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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


George Shearing, the jovial jazz pianist who wrote the standard "Lullaby of Birdland” died on February 14th 2011. He was blind since birth and passed at 91.

 

In 2007, Shearing was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to music. When the honor was announced, he said it was "amazing to receive an honor for something I absolutely love doing."

 

Shearing's bebop-influenced sound became identified with a quintet - piano, vibes, guitar, bass and drums - which he put together in 1949. More recently, he played mostly solo or with only a bassist. He excelled in the "locked hands" technique, in which the pianist plays parallel melodies with the two hands, creating a distinct, full sound.

 

During World War II, the Shearing teamed with Grappelli, the French jazz violinist, who spent the war years in London.  Grappelli recalled to writer Leonard Feather in 1976 that he and Shearing would "play during air raids." After World War II, Shearing came to the U.S., where he was relatively unknown despite his great fame in England. 

 

The original George Shearing Quintet, formed in 1949, was a then unique lineup musically, racially and in gender. They were John Levy on bass, Denzil Best on drums, Marjorie Hyams on vibraphone and Chuck Wayne on guitar, later replaced by Toots Thielemans. Levy gradually took on the role of manager, one of the first African-Americans to become a music manager.

 

"He had listened to people like Fats Waller and Art Tatum and all kinds of different people before he ever came over here musically because he was a very popular musician in England and did very well," Levy said. "He had no sense of racial identity."

 

In 1952, Shearing wrote his biggest hit: "Lullaby of Birdland," an ode to the famous New York jazz club. He acknowledged composing it in just 10 minutes. "But I always tell people, it took me 10 minutes and 35 years in the business."

 

At an 80th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall in 1999, Shearing introduced "Lullaby" by joking: "I have been credited with writing 300 songs. Two hundred ninety-nine enjoyed a bumpy ride from relative obscurity to total oblivion. Here is the other one."  

 

Pianist, Dave Brubeck, who was among those who performed at the Carnegie Hall event, said he had lost "a dear friend" whose photo adorns Brubeck's piano.

 

Brubeck said, "I consider him one of the greatest musical minds I've ever been around. In the '50s, George paved the way for me and the (Modern Jazz Quartet), and even today jazz players, especially pianists, are indebted to him."

 

Among other songs recorded by the George Shearing Quintet: "I'll Never Smile Again," "Mambo Inn," "Conception," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)."

 

The landmark albums he and the quintet made include "The Swingin's Mutual," backing up vocalist Wilson, and "Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays."

 

One of his later collaborators was Mel Torme.  When Torme won Grammys two years in a row in 1983-84, for "An Evening With George Shearing and Mel Torme" and "Top Drawer," he blasted the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences for failing to nominate his partner, Shearing, either time.

 

Michael Stokes Makin' Music Network

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