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

Heinz Award Recipient Vanessa German leaves Pittsburgh for Greener Pastures.


Artist vanessa german is one of two winners of Heinz Awards for the Arts.

Heinz Award recipient Vanessa German has left Pittsburgh for calmer pastures

Artist vanessa german, a lifelong city dweller, has moved to the country.

Announced Thursday as one of two winners of $250,000 Heinz Awards for the Arts, german was worried Tuesday about a contractor installing picnic tables on her 3-acre property in North Carolina.

“Be careful of the well, please! Oh, my God! Oh, God!” the artist exclaimed during a phone interview. “OK, he didn’t hit it. I’ve lived in cities for my whole life. I did not know how to live with a well. But you can’t hit the well.”

The Los Angeles native and Homewood resident from 2005-2021 is a sculptor, poet and spoken-word artist whose assemblages of found materials and other art “confront racism, violence, homophobia and hate, while also expressing hope for healing,” according to a release from The Heinz Family Foundation.

The other winners are: Los Angeles artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith (arts); Hilary Abell and Alison Lingane, co-founders of San Francisco-based Project Equity, Chrystel Cornelius, president and CEO of Colorado-based Oweesta Corp. (economy); Anne Evens of Los Angeles, CEO of Elevate, and Rhett Ayers Butler, founder and CEO of California-based Mongabay (environment).

The award came as a surprise; winners have no idea they are being considered until they are notified that they have won.

“August Wilson won a Heinz Award — you know this is a big deal,” german said.

Although the foundation is based in Pittsburgh, german was told that the jurors make their selections based on the art, not local ties.

“It was really humbling to know that these leaders of the field [recognized] this self-taught artist who makes art to be alive,” german said.

Her specialty is “figures,” as she calls them, built out of found objects like mirrors, vintage figurines and toy weapons. The self-taught artist has an eye for accumulating and melding things that were detritus into installations with “a strong focus on the female form ... that often bring visual language to the pain of injustice,” according the The Heinz Family Foundation.

When german, 46, arrived in Pittsburgh, she credits art for saving her life. In a pit of suicidal despair, she brought together shattered wood, nails and other objects left on the street from the demolition of rowhouses in Homewood to create her first assemblage, she said.

In 2013, german created The Art House in a house in Homewood and gave art lessons to neighborhood children there. The house was damaged in a fire in February 2021, and a GoFundMe page raised more than $115,000 to restore it. Although she no longer lives in Pittsburgh, the artist said she would like to offer The Art House and her former home as a space to Pittsburgh artists. But she has qualms about inviting others to a place where she experienced trauma.

In April 2021, during an arts residency at The Frick Pittsburgh, german unveiled the exhibition “Reckoning: Grief and Light.” It included altars in honor of Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — Black Americans who died during encounters with police.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the deaths of people nationwide and in Homewood were blows to her mental health that prompted her to leave Pittsburgh, german said.

“I had witnessed several murders around my house in Pittsburgh and witnessed several occasions of people being grievously harmed, whether it’s by hit-and-run car accidents or shootings or unfortunately witnessing people dying around my home,” said german, who also said she was stalked at her house.

“The PTSD was unbearable. I was unable to work the last year and a half,” she said. “The anxiety and complex PTSD was suffocating. To continue my livelihood, I had to work someplace else.”

She said she began looking for a new home about an hour away from Pittsburgh, but couldn’t find property with oil, gas and mineral rights. Without those rights, she worried that a company could invade her land to extract them. She found herself competing with other Pennsylvania organizations looking to preserve land with mineral rights intact, german said.

She eventually found what she was looking for in a rural area outside Asheville, N.C. Its desolate, bucolic nature attracted her, she said.

She plans on making her new home in North Carolina a refuge for herself and other artists who need a break from the city.

The property she may call “Respite” would be a contemplative place for artists to create their works, but also a place to simply decompress, she said. The plan is to construct three or four cabins with electricity and internet service where artists can work in peace.

She said she has begun working again and noted that she feels refreshed. On her farmland, german has room to create sculptures and installations that are life-sized or even larger in scale.

“I can’t be the only artist who feels this way,” she said. “I actually know that I’m not. It’s about sharing space and giving space and recognizing that it's really hard to keep going sometimes.”

Solomon Gustavo:

First Published September 22, 2022, 12:15am

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