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

Apprentices Still Find Their Masters - New York Times

The New York Times

July 20, 2012


 THIRTY years ago a serious-minded trumpeter named Wynton Marsalis released his self-titled debut album, which seemed remarkable for a number of reasons — not least his poise, as he had yet to turn 21. If the album was received less as an impressive jolt than as the fulfillment of a promise, there was ample reason for that: Mr. Marsalis had already skyrocketed to fame with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, widely regarded as jazz’s premier finishing school. What’s more, the rhythm section on “Wynton Marsalis” (Columbia) consisted of the pianist Herbie Hancock, the bassist Ron Carter and the drummer Tony Williams, who had served in a similar capacity with Miles Davis, back when they were young men of unnerving composure themselves.

All of which added a rich layer of subtext to Mr. Marsalis’s spectacular early career, underscoring jazz’s natural cycle of mentorship and apprenticeship. That guildlike process, by which young musicians absorb invaluable lessons from their elders, was then famously being upheld by bandleaders like Blakey, a volcano of a drummer, and Betty Carter, a spitfire of a singer. Informal but rigorous, and pragmatic to the core, experience with veterans like these was seen as an essential path to success.

That trajectory might seem a little less certain now. Beginning in the 1990s, a decade that saw the deaths of Blakey, Davis and Carter, jazz’s apprenticeship system has routinely been described as woefully diminished. That’s surely the case in market terms, given that so few jazz musicians can keep a working band on payroll in today’s climate. But it’s not as if there are fewer apprentices availing themselves of counsel.

“It’s definitely helped shape me, musically and as a person,” Godwin Louis, a 26-year-old alto saxophonist living in Harlem, said of the mentorship he has received during his fledgling solo career. “But I’d add that it is indeed a different dynamic now than the way things were. All my connections have been through school.”

Mr. Louis — a recent graduate of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance and the Berklee College of Music before that — isn’t wrong, and he isn’t alone. These days Mr. Marsalis administers tutelage through the educational arm of Jazz at Lincoln Center, while countless others serve as mentors in conservatories, from the Manhattan School of Music to the California Institute of the Arts. Like so much else involving jazz’s training arc, the apprenticeship model has been formalized and made accessible for a fee.

It’s easy to find fault with that shift, as many have over the years. But the current situation isn’t quite so clear-cut. Apprenticeship lurks outside the academy, for those resourceful enough to find it. Many prominent jazz artists still make a point of featuring younger talent in their bands, and many of the best up-and-comers seek out their elders as a matter of course. At the same time jazz is better fostered in institutions than it was in the era when Mr. Marsalis dropped out of Juilliard. The result is a hybrid reality that has recently produced a wave of sophisticated young improvisers with well-formed ideas about composition, band cohesion and their relationship to an aesthetic continuum.

This new bumper crop — musicians like Gerald Clayton, Aaron Diehl, David Virelles, Kris Bowers, Fabian Almazan, John Escreet, Jonathan Batiste and Christian Sands, and that’s just pianists under 30 — has availed itself of mentors both in and out of the academy. And that blend of opportunities doesn’t indicate a drought; it suggests that the tradition of jazz apprenticeship is thriving again, albeit in different forms.

Why are jazz apprenticeships so vital in the first place? For one thing the music essentially models a community, with every ensemble thriving on communication, a code of ethics and an implicit grasp of roles. Jazz is also still a young music, with about a century of precedent, imperfectly captured on record and poorly served by written notation. Its lifeblood is the direct transmission of a vast, intangible body of knowledge. Consult an alumnus of Blakey’s ad-hoc academy, and you’ll likely hear descriptions of gruff but avuncular insight: wisdom from the trenches, so to speak.

It’s worth noting that mentorship happens at various stages, often in high school or earlier. (Mr. Marsalis, the product of a musical family in New Orleans, obviously had a leg up in that regard.) Last week on his blog Ethan Iverson published a long-form interview on this subject with his former piano guru, Fred Hersch. Delving into his own history of apprenticeship, Mr. Hersch reflects on his formative experience with the likes of the bassist Sam Jones. But long before that, there was Jimmy McGary, a saxophonist little known outside the scene in Cincinnati. “Jimmy was the best teacher by being almost a nonteacher,” Mr. Hersch recalls in the interview, a must-read for anyone curious about the myriad forms jazz mentorship can take.

Institutions like the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music now take pains to engineer a few of those forms, an effort that hasn’t gone unnoticed by high school players deciding where to apply or which scholarship to accept. In principle this isn’t new: Mr. Hersch attended the New England Conservatory of Music for the express purpose of studying with the pianist Jaki Byard, which is the same enticement that led Jason Moran, almost 20 years later, to the Manhattan School of Music.

But in practice the institutional student-apprentice ideal means that more college-level players are being coached under a simulacrum of real-world conditions. And more professors are bringing their charges into the real world, hiring them for recordings or tours. The unclassifiable composer and multireedist Anthony Braxton has made this his custom at Wesleyan University, which is a beacon of experimental music largely because of his longtime tenure there. (His protégés have included the saxophonist Steve Lehman and the guitarist Mary Halvorson, among dozens of others.)

For his part Mr. Louis, the young alto saxophonist, swears by the guidance of Ralph Peterson, a drummer with whom he studied at Berklee. He has worked as a sideman with Mr. Peterson then and since, in the band Generation Next. In his own band Mr. Louis features a couple of peers from his class at the Monk Institute, which until last year was overseen by the trumpeter Terence Blanchard, a former Jazz Messenger and a major steward of young talent himself. The institute has built its entire program around mentorship, with input from a board that includes Mr. Hancock and the saxophonist Wayne Shorter. And it has groomed some of the music’s sharpest newer talent, like the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

But it’s no coincidence that Mr. Akinmusire has also served a tour of duty with the visionary alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman, an important mentor to more than one generation of adventurous improvisers. Mr. Coleman has long cultivated young musicians as sidemen, notably in his working band, Five Elements. In recent years he has also led a series of Monday-night workshops at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan.

Mr. Coleman’s influence on the current jazz landscape also extends through many of his former collaborators, who are now mentors too. The trumpeter Ralph Alessi presides over the School for Improvisational Music in Brooklyn, which upholds a collectivist model of instruction. Along similar lines, the pianist Vijay Iyer recently became director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Canada.

“There’s a lot about music, especially improvisational music, that you learn in the course of performance and nowhere else,” Mr. Iyer said recently, reflecting on his own experience with Mr. Coleman and some older lions of the avant-garde, like Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith.

It’s likely that even Mr. Marsalis, with his staunchly different set of aesthetic values, would agree with that assessment. Jazz’s apprenticeship system, after all, flows freely across the fault lines of ideology. It can take root in a classroom as well as a club. And judging by the track records of certain former prodigies, it has a way of perpetuating itself.

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