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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
Sale of WDUQ raises concerns that the format could change
Sunday, March 06, 2011

What would Pittsburgh sound like without jazz on the radio?

"It shoots a hole in the soul of Pittsburgh," said local jazz musician Nelson Harrison. "You knock WDUQ off and we have nothing."

Pittsburgh has given the world more than its fair share of jazz talent over the years -- Art Blakey, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Strayhorn, Ahmad Jamal and too many others to name. For a city of its size, it has maintained a solid local jazz scene over the years, along with a jazz station -- something many places don't have.

Now the pending sale of Duquesne University station WDUQ-FM raises the question of how much jazz will be part of the new format, or whether it will be part of it at all.

Two Facebook pages have launched in the past weeks -- Save Our WDUQ and Keep Jazz on Pittsburgh Radio -- as lobbying efforts to keep jazz intensify across the region.

While myriad options exist today to hear jazz over the airwaves -- on Sirius-XM Satellite radio or streamed over the Internet -- only local jazz programming can support and promote musicians, live jazz and nonprofit jazz organizations across the city, supporters say.

"Jazz is a part of Pittsburgh's heritage," said Shirley Tucker of Oakland, a WDUQ sustaining member who said she won't continue her support if the current mix of news and jazz doesn't continue.

"Along with New Orleans and Chicago, it's the birthplace of jazz," she said, adding that she values having local hosts "who know what they're talking about and have insight into what they're playing."

Duquesne University board of directors in January announced that they had agreed to sell the license to Essential Public Media, a joint venture of WYEP-FM (91.3) and Colorado-based Public Radio Co., a nonprofit formed by Public Radio Capital.

The prospective buyers are poised to preserve the 90.5 frequency as a public radio station and have expressed a strong commitment to sustaining news and information in the tradition of WDUQ's current National Public Radio and local news coverage. But they have yet to give specifics on jazz programming.

"We plan to continue jazz" on the new station, WYEP board president Marco Cardamone said last week. The buyers are raising funds to put together the $6 million sale price, along with other required processes related to the sale. This phase of the deal is expected to be completed by mid-April.

Once the prospective owners send to the Federal Communications Commission their application to purchase the license, the FCC will set a 30-day period to accept comments from the public before ruling on the license transfer.

Keeping jazz on the new station could mean many things. It could be a weekend jazz show instead of the current daily schedule. It could mean turning to alternatives to mainstream broadcasting -- like online streams or HD radio.

But many local jazz fans fear the current amount of local jazz programming won't be preserved.

Audiences for news and jazz on WDUQ are evenly divided, leaning a little heavier toward the news programming, according to station ratings.

During the latest pledge drive last month, about 40 percent of the pledges came in during weekday news programming, while weekday jazz programming netted 20 percent, said Duquesne University assistant vice president for public affairs Bridget Fare. That pattern is consistent with past pledge drives.

The money pledged for jazz programming helps to fund expensive syndicated public radio news and information programming like "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." The station spends about 70 percent of its programming budget on news and around 20 percent on jazz.

WDUQ also produces the syndicated JazzWorks programming, which features WDUQ jazz hosts and is carried on around 60 stations.

Nationally, jazz on public radio is losing ground to news formats, according to a December 2010 NPR survey of 500 public stations.

In 2006, public stations that carried jazz programming devoted an average of 13 percent of their weekly hours to it. In 2010, that had shrunk to 11 percent of weekly hours. Classical music on public stations across the country also saw a decline: 27 percent of weekly hours in 2006, down to 24 percent in 2010. News and information programming showed a 2 percent increase in the same four-year period.

Supporters say a local radio jazz presence has a direct impact on the viability of the city's live jazz scene, which has steadily eroded over the past decades.

Mr. Harrison, who also is a composer, teacher and clinical psychologist, remembers when there were scores of crowded clubs to play in, and radio hosts, including late jazz pianist Walt Harper on the former WHOD. Mr. Harper gave listeners rich background on what they were playing -- band personnel, history and context.

"It was on the airwaves. It was in the air. It was coming out of every door," Mr. Harrison said. "Now we've boiled it down to one radio station. If you take that away, you have nothing."

