





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

Interval at Ava Lounge: Monday night Jam Sessions approaches 4th year.

Jazz finds a new home at Ava Lounge
Monday, August 13, 2007

Sitting in a chair just outside the entrance of the Ava Lounge, Garland Rose is reminded of the old days when clubs dotted the streets of East Liberty and the energy and sounds of trumpets and trombones, saxophones and drums filled the air in a joyful cacophony.

Rose doesn't know if Ava will ever have the lore of, say, Birdie Dunlap's Hurricane, the preeminent home for jazz organ groups, or the old Crawford Grill in the Hill District, where iconoclasts with such names as Max, Monk, Miles and Mingus performed on a weekly basis.

That was a different era, and, frankly, Rose isn't into revisionist history.



Nate Guidry, Post-Gazette photos
Sean Jones performs at Ava Lounge in East Liberty last week.
Click photo for larger image.
Instead, he chooses to focus on the present -- particularly the buzz generated by Ava.

Every Monday for the past month, the Highland Avenue lounge known mostly for programming underground urban and global music has hosted jazz fans and up-and-coming musicians.

On a recent Monday night, the first set belonged to pianist Howie Alexander's Trio, a house band that also features bassist Paul Thompson and drummer James Johnson III. After a brief intermission, other musicians were invited to perform in a jam session, a time-honored tradition in jazz.

Such sessions are the ultimate incubator for young players, a place where musical knowledge is passed from older players to youngsters.

"There's some great young musicians coming here," said Rose, who grew up and still lives in East Liberty, which is undergoing a bit of a renaissance. "This is the only place we have to hear jazz music in East Liberty."

Attendance has grown each week, mostly through word of mouth. Last Monday, it was nearly packed, roughly 80 to 100 people.

The Ava crowd watches Sean Jones sitting in with the Howie Alexander Trio.
Click photo for larger image.
There's nothing pretentious about Ava, There's no cover charge or drink minimum. A tall glass of orange juice will set you back $1, and water is free.

The decor strikes a balance between New Age artsy and Mississippi juke joint. Except for a few lights here and there, it's dark enough to be an opium den.

The bartender is really friendly, strutting around in cowgirl boots. The patrons are a cultural mix, speaking to one another with ease, whether it's at the bar or on one the couches that rest against a wall.

"It's been great to see the crowds grow each week," said Dr. Nelson E. Harrison, a psychologist and trombonist. "Musically, the house band is as good as any on the planet. Something else that is interesting, the musicians are up close and accessible. People come here to listen to music, and when they are talking, the music is part of their conversation. It's been positively pleasant, diverse and inter-generational."

Justin Strong, co-owner of Ava and the nearby Shadow Lounge with Tim Guthrie, said the idea to program a night of jazz came after several conversations with Alexander and Gwyneth Gaul, the event's promoter.

"Gwyneth just took the bull by the horns and ran with it," said Strong. "She gave me a list of things that I needed to get done. So I let Howie put the band together and Gwyneth promote it, and we provided the venue."

Gaul, who works as a fund-raiser at Duquesne University, is a huge jazz fan and has long had a vision to open a jazz club.

She was determined to either open one herself or find a partner to go in to business with her.

She approached a few people, developed a business plan, spoke to several developers and met with community groups to determine the need.

Just as things were taking shape, one of the potential investors decided to go in a different direction.

So, instead of opening a new club with great lights, sight lines and state-of-the-art acoustics, she decided to start small, build something and watch it grow.

At that point, she approached Strong, who decided Monday nights would be ideal.

"He said, 'Run with it,' " said Gaul, who laughs when asked how much money she has to promote the event. "I don't have a budget, but it has grown each week. It's been fun watching people come together in this not so fancy place to enjoy the music."

Gaul, who grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, said her long-term goal is open a dedicated jazz venue, which will also feature an educational components.

"As a young professional, I was on a mission to leave Pittsburgh," she continued. "But I have decided to stick around and plant some roots. This is something that I wanted to do for sometime. I want to grow it into something meaningful."

Until then, jazz fans can enjoy Ava.

"It's a great venue, and the price is perfect," said Mike Colavita. "I live in the neighborhood and it's great to be able to walk over."

Ava Bar & Lounge is at 126 S. Highland Ave. and Baum Boulevard; 412-363-8277. Shows begin at 8 p.m.

First published at PG NOW on August 12, 2007 at 7:53 pm
Nate Guidry can be reached at or 412-263-3865.

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