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


New York Times


PITTSBURGH — The bank has sued to foreclose. The city’s philanthropic groups, with names like Mellon and Heinz, have withdrawn support. The $42 million August Wilson Center for African American Culture, a bow-front building inspired by a Swahili sailing ship, is high and dry.       

Named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who found a street-savvy poetry in the lives of poor Pittsburgh blacks, the culture center’s plight has been especially painful for those who had hoped it would enshrine the music, art and literature of the urban world he knew.       

Instead, it appears to be a victim of mismanagement by its senior staff and board of directors, who borrowed to build a grand palace of culture, but failed to find a wide enough audience and donor base in the hometown of Wilson, whose plays are mostly set in the Hill District just blocks away.       

“It’s extremely sad,” said R. Daniel Lavelle, a city councilman who represents the Hill District, a largely poor neighborhood. “I know what August Wilson’s name means in terms of history, and I know the impact a national African-American theater can mean to both Pittsburgh and the country.”       

On Monday, a state judge handed control of the cultural center to a conservator, usurping its board in a final effort to avoid liquidation. The bank that holds the mortgage, which has gone unpaid for months, is advancing $25,000 to pay the conservator. The culture center is flat broke.       

Mark Clayton Southers, a former director of its theater program, said the Wilson center struggled to find an audience among the people Wilson portrayed: working-class blacks, many of whom feel unwelcome downtown with its skyscrapers and largely white-owned businesses, he added.       

“You can’t build it and they will come,” Mr. Southers said. “Not when you’re trying to work with a community that is not traditional theatergoers or cultural consumers.”       

Mr. Southers said the center’s board sometimes displayed an indifference to August Wilson. It was rare, he said, to see board members at the performances of the Wilson plays he staged. Money was so tight that when he put on Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” in 2012, in a joint production with his own independent company, the center charged him rent for its 486-seat theater. He could not get management to print tickets.       

Wilson, who died in 2005, turned the lives of trash haulers, landladies and cabdrivers scarred by racism into a cycle of 10 plays, one for each decade of the 20th century. Almost all are set in the Hill District where Wilson grew up, the son of a black cleaning woman and a white father who largely abandoned him. Most of the plays ran on Broadway, including “The Piano Lesson” and “Fences,” which starred James Earl Jones.       

Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle of plays “have been hailed as a unique triumph in American literature,” according to a state historical marker outside his childhood home on Bedford Avenue. The building is boarded up and decrepit. “It’s an eyesore,” acknowledged Paul Ellis, a nephew of Wilson’s, who bought the three-story brick building and seeks to turn it into an arts center.       

Mr. Ellis, a 44-year-old lawyer, recalled how throngs crowded Centre Avenue in the Hill District for his uncle’s funeral. “People shouted, ‘We love you August!’ ”       

At a new library on the avenue, a wall-size map of “August Wilson’s Hill” identifies the imagined locations of his plays. A lone reader flipping through a newspaper, Dale Hall, admitted he had never seen one. Looking through a window at a block of mostly boarded-up storefronts, Mr. Hall, 49, ticked off businesses that had closed — Eddie’s restaurant, Hamm’s barber shop. Idle men sat on steps. “The people up here don’t want to work,” scoffed Mr. Hall, a disabled former steelworker.       

But there are also clear signs of renewal, including well-kept mixed-rent housing developments and a new supermarket that opened last month with public subsidies after a 30-year effort.       

Mr. Lavelle, the city councilman, said the Hill District tumbled into poverty and crime with the demolition of many blocks in the 1950s to make way for a civic arena. It wiped out a grid of stores and jazz clubs that the poet Claude McKay once called “the crossroads of the world.”       

“When you tore down the Lower Hill District, you took away the entrepreneurial spirit,” Mr. Lavelle said. “The extreme poverty was a result of that.”       

That was the world that Wilson, who was born in 1945, grew up in.       

Sala Udin, a boyhood friend who became a City Council member, was among a group that spent a dozen years raising money for an African-American culture center, naming it for Wilson after his death.       

“It is very important that we keep up the legacy that the country and the world expects of August Wilson’s hometown,” he said.       

After raising $36 million from government and private sources, the center took on a fateful $11 million bank loan to complete construction of its sleek blocklong building. Last week its doors were open, but a lone receptionist was the only sign of activity. The United States Steel Foundation Grand Staircase was untrod. The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation Gallery was stripped to its white walls.       

Neither the founders nor a new board of directors that took over in 2010 could come up with a business plan to fund ambitious programs in dance, theater, jazz and art while making the $53,600 monthly loan payments.       

A chief executive with experience at Lincoln Center, Andre Kimo Stone Guess, battled his senior staff, Mr. Udin said, eventually eliminating the jobs of three top deputies. The director of finance quit keeping accounts. Foundations “were at their wits’ end, they had not received an audit,” and they turned off the money spigots, Mr. Udin said.       

Mr. Guess said he chose to leave in 2012 for family reasons. Mr. Southers, the theater programmer, said in Mr. Guess’s defense, “The debt was crippling; people expected it to just go away.”       

Dollar Bank, which held the loan, sued to foreclose in September after not being paid for eight months.       

Supporters of the center hope the appointment of a conservator to make decisions in place of the board will restore the confidence of local foundations. But the conservator, Judith K. Fitzgerald, a former federal bankruptcy judge, will have limited time before the bank renews its push to liquidate.       

To keep the lights on, the center rents its theater on Sunday mornings to a largely white megachurch, whose sign is the only one in the large windows.       

“An African-American culture center is now a white church,” Mr. Udin said. “August would find that very comical.”       

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Replies to This Discussion

First why was it built in downtown instead of on the Hill?38 million would have been greatly used in the neighborhood which could have provided jobs.The center was built to fail,it really was not built for Black people but for people with money,they knew it would fail and downtown movers could take it over for chump change.When will we stop being suckers?


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