Except for a handful of clubs such as C.J.'s in the Strip and Ava Lounge in East Liberty, and presenting organizations such as the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, there's little live jazz left, he said.

The local jazz scene experienced a major blow in February 2003 when Mellon Financial Corp. withdrew its support for the Mellon Jazz Festival, an annual event in June that began as the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival in 1964.

WDUQ evening jazz host Tony Mowod has been hosting jazz shows on the local airwaves for more than two decades -- most of them at WDUQ. He founded the Pittsburgh Jazz Society in 1987, which is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of jazz through education, performance and community outreach.

"There has to be some place here in Pittsburgh where jazz can be heard," Mr. Mowod said. "Once jazz [on the radio] is removed from a city, it will never come back."

Many listeners are frustrated by the lack of information about the future plans for the station and question why Duquesne University went with a lower bid than the one offered by a group of station employees and supporters who wanted to keep the current format intact.

"Listeners are always told during the pledge drive that it's our station," said Mary Barr of Highland Park. "Then all of a sudden it's not ours at all."

She and S.J. Antonucci of the South Side started the Save Our WDUQ Facebook page, which has more than 340 followers.

"My hope is that the new owners hear what we are saying and consider what stands to be lost. WDUQ has won the loyalty of its listeners because of the jazz and the employees -- they're the heart of the station."

Adrian McCoy: amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

First published on March 6, 2011 at 12:00 am

Views: 385

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Comment by Kevin Amos on March 12, 2011 at 9:09pm

Oh...I would also like to add that  WXXP was NOT the first alternatative rock station in town. It was formatted on commercial radio after WYEP went into the AAA format. 

For years WYEP turned on audiences in the late 70's and early 80's to Punk, New Wave, Rap, Reggae and other musics that the commercial stations in Pittsburgh hated the new music so much they created promos denouncing the rising creative genres. Why do I know this? Because I was one of the Program Directors along with Jay Farrell. We brought all of this music into the "mainstream" by our intial programming turning on a larger demographic and promoting local artists as well. 

Even then with this groundbreaking music we still had a steddy diet of Jazz and Blues on the air. Some of the alternative artists I personally interviewed were The Clash, Wendy O Williams and Devo.

We promoted shows at Heaven for artists like Jim Carroll as well as shows at the Electric Bannana that included artists like Richard Hell, Jah Wobble and the Waitresses. 

One thing stands out in particular that WAMO used to play when I was in my early teens. If you really go back the original alternative commercial stations were WAMO-FM and WYDD. On theses stations I first heard Jimi Hendrix and Funkadelic. WYDD later morphed into....the Smooth Jazz station.

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on March 12, 2011 at 7:13pm

Now this is a very worthwhile and informative discussion. I have learned so much from the few comments so far.  So many changes pass under the radar screens of our awareness that most people just acquiesce and think their opinion is not important.

Comment by Kevin Amos on March 12, 2011 at 3:46pm

Please excuse my spelling and punctuation. I am typing fast trying to put out some facts. I do want to add that I have been a station manager, program director at WYEP. A music director on commercial and non-commercial (public) radio. A coordinator of Jazz events for the City of Pittsburgh and a freelance writer for the Pittsburgh Courier as well as a panelist at various fourms.

I would not even try to discredit anyone but I do state the facts and the history of Jazz on the radio and the politics of culture. I am also a board member of the AAJPP that has documented the Black musicians union. 

Comment by Kevin Amos on March 12, 2011 at 3:33pm

Mary and others...a part of the press release from Essential Public Media says this...

 **

Marco Cardamone, chair of the WYEP Board, said "Through WDUQ, Essential Public Media has an amazing opportunity to transform local journalism, offer reliable news and information, spark civic conversation and shed light on important issues. In partnership with PMC, we have access to relationships and public media organizations that will allow us to draw upon the best resources and practices in the public media space."

"Essential Public Media is planning to develop and sustain a vibrant media service that brings NPR, global and national news to the region, building on today’s media technologies and a deeper emphasis on local journalism," said Susan Harmon, Public Radio Capital’s managing director and PMC director. "The University deserves credit for choosing to make this transaction one that will continue to benefit the University community as well as the regional community. We are confident that this deeply valued asset will gain in significance and service going forward."

