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, Parlanto 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.
Friends, I am home.... it has been months..... I came home last week actually, but I had a show in NY and didn't actually return to my home til a couple days ago. Been getting settled, cleaning house, doing laundry, getting reacquainted with my dog, Mr. Pumpkinseed, cooking for the Amoeba....
The last 10 days of my journey were spent in the UK. I went to Scotland, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was glorious. 3000 shows happening simultaneously in a gorgeous city with incredible people, culture, food and architecture. There was a Game of Thrones musical (sold out every night), I saw "Ecce Homo" a drag cabaret performer surviving over 30 years with HIV/AIDS....and I saw "Le Gateau Chocolat" and "Tshwame Gospel Choir" from South Africa, Dandy Darkly a rhinestone clownboy storyteller from Georgia via NYC.....I personally performed with Chaz Royal and Betty D'Light's nightly presentation "Best of Burlesque" at the Spiegeltent Columbino, part of Assembly Fest. This was an excellent show, with some the best burlesque and variety performers working at the top of their game right now. It was wonderful to be part of this exceptional crew. Here is a nice pic of some of us on my last day there with Chaz Royal, Betty D"Light, CeCe Sinclair, Whisky Falls and Eliza Delight:
While I was in Edinburgh, I fell in love with a show called "Church of Malcolm", became their backup singer and dancer, and we were selected to perform at the "Best of the Fest" showcase here is a pic from us from backstage, me with Malcolm Doherty and his son Callum McQuattie:
My sweet Amoeba had joined me for this leg of the journey.... we made it through the looking glass and back again.... here's a nice shot of him with Malcolm backstage as well...
And then, after an incredibly informative and delightful run of magnificent shows, with tears on me cheeks, we boarded a train to London to perform at the oldest gay pub in London town, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern:
It was a delightful evening that included trans hostess who sang like angel from Detroit, an opera singer from Italy, local live LBGTQ community news, the stars that night were Smokin' McQueen, his kookaburra puppet and me! The lady who booked us, Inge, is a force in the community and her event "Bar Wotever" has been going on for years and I was honored beyond words to complete my journey at this incredible and legacied venue. It was a journey.... 12 countries, 15 cities.....I am home now..... the footage is on 2 harddrives, we are beginning the process of editing now and I am getting back to my gigs and performances.
I ask you can mark the calendar for my next one, October 2, 2015, I am singing for the first time ever with my group at the James Street Gastropub, on the 3rd floor, in the newly restored ballroom. This venue is incredible, it housed the first ever racially integrated dances in Pittsburgh, and their history of showcasing the best in local jazz continues today. It closed briefly but reopened in 2011, so please do come out, see me there, support this venue and their work. They have great food, great cocktails and beer selection, and most importantly, they maintain stages featuring live music. It's becoming a rare thing, stages that regularly support live music, and it won't stick around if we don't support it. It's only $5 and I am singing all night, with Donna Davis, the High Priestess of Soul on piano, Tony DePaolis on bass, JT "Smitty" Smith on drums and Reggie Watkins on the trombone. Here is a link to the facebook event page, please share it, if I do well, they will have me back, I have waited a LOOOOOONG time to get into this venue, please come out and celebrate with me!
So, last year, you may remember that I had a dream, a dream to show the world how awesome our music scene in Pittsburgh was, and I went about this dream by studying video at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and did my internship at Mr Small's Theatre as part of their Creative.Life.Support program..... I shot a bunch of video....and I learned that filmmaking is not a solo mission. It can be, if you want to spend 25 years doing one thing, but if you want to get the work out in a timely fashion and not lose your sh*t, you should work in a group, which I did, to shoot it.... but I thought I could edit it, but my schedule is nuts. Like all the time. I am starting to get a handle on things, but I always overbook myself.....so before I went to Europe, I began working with a recent graduate of Filmmaker's intensive program, Andrew Klein, and while Alistair McQueen and I were off shooting new video, he started in on editing my old video. And I am so happy he did.... I just uploaded my first concert from my Sunday Phunday series today, there is more to come, trust me, but these musicians mean so much to me.... Terry Griffith, Irish Balladeer and his grandaughter, Grannia Griffith, have been like family to me since I was but a wee Phat Man Dee....(I'm working on my brogue....I definitely left a piece of my heart in Leith....) actually, before I was "Phat Man Dee", Terry's son Damon aka "The Big Daddy Bull Seal!" and I had a poetry troupe for a decade before I even started singing with a band.... and his daughter Grannia I have known before she was even out her mama Mary Crow's belly...... so, to see her all grown up and a lovely young woman and songwriter in her own right is an amazing miracle to me.... I hope you like this first episode of "Sunday Phunday with Phat Man Dee and Phriends, featuring Terry Grif...": Link: https://youtu.be/qwgYKsHf3Hc
It should be noted that one of our camera operators, Ms. Nancy Evelyn Gold, passed away recently, while I was in Scotland. I am so sorry to see her leave us, she was far too young.... she was special for many reasons, a wonderful friend, and her work was so important. She shone her cameras on communities who rarely are given voice, the LBGTQ youth, the cast always, the gender dancers and trans people in our lives who too often go unheard. Please check out her work and remember her fondly, I know I will miss her terribly.