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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.

 

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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

Ernest McCarty recounts his glory days as bass player for Erroll Garner - Post Gazette

August 1, 2012 12:00 am

Erroll Garner, the famous pianist from Homewood, couldn't read music. Luckily for him -- and jazz fans -- Ernest McCarty can.

Mr. McCarty, 71, of Lawrenceville was playing stand-up bass in a New York City supper club when he saw Garner in the audience -- for the third night in a row.

"He called me over to the table and said, 'Can you travel? Do you have a passport?' There was no audition. That was how he was -- you either knew it or you didn't," Mr. McCarty says.

His first six-week tour in 1970 included two weeks in South America and four weeks in Europe. Mr. McCarty, who says he was paid $750 a week, had to find his way quickly.

"Erroll never said what he was going to play or what key, just started playing the intro. He was unpredictable and I liked that.

"He gave me a tremendous amount of freedom and a tremendous amount of respect. I learned to trust myself musically."

PG VIDEO

These days, Mr. McCarty plays with the Boilermaker Jazz Band. After bandleader Paul Cosentino, he is the longest-tenured musician in the 24-year-old group. Mr. McCarty moved to Pittsburgh from New York in 1993 because his wife, Patricia, wanted to retire here.

"I didn't come here to play. I came to retire."

Not knowing anyone, he spent the first eight months painting, which he has loved as long as he has music. Then Mr. Cosentino, who founded the Boilermakers while a student at Carnegie Mellon University, found him.

"He was quitting his job to play clarinet. I figured he's trying to get somewhere, and I'll stick around for a while," he says. "I call it my day job."

Mr. McCarty says performing keeps him in shape. During a break in an interview, he played the bassline from "Misty," Garner's signature song. He said the song, composed in the pianist's head, changed every time they played it.

His eyes closed, he leans into the instrument, embracing it. His long fingers dance up and down the strings. He bobs and sways, twisting at the hips, rarely opening his eyes and never smiling.

"I'm not a smiler -- nobody smiles when you play jazz," he says later, recalling how Pittsburghers used to ask him, "Why don't you smile like Nelson [Harrison]?"

"Nobody asks me anymore. It's about what's coming out of my instrument," he says.

Ernest McCarty Jr. was born on March 26, 1941, in Chicago's Cook County Hospital. His mother was part Native American and his father's surname revealed a Scottish ancestor going back several generations. His father insisted he use the "Jr."

"He said if you don't use it, you don't exist."

He played piano first, then violin, but dropped violin "because Mom couldn't afford more than one lesson a week."

At DuSable High School, longtime music instructor Captain Walter Dyett needed a bass player and chose Mr. McCarty, even though he had never played it before.

"It's the best thing anybody ever did to me. The bass has taken me everywhere.

"It's not a solo instrument. It's a supporting instrument. It kept my ego in check."

Then he adds: "I've had a love-hate relationship with this instrument my entire life."

Though DuSable's alumni includes jazz notables Gene Ammons, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Donegan and Eddie Harris, Mr. McCarty was a classical musician, one of only two African Americans who earned spots in the All Chicago Youth Orchestra and the only one to join the Civic Orchestra, a training ground for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At age 17, he was scheduled to audition for the symphony orchestra.

"I said, 'Are you ready for me? What music?'

"He said, 'We can't let you audition 'cause you'll pass.' Then he started crying.

"I didn't understand. He said, 'You picked the wrong parents.' "

He quit playing classical music and turned to jazz, which he says is much more colorblind. Not that playing jazz made him any more welcome in mostly white venues.

"I couldn't stay in downtown hotels. That hurt me a lot," he says.

At Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago, he majored in composition and minored in string bass, taking his first formal lessons. His first big break came at age 21, when he joined Oscar Brown Jr.'s band in 1962. "That is when I got into show business. Before that I was just a musician."

He became the musical director when he discovered that the former director was purposely inserting mistakes into the scores so the other musicians would have trouble, making himself indispensable. During tours of Europe and Asia in the mid-'60s and '70s, he would send postcards back to his father -- unsigned.

"Dad always said: 'If you're doing music, you're going to starve to death.' I've been trying to prove him wrong ever since."

The unsigned cards were his own personal protest over his father's insistence that he use "Jr." "Since I didn't exist, that couldn't be me in the Balkans, in Hong Kong."

Before Ernest McCarty Sr. died in 1974, his son made his peace with him. But he still regrets never inviting his father to see him perform in Chicago.

In New York, Mr. McCarty co-wrote the musical "Dinah! Queen of the Blues" with Sasha Dalton and has written or co-written more than 25 produced plays and musicals. He was artistic director for New Horizons Theater for 15 years.

At this point in his life, the musician is content to do only what he wants to do.

"I have nothing to prove. ... If you only have one thing to do in life, you do it."

He wants his great-grandchildren to "know that something was going on." And he will play the upright bass as long as he is able.

"Bass has always been the thing that saved me."

Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.

First Published 2012-08-01 00:01:34

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Comment by godfrey e mills on August 2, 2012 at 1:45pm

 It is good to know the past. It matters and it gives pleasure to those who were part of it. People matter. Godfrey Mills    I

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