"While local journalism, reflecting the diversity of voices and issues in our community, is a high priority for EPM, we look forward to working with the community of jazz lovers in Pittsburgh as well," said Lee Ferraro, general manager of WYEP.

**

This section actually says nothing about saving anything. They said nothing about new call leters or actual Jazz programming. Back in the 70's and 80's WYEP  reached out to local, national, and international musicians in many ways. That was abandoned to attract  a listenership based on social-economic criteria. If some of you remember, WYEP was caught up into the "pay for play" scandal that exposed many of the AAA formated stations across the country. At a Jazz Times convention several years ago that I attended, I sat in a meeting of NPR-based stations and other stations that adopted to "streamline" their programming  and playlist to attract those of a certain social-economic strata. I was totally against that then and now. Now some may think to cater to a certain group is ok but it is reactionally and racist.  Because many Jazz artists don't have distribution deals they are not able to reach out to Jazz fans. I am able to play artists like Oliver Lake, Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and many others. It has not been until recently if you really listen that certain Black artists have been added to the WDUQ playlist. It's no mistake but happened to the total disregard of the artists prior to this in past years. On the Smooth Jazz station where I worked at with Bob, Herschel, Dave Fabelli,  Sara Lockhartand Bruce Baugh , the overall playlist of artists were not Black. Norman Conors and others who actually created the format with their music years ago couuld not get airplay at all.

I say all this to let folks know that there is more to this than meets the eye and I hope people will connect all the dots and instead of saying let's save a certain station that we should be focused on  saving Jazz on the radio period I have talked to numerous artists here locally and around the worrld who are concerned about the stat of the music on many levels and what it to survive.  You cannot save a format or a station if the forces that be dictate that change is going to occur. It's a done deal except for FCC approval and public comments.

I truly understand the nature of the radio business on both non-commercial (public) and commercial sides. Like I stated before, it is not about the individual, it's about the music.

Comment by Mary Barr on March 12, 2011 at 2:52pm
Some jazz fans are organizing on Facebook at Save Our WDUQ to preserve a jazz format at 90.5 FM.  We need everyone's support -- it's not going to be easy.  To speak for myself, some of the music played at WDUQ isn't compelling to me.  But...my husband and I have had many moments of joy listening to some real gems, and we have been introduced to new music we wouldn't have otherwise known about.  And then there is the issue of fairness -- listeners have provided the majority of the financial support for the station, and have voted for this format with our dollars and the hours we have spent listening.  We should have a right to keep the jazz format that is popular with the many thousands of people who tune in.  Please join us, if you are so inclined.  If you are not on Facebook, please express your opinion to the proposed new owners at http://www.essentialpublicmedia.org/
Comment by Kevin Amos on March 12, 2011 at 8:59am
I am certainly glad I hit a nerve here with several people here but it is not about me, it's about the music as Betty Carter would say. Radio stations change and formats as well. but to say DUQ is the only station who plays Jazz or even imply that is insulting as well as a false statement.printed or not. I love Dr. Glasco and have known him since I have been a young broadcaster but he has never really ventured much into the history of the Jazz scene here or the overall musical history of African Americans in this region.I am not one with a degree in ethnomusicollogy but I am always learning and have shared my knowledge along with that of others from Dizzy Gilespie and various folks as well as curating an actual exhibit on our musical legacy.
I did this for the people to be educated and not geared or skewed to any segment of the population.Presenting music as in the case of Reservoir of Jazz at one time was racially skewed until I changed that with better outreach to ALL.It was for me and always will be about the music and presenting to ALL and providing opportunities as well.
WYEP had at one time one of the top Jazz stations in programming on the east coast. The station Board of Directors changed that when they took away community access and the ability of the great staff who had a tremendous ammount of knowledge, off the air. The last man standing was Butch Perkins who came after the station was purged and Buck Brice has passed. WDOQ made the decision to get rid of the volunteer staff of hosts doing Jazz. WYDD changed their format from Smooth Jazz to Jamming oldies. They fird the staff in typical commercial radio fashion. I was the board operator the day and minute it occured.WCXJ-AM switched fomat to talk except for a few weekend time slots.
Sorry to ramble on but I wanted to share some known facts with everyone.
Comment by Boomer The Dog on March 12, 2011 at 5:19am
Nice article Bob, I really didn't know any of your history in radio before reading that. I used to listen to WXXP and thought that they were pretty radical, and that was great to hear on a Pittsburgh radio station.

