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

Pittsburgh's vibrant jazz scene in words, notes and pictures


Pittsburgh's vibrant jazz scene in words, notes and pictures

Jazz fans know that Pittsburgh’s well of musical and vocal talent runs deeper and stronger than the mighty Ohio River.

Now everyone can read about gifted veterans and emerging performers who make this town swing in a new book, “Spirit to Spirit: A Portrait of Pittsburgh Jazz in the New Century.”

With appropriately rhythmic prose from author Abby Mendelson and stunning photographs by David Aschkenas, the elegant volume designed by David Wachter is a hymn to jazz and an homage to the cool cats and chanteuses whose memorable performances stir our souls.

The book was six years in the making, and — remarkably — each member of this high-flying trio gave his time and talents for free. MCG Jazz, a venue for recording, preserving and showcasing jazz, paid for the book’s publication.

By Abby Mendelson
MCG Jazz ($39.95).

Mr. Mendelson’s prose puts you in the rooms where the soloists soar and the band plays the notes hard and right. Here is how he describes trumpeter Ron Horton:

“Modest and moderate, calm and clear, firm against all comers, there stands Horton like a stone wall. In this maelstrom of music, in the rattle and hum of Roger Humphries’ rolling thunder drums, Max Leake’s impossible arpeggios on keyboard, Dwayne Dolphin’s thundering bass, Lou Stellute’s wall-shaking sax, Horton is the rajah of restraint.”     

From Agnes Katz Plaza to the Backstage Bar in Downtown’s Cabaret at Theater Square, from City of Asylum’s Alphabet City to Andys in The Fairmont, Mr. Mendelson and Mr. Aschkenas visit the venues, soaking up the sound and the stories. 

The book’s pictures show why jazz is so integral to Pittsburgh’s past, present and future. Music lovers as well as aspiring musicians, singers and teachers may come to consider it a kind of grail.

Why did Pittsburgh produce so many jazz legends? 

“My high school music teacher told me that jazz is indigenous to African American people,” Dolphin says in the book. “To tell that to a 15-year-old kid is completely empowering.”  

In the first half of 20th century, students took free music lessons at the Hill District’s Irene Kaufmann Settlement. Many families owned pianos, and public high schools such as Westinghouse, Schenley and Peabody emphasized music education. Back then, at least 30 night spots dotted the Hill District, notably the Hurricane, the Harlem Casino and the Crawford Grill Nos. 1 and 2.

Pittsburgh virtuosos who set a high bar for excellence include Ray Brown, Errol Garner, Mary Lou Williams and George Benson. A guitarist who started playing in clubs at age 7, Benson is still alive. The rest are gone but can be heard on recordings or seen on the internet. 

Today’s local jazz incubators include Homewood’s Afro American Music Institute, Pittsburgh’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, university music programs, the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, and that harder than hard knocks school called the road.   

In the book, trumpeter Sean Jones offers this argument for Pittsburgh’s place in jazz history: “Pittsburgh, as the center of the Industrial Revolution, produced an enormous working class. And with it a great work ethic. That was the anvil. You worked. You worked hard. You won.” 

For African Americans, “jazz served the twin goals of self-expression and a better life,” Mr. Mendelson writes.  

Some readers will wonder about artists who are missing from the book, including vocalist Maureen Budway and Geri Allen, an arranger, musician and educator who influenced many young people. Both women died before interviews could be scheduled, Budway in 2015 and Allen in 2017. The same is true for keyboard player Donna Davis, who is pictured in the center of the book. She died in 2015.

The book will be released Thursday night at MCG Jazz when five musicians are inducted into the Pittsburgh Jazz Legends class of 2019. The inductees are percussionist George Jones, pianist Max Leake, drummer Chuck Spatafore, saxophonist Lou Stellute and guitarist Mark Strickland. 

The doors at MCG Jazz, 1815 Metropolitan St., North Side, open at 6:30 p.m., followed by an induction ceremony at 7 p.m. From 7:30 to 8:30 p.m, the Ralph Peterson Messenger Legacy Band plays a tribute to Art Blakey. The drummer and bandleader of the Jazz Messengers was born in Pittsburgh a century ago on Oct. 11, 1919. A reception follows the concert.

For more information, visit

Marylynne Pitz:, 412-263-1648 or on Twitter:@mpitzpg. 

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