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

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Baker didn’t come from a musical family, but he was certainly a product of his environment.

Award-winning composer, educator and writer David Baker is being remembered for his dedication to jazz music. Baker died today at the age of 84.

Baker didn’t come from a musical family, but he was certainly a product of his environment.

“People tend to excel in the areas that are open to them so at that time a black was expected to play religious music, rock n roll or jazz,” Baker told WFIU in an interview.

Born Dec. 21, 1931, Baker grew up in Indianapolis when it was heavily segregated. He and his friends went to the all-black Crispus Attucks High School. It was a close-knit community not just inside the school, but in the neighborhoods where black families were concentrated at the time.

“So Indiana Avenue kind of became a focal point for cultural activity, particularly activity of the sort of jazz and I suppose art and poetry much like we were having in Harlem with the Harlem renaissance,” Baker said.

Dozens of businesses, clubs and entertainment venues dotted the area.

“They were in high school but they couldn’t get into the clubs,” says Baker biographer Monika Herzig. “They wanted to listen and jam. Their teachers were there. They often tell the story that the teacher was playing pool, and if you had a question you just walked in and said ‘Hey, how does this fingering go?’”

Baker had dreams of becoming a trombone player in the orchestra. He attended Indiana University, earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees in music education.

“I thought that playing the trombone. That came easy for me, and I had won the New York New Star poll in 1962, I believe,” Baker said. “And I thought, man, I’m on my way, but a higher power said ‘Not that way,’ though.”

Baker was playing with the George Russell sextet in the late 1950s when a jaw injury forced him to abandon the trombone.

He tried switching to the piano “and practiced 8 hours a day only to discover that it was an unforgiving instrument, and it wanted nothing to do with me,” Baker said.

From there, he went to the bass.

“I played bass for about a year or two years, and my bass teacher said ‘David, that instrument is not going to challenge you enough,’ so he went out to a pawn shop and bought a $15 cello and put it together and gave me the cello,” Baker said. “And to the day he died, I would joke with him, ‘Mr. Brown, how could you do that to me? You said I was one of your favorite students and you would start me at cello at 34 years old.’”

Baker liked to laugh and tell that story, but ultimately he said everything that happened was God’s way of putting him on the path he needed to be on.

Not long after switching to the cello, Baker got a call from the Dean of Indiana University’s School of Music inviting him to come back to his alma mater and start a jazz studies program.

Check out this restored 1976 footage of Baker:

“He told stories how oftentimes he was in meetings and people just shut the door and said ‘We don’t want this jazz in here,’” Herzig says.

Baker would have to prove himself and prove that jazz could be taught in an academic setting.

“It was kind of looked down upon,” Herzig says. “Meaning can you teach that, how do you evaluate that, do they learn as much as in other academic settings? So he sort of had to prove to the classical-oriented academia that this is possible, and also he was the only black faculty at that time, so that was a big challenge.”

Baker succeeded by making jazz a systematic study that could be tested.

“Before that, it was very much an oral tradition,” she says. “You know it was more the mentorship type — ‘I’ll show you how it goes, and you copy it off one-on-one’ — but this made it possible for it to be taught anywhere all over the world.”

Baker has more than 70 books and 400 articles to his credit.

See Baker perform in this video from 1998:

His environment at Indiana University gave him the opportunity to learn not only from his students but his colleagues, who in many cases were the best in the world on their particular instruments.

Baker’s first commission came from famed violinist Josef Gingold. Soon, Janos Starker followed, and then Jim Campbell, Harvey Phillips and the Beaux Arts Trio.

Baker’s career was marked by the seamlessness with which he blended jazz and classical elements and by his prolific rate of composition — more than 2,000 works, commissioned by more than 500 individuals and ensembles ranging from the New York Philharmonic to the African-American a cappella group, the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Baker was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 and a few years later in 1979 for a Grammy.

His other include honors include a place in the National Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame, a John F. Kennedy Center For the Performing Arts Living Legend Award. He was named an American Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, and he was the musical and artistic director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

This past February the City of Bloomington — Baker’s hometown for more than 50 years — presented him with its Living Legend Award.

And Baker’s legacy will live on worldwide, not just through generations of prominent working musicians ranging from drummers Peter Erskine and Jeff Hamilton to horn players Mike and Randy Brecker and Chris Botti, but in all of those who continue to use his materials to learn how to teach jazz.

Baker is survived by his wife Lida, a flutist with whom he recorded many times, his daughter, April Ayers, and granddaughter, Kirsten Bartalone.

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Replies to This Discussion

David was a close friend and brother who opened the doors for me internationally by citing me in a couple of his books and recommending me to Count Basie.  An irreplaceable artist and human being his influence, artistic impact, pioneering educational paradigms and contributions to American jazz music as a National Treasure will inspire and enrich many generations to come. Thank you David. Now rest in Glory and Peace.

Nelson Harrison

Thanks, Nelson.  David was my first “jazz” teacher.  Was with him and Lida last year.  He will be missed.


Carl J. Atkins


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