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PITTSBURGH JAZZ

 

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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            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

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Jazz and Islam – A Retrospective Series (P.2)


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Continued History 
Text by Dawoud Kringle

In this part of the Jazz and Islam Series, I will provide a perspective on the growth of Islam among American jazz musicians.

The Mosque of Islamic BrotherhoodMany of the earlier converts to Islam worked at raising money to bring Muslim / Sufi teachers to the USA. Talib Daoud and his wife, singer Dakota Staton (a.k.a. Aliyah Rabia) taught Islam in Philadelphia, PA. She also opened a store in New York City that sold African art and wares, and Islamic books and supplies. An Egyptian man namedSheikh Mahmoud Hassan Rabwan taught Islam and Arabic there. In the New York area a few Muslim owned venues, mostly restaurants, opened that featured musical performances. These included “The East” and “The House of Peace.” Mosques such as the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood used to hold benefit concerts, which featured performers such as Alice Coltrane, and others. Later, a performance venue opened by saxophonist, composer, bandleader, teacher, and mentor Muhammad Salahuddin (1930-2004) called “The University of the Streets” featured performances, workshops, and music instruction.

A spiritual vacuum existed in America. While this was in no way confined to the African Americans, they would prove to have spearheaded the rise of Islam in America from its centuries-long dormancy. And in the early years, jazz as cultural and artistic phenomena was a catalyst for this phenomenon.

The efforts of many of the early “pioneers” were not always well received. A few musicians, in accord with afrocentricity, adopted Muslim names simply to combat racism and to develop personal identity. There were also the very obvious racist reactions that the white power structures had against Islam. Many musicians had difficulty getting work if they had a Muslim name, or if it was common knowledge that they were Muslims. Dakota Staton, for example, said that it was difficult to get bookings in clubs because the owners assumed that she was a “black Muslim.” Sometimes musicians who were open in their practice and propagation of Islam met with violent opposition. Occasionally they would be the victims of violent attacks. In the 1960s, a drummer known as Nasserdin (a friend of John Coltrane) was beaten to death by the Philadelphia police when they found him making salat (Islamic prayer) on the sidewalk.

The movement among jazz musicians toward Islam coincided with the surge of the Zionist movement for creation and establishment of the State of Israel. The result was that a lot of friction arose between Jews and Muslims. An unofficial boycott in New York of jazz musicians with Muslim names arose among Jewish music industry executives and venue owners, and caused a great deal of financial difficulty for Muslim jazz artists.

Some Muslim musicians downplayed their religious beliefs by using their “old” names and treating Islam as a private matter. Some found disapproval among other Muslims because of the belief that music is religiously forbidden.

The effect that Islam had upon the music itself would take a little more time. Most musicians were primarily concerned with earning a living and keeping abreast of the revolutionary changes that occurred in the music. The direct manifestation of Islam as an element in the music didn’t begin until the 1950s. Musicians would be more vocal about their Islam, and incorporated Islamic themes and concepts into their music; as well as blending Eastern and African music with jazz.

The way this was received depended upon several variables. On the one hand, the manner of its presentation was instrumental in its acceptance. Sometimes an indirect approach was taken: for example, Doug Carn’s “God is One”, Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan”, or Yusef Lateef’s “Prayer to the East”. Some were more direct, such as Saunders and Thomas’ “Hum Allah”. Some non-Muslims used Islamic imagery in their work.Alice Coltrane, a convert to Hinduism, recorded several compositions with Islamic references: such as “Oh Allah”, a collaboration with Ornette Coleman. Poet Amiri Baraka (a.k.a. LeRoi Jones) had a record label called Jihad Records.

There were also the Islamic schools of thought, such as the Ahmediyyas, the Sunnis, the various Sufi groups, etc., each of whom had a different approach. The influence of Islam had a good effect upon many musicians, and the community surrounding them. For example, many converts to Islam had, at one time, serious drug and alcohol abuse problems. Their practice of Islam enabled them to stop using them.

In part three of this series, I will examine individual jazz musicians.

(Much of the material in this series is from my as yet unpublished book A Garden of Air and Light: The Relationship Between Music and Islamic Spirituality and Culture (c) 2004. Used by DBDBD NY & MFM by permission of the author).

Related Post

Jazz and Islam – A Retrospective Series (P.1)

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Comment by Bob Goode on March 4, 2019 at 10:37pm
Interesting.
Comment by Bob Goode on March 4, 2019 at 10:36pm
I
Comment by Bob Goode on March 4, 2019 at 10:36pm
InteI
Comment by Bob Goode on March 4, 2019 at 10:35pm
Very interesting. Let's get the book in the Homewood and Hill District

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