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




In life and on stage with his Gibson Super 400 guitar, Jimmy Ponder was a force of nature because he blew people away. From the Hill District, to Manhattan, to Atlanta and beyond, he epitomized the Pittsburgh jazz guitar legacy.

He died Sept. 16 after battling cancer for more than a year. He was 67.

“Man, it’s a major loss. He was a phenomenal musician, a solid composers, a great singer, and just a really great guy,” said longtime friend and occasional collaborator Nelson Harrison.

“He played a week with us at the Crawford Grill in 1966, he was “Fats” Ponder then. To this day, people still talk about that gig. He will be dearly missed.”

Ponder, self-taught from the age of 11, left Pittsburgh with the Charles Earland Trio just seven years later, and as he said “never looked back.”

Living in New York City and Philadelphia, he toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy McGriff, and fellow Pittsburgher Stanley Turrentine, to name just a few. He returned home to Pittsburgh in 1990.



In addition to playing on more than 80 studio recordings for other artists, Ponder also recorded 11 albums under his own name, starting with 1974’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for Cadet Records. He released his final album and CD “What’s New” on HighNote in 2005.

Perhaps because he was naturally left handed, but played conventionally, and was self-taught, Ponder’s style was unique.

“I approach playing with a particular type of controlled madness,” he said in a 1995 interview for the Cincinnati Jazz Guitar Society. “When I’m doing my thing, I’m going to exude the qualities that I have worked to exhibit, and that is tone quality, projection, emotion, spirituality. That’s what reaches people.”

Ponder’s “controlled madness” was enhanced when he met, and impressed, Wes Montgomery in Atlanta about a year before his death in 1968. That’s when Ponder gave up using a pick and began emulating Montgomery’s style, then transformed it.

Guitarist Marty Ashby, head of MCG Jazz, said Ponder’s work was brilliant.

“He took Wes to a whole new level, harmonically, within that style—I’ve never heard anyone else do what he did,” Ashby said. “Jimmy was a genius. He is one of the most underrated masters of the last 30 years.”


Harrison said he saw Ponder just two weeks ago and that he was talking about beating his illness.

“He said he was in remission, and he still had that strong, strong handshake,” said Harrison. “It reminded me of riding through Manhattan on the Basie band bus and seeing Jimmy’s name in lights two-feet tall at some club and thinking all right, Jimmy has conquered New York.”

Despite his talent, and the respect in which other musicians held him, Ponder never became wealthy or particularly famous. But that didn’t bother him.

“If I die in poverty,” he once said. “I’ve had the best life can offer which is love, admiration and respect of my public and friends. You can’t ask for that. You can’t buy that.”

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Comment by Roberta Windle on September 22, 2013 at 4:24pm

What a wonderful human being. His "love" for life was reached far beyond most. RIP, Jimmy. You will always remain in our hearts.

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