I'm glad that you came out and spoke for yourself too, and I think that should be the case, more often and with more people.
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on March 12, 2011 at 4:54am

Bob,

 

I can't thank you enough for weighing as an individual.  We try to provide a forum where ALL opinions are valued because they come from individuals who care enough to express themselves openly and freely. Your participation as an individual and an experienced radio professional are a valuable contribution.  I hope others will do as well to express themselves.

Comment by bob studebaker on March 12, 2011 at 3:45am

I have long hesitated to weigh in on discussions here because I didn't know for sure if it was appropriate. I don't speak for anyone but myself now....not the station....not Tony, or Scott our G.M. ...just me and it was the implication that the "truth of the history" was not being told that causes me to comment.

My approach to jazz is first as a fan. I have no musical background, no musical sophistication whatsoever,...I react to it with something other than my intellect...music feels good...I just like what I like.....and I love jazz.

My approach to jazz is also as a history geek...I have read history for recreation for 40 years....when I first got to WDUQ (almost 14 years ago now) I got a call from a guy who said..."I was told you could tell us the history of jazz". He was from an Academy of Life Long Learning group and I still don't know who told him to call me....but I'm glad he did. I told him I didn't know the history of jazz...but I'd be glad to go look it up and come tell them what I learned. I spent a couple of weeks in the music department of Carnegie Library and gave 6 two hour presentations . And I also found a passion.

 

In my initial readings I kept coming across references to artists from Pittsburgh and when I was asked to give a second series of talks I said sure...."I'll make it just about Pittsburgh artists". About this time I met Nelson, and Chuck Austin, and Joe Negri. I was constantly asking them questions about Pittsburgh's jazz history. Ultimately I realized I needed to get this on record and the three of them consented to sit in front of a microphone and reminisce about their early days in jazz. It was a very good one hour show....but I actually had many more hours of conversation that, while not used in the program, helped me gain understanding. I would also run into Nelson, Chuck, and Joe at many different places and I always took advantage of opportunities to ask and learn. They were all very patient with me,...although I sometimes worried that I might be getting to be a pest. That program I referenced was heard by Larry Glasco ,of the University of Pittsburgh, who enjoyed it so much he asked for a copy of it. That began a relationship with another source of information on a subject I was now reading about constantly....in fact with Larry it was like finding the mother lode of scholarship on African American Pittsburgh.

 

I was asking him so many questions that again I worried about wearing out my welcome. I didn't,.. and he continues to help me learn. Please know that I take the matter seriously.On the air  I talk about the history often although  I try not to get pedantic....no one is tuning in for my version of Jazz 101.........but I do include history in the presentation. Because I have some knowledge,...and I would never refer to myself as a "scholar" on the subject,...just a student....I am well aware of the "truth" of the history of jazz...at least up to the extent of what I've learned so far.......and I am unfailing in my presentation of jazz as an African American art form. I spent a whole year recently commemorating the centennial of local 471.....as a seminal event in Pittsburgh's musical history.... I've passed on what I've learned, from many sources now, about the extraordinary community of Pittsburgher's who created several generations of visionaries who then shaped the music's evolution. It is the history of 471, of their musician's club,....the clubs on The Hill.....it was African American Pittsburgh who did this. The fact that this was done while being denied full citizenship,....hell, no one who looks at history ( and I mean recent history too) can help but be aware that we're only about 50 miles from the Mason Dixon Line........only elevates the accomplishments....and it's not just jazz,... classical,...opera, and other music is part of this story too. I present the music I play within the context of it's history. It's actually an honor to do so.

