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PITTSBURGH JAZZ

 

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.

 

WELCOME!

 

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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

East Liberty's AVA Lounge is a haven for jazz heads on Monday nights - Pittsburgh City Paper feature article

PITTSBURGH CITY PAPER FEBRUARY 26, 2009 BY STEVE HALLOCK...

Cymbal crashes and electric-piano chords accompany the twirls and kicks of the combatants in the kung-fu film up on the wall behind the bar. Considering the size of the boisterous crowd at East Liberty's AVA Lounge -- 50 or so folks jammed into the slender room -- it ought to be a Friday or Saturday night. But it's a Monday. On what's considered the week's dead night for entertainment in Pittsburgh, AVA offers one of the hottest jazz jams going in this city, incorporating silent film projections and an open stage. The scene begins around 9 p.m., when keyboardist Howie Alexander strolls in, and he and the other members of the house trio set up their instruments -- usually Tony DePaolis on bass, with James Johnson, David Throckmorton or Alex Peck alternating on the house trap set. Other musicians -- young and not-so, novice and old-guard -- trickle in, instrument cases in tow. They'll sip a few drinks and listen to some tunes and await their summons to the tiny staging area from the dreadlocked, bespectacled piano man. But first, we listen, as Alexander and his cohorts roam through standard and lesser-known and sometimes free-form jazz interpretations. Heed carefully, as the attentive crowd does, and you'll hear the melodies of the tunes' titles -- ranging from Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" or a funky "All Blues" to a lilting "Softly as a Morning Sunrise" -- emerge from Alexander's Ahmad Jamal-tinged rain-drop tinkling or full-chord bluesy renderings. Alexander and his chums explore the music as much as they perform it. There is no set list. No charts. The fare is improvisational, musicians listening to and feeding off each other, as jazz ought to be. "We just like to play what we feel," Alexander explains between sets. During the breaks, J. Malls, a.k.a. Jason Molyneaux during daylight hours, spins records at a console, stage-right. This is the real stuff, recordings with slight pops in the grooves, a soft hiss between tunes -- John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley. The audience members chat but mostly listen, nodding their heads like 1950s bebop fans, staring at the musicians and studying the notes as much as hearing them. The serious folks sit up front, where chairs are arranged in rows facing the stage area -- the best place to watch, because jazz is almost as much visual poetry as it is an audio experience. A young woman sits at the bar and sketches pencil portraits of audience members into a small pad; a broad man in blue jeans leans into an easy chair with his laptop computer, sipping now and then from a soft drink. Couples drift in, exchange hugs with friends, order white and red wines or a bottled beer, and find a place among the easy chairs and couches beneath the dangling chandeliers and the high, stamped-tin black ceiling. There's not a quiet moment in this bar; the only differences between it and the city's old-style jazz clubs are the lack of smoke -- cigarettes, cigars and pipes all go outside on the sidewalk -- and the films screened endlessly and noiselessly on the wall. The lineup can range from the memoir/exposé anime Perspolis to The Muppet Movie or Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Once the Alexander trio's second-set jam begins, city regulars, long-familiar Pittsburgh names, mix with younger artists: Kenny Blake blowing his tenor; Roger Barber offering up breathy renderings on his flugelhorn; saxman Tony Campbell bebopping; Pittsburgh native Roby "Supersax" Edwards just in for a visit from the coast; Count Basie trombone alum Dr. Nelson Harrison. They, along with a smattering of young local music students -- this is an equal-opportunity session -- take their turns soloing in front of the band. And then come the rare treats, like the night trumpet phenom Sean Jones, assistant professor of jazz studies at Duquesne University and lead for the Wynton Marsalis Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in New York City, sat in along with Branford Marsalis drummer (and Pittsburgh native) Jeff "Tain" Watts, while longtime Pittsburgh drum man Spider Rondinelli thumped a conga to a whooping crowd. You never know who might stop in for a visit -- musicians who come along simply to listen in and enjoy a night off, a local player with a yen to try a new riff or just keep the chops fresh, or an out-of-towner who's heard this is the place on Mondays. That's the joy of the thing. Interval: Live Jazz & Jam Session with DJ J. Malls 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Monday nights. AVA. 126 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty. 21 and over. Free. 412-363-8277 or www.shadowlounge.net -- E-mail us about this story

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Comment by Mick Karolac on March 30, 2009 at 3:13am
As soon as this semester is done at the end of April, I am there!!!

Sounds great.
Comment by Francis Bruce Marion, DC on March 28, 2009 at 2:11am
Howie Alexander is definitely an opening to the 10th dimension! I've got a little more of him at youtube.com/DrFBM and soon we'll put more of his AVA creations up soon!! Sincerely Dr Bruce
Comment by LaFaye on March 7, 2009 at 10:45pm
Too bad for me that Florida and PA are not closer. I would be there. I do however love hearing about it down here in South Florida.
Comment by Karen on March 4, 2009 at 2:47pm
I will definitely check out the Monday night jazz sessions. I do hang out at AVA every once in a while, and am looking forward to going there for the jazz.
Comment by selena brookins on March 4, 2009 at 2:41pm
you r sooooo right. sounds good to me. so on a monday i don't have to work graveyard I'll WILL be there.
Comment by Michael Young on March 4, 2009 at 1:57pm
It is Pittsburghs best kept secret. Or I should say it was! I really enjoy my Monday nights at AVA. Great music and great people plus it ends early enough to make it to work Tuesday morning. I highly recommend it!
Comment by timm coxx on March 4, 2009 at 7:57am
Ahh yea, i caint wait to visit this spot. Hopefully, it'll last for a few years or more. Keeping The Burgh's Jazz Tradition Alive is so important. When I recently sat-in with famed Atlanta pianist John Robertson Trio at Dante's Down The Hatch in Buckhead-Atlanta, Mr. Robertson said I evoked a "Pittsburgh Attitude," as he accompanied me on my vocal rendition of "Moody's Mood For Love" (In The Mood For Love) ala the great Eddie Jefferson. By the way, I hear that Eugene "Woody" Smith is part of a smokin jazz-soul quintete that has taken Beaver County by storm. Sounds Unlimited features Woody on bass; Kenny Thompson, drums; Keith Haskins on alto and tenor sax. The group is headed by bandleader-keyboardist, Ronnie Cox. They also have percussion and are fronted by a hot new lady singer. Catch 'em at spots in Center Twp., Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, Sewickley and Chippewa Twp. Keep Jazz Alive in The (Bea11ver)lley Too. Speaking of Beaver County, I hear drummer Marz Scarazzo has opened a new drum-guitar shop. Marz is a BC legend, along with Midland's Gill Clark. Mr. Clark continues to keep new drummers emotionally-charged, as he provides new generations of drummers as he teaches with hith his Music and Art 4U drum and art lessons program.
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on March 4, 2009 at 5:16am
It is. Hope you can stop by sometime.
Comment by Eugene Woody Smith on March 4, 2009 at 5:13am
Sounds like heaven!!

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