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

Obituary: Fannetta Nelson Gordon / Prodigious musician, educator who overcame racial barriers

Obituary: Fannetta Nelson Gordon / Prodigious musician, educator who overcame racial barriers

Nov. 29, 1919 - Aug. 19, 2008

Photo by Nelson E. Harrison

Fannetta Nelson Gordon was a prodigy at the piano and languages, but it was her leadership qualities that propelled her to heights and over racial hurdles.

On one occasion, her mentor, Madame Mary Cardwell Dawson, asked a teenage Mrs. Gordon to accompany venerated contralto Marian Anderson in a local performance.

Mrs. Gordon died in Baltimore on Aug. 19 at the age of 88.

She was born in 1919 in Hayneville, AL., the youngest of Frank Nelson and Sophia Bailey Nelson's five children. When she was 7 the family moved, eventually settling in Brushton. There her considerable talents as a musician blossomed at Westinghouse High School, where she alternated with the older Billy Strayhorn at the piano of the school orchestra. She also traveled with Madame Dawson's National Negro Opera Company, accompanying composer, blues icon W.C. Handy at a Forbes Field event when she was 14, among other performances. "They called Fannetta 'the baby' and they took good care of the baby," said her niece.

But the racial climate in the 1930s was not conducive to a black woman performing classical music. "She wanted to go to Carnegie Tech," said Ms. Wofford. "They would allow her to take music education but not classical piano as a major. And she didn't touch jazz; she was classical all the way."

She instead enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, at which she bucked racial barriers. "She was a fighter," said Ms. Wofford. "She was among the first black women in the student orchestra [as its pianist]." She also sang in the Pitt Women's Chorus.

In the 1940s she was briefly married to the late Kelso E. Gordon, with whom she had one son.

But Mrs. Gordon decided to take her career in another direction, and left to major in French at the University of Pittsburgh.  She clearly also had aptitude for language, for she ended up teaching German at Allderdice High School from the late '50s until 1969. She later got certificates in German, and master's degrees in education (Pitt, 1960) and arts (University of Washington, 1967).

"She was extremely dynamic, on the go constantly," said Ms. Wofford.

In 1969, her leadership skills were recognized when Gov. Raymond P. Shafer appointed her to the Pennsylvania Department of Education as senior adviser for English, reading, oral communications and foreign languages. She moved to Harrisburg, where she held the post until she retired in 1980.

Ms. Wofford said that her aunt's time in the Department of Education was "interesting. When she walked into schools, their mouths would drop. They had not expected a Mrs. Gordon teaching German to be black."

Mrs. Gordon was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Sigma Kappa Phi, the NAACP and Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Homewood.

She is survived by her son, Kelso E. Gordon Jr. of Baltimore; her sister, Dr. Sophia P. Nelson of St. Albans, W.Va.; and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Saturday at Holy Cross Episcopal Church with an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority service at 11 a.m., a wake at 11:30 a.m. and a service at noon.

Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at or 412-263-1750.

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Note:  I have edited this article for historical accuracy as my cousin, Ms. Gloria Wofford reported a few errors in her interview.  Please note the additions or corrections in bold italics.


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