 

Now as to the music I play......stated simply "you can't please all of the people all of the time". There is real thought given to what we play....our Music Director ,Shaunna, loves jazz and is diligent about programming a mix that reflects the varied tastes of what is now actually quite a large audience....that's not easy.....but it's not impossible and WDUQ pleases a lot of people......she also looks to keep things interesting with artists from other countries. I've been playing a good bit of jazz from Africa in recent years, and that's stuff from her own collection .....I love it.....many  listeners call to say they love it too.....we have plenty of Brazilian ,and Caribbean music......and she's always looking to incorporate innovative young artists too..and we do.....HOWEVER....and this is crucial....we do have parameters. She has often said to me..." this new CD is great,..I wish there was something on it we could play. "  It's not personal taste that ultimately sets the barriers...it's reality. The decision was made about 15 years ago to narrow the playlist from what it had been. It was decided to present more "lyrical" artists....I'm still not sure what that means exactly,.. but I know some interpret that as a "blanding" of the music. The audience growth, however, was remarkable and revealing.....thousands would listen if they liked what they heard...and we hit upon a mix that seemed to work. There could certainly be more ...aggressive,...music featured, but that would certainly result in a significant loss of listeners...and that would mean a loss of support during pledge drives....and the reality is....it takes money to keep the station on the air and the only people who we can ask are the listeners. There is a strong parallel between some things said about WDUQ's music choices and WXXP which was Pittsburgh's first alternative rock station. I was there at that unique station from beginning to end and some would take us to task for what we didn't play....and they were right that we didn't play things that would only appeal to "purists" ....if we had  done as they insisted nobody would have listened. It was a commercial station and it would have folded up in weeks if the audience was too small to attract advertisers. WXXP did attract a fair sized audience of people who felt strongly about the station because we were the only ones to play "their favorite music". Just like WDUQ.  Obviously WDUQ being a public station is different. We really are a "mission driven" organization and feel very strongly that jazz deserves to be on the radio..and deserves to be recognized for it's central position in American culture....but if there aren't enough people listening when we ask for support ....then we can't keep the lights on...we can't pay the staff.....I ain't getting rich but I do like to eat regularly.......it has to be programming that people value enough to support....and jazz is VERY well supported...it helps make everything on the air possible. Could we do better.?.....sure,....probably....what I mean is..... I certainly don't consider myself the final word in jazz programming. But I am a veteran of many decades in radio in many different formats  and I am convinced we do our best.

 

Wow...I didn't start out to write "War and Peace" here....sorry to run so long,....but I wanted to be clear. It's important.

 

Nelson ,.....thank you for providing this forum for expression.

 

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on March 10, 2011 at 2:29am

Well Kevin... as a media person of considerable experience, you certainly must know that any such article is not comprehensive.  I was on a phone interview with Adrian for about 20 minutes.  Very little of what I said found it's way into the article.  I mentioned at least 12 clubs and Little E's and others may similarly be insulted that their name didn't get into the article... but I didn't write it.  I mentioned you, Buck Bryce, Saxie Williams and Butch Perkins as well as Walt Harper and only Walt's name was used from my comments.  Come on man, we both certainly know this is no game. 

 

I provide this network so that the "real" word can get out.  Members can use it to say what they like on a given subject. Many don't even try and it's not my fault.  I send out member posts every week and do not cherry pick what goes out.  Some may think that I post the events... BUT I DON'T.  Each member has the opportunity to post their events, comments  or opinions and if they do not, it's on them not me.  I didn't even mention the Pittsburgh Jazz Network to Adrian McCoy, so if you want to be insulted because your name didn't appear, it's your choice.  This network has a wider reach than the Post-Gazette and I will continue to serve the active members in helping to get their opinions spread around the world.  There was no insult intended toward you or anyone else.  You can feel free (as you have done in the past) to post your opinion at any time. Finally, this network invites YOU to promote yourself.  No one knows you as well as you yourself so why be insulted because a third party doesn't promote you the way you like to be promoted.   Hell, she didn't even refer to me as Dr. Harrison but I'm not insulted.   People DO read the commentary and I hope the exposure we offer helps to draw people to your Forum.  I'll be there if I can.

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