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

Pittsburgh Jazz: A Brief History

June 14, 2017
Sign in to view read count
This article was first published at the Explore PA History website.

At first glance, Pittsburgh might not seem the most likely place to produce great jazz musicians. Situated on the western edge of the state, "Smoketown" was a gritty industrial city, better known for being the center of the nation's steel industry, than for its popular music or culture. Like Philadelphia, its industries attracted many African Americans from the south, men and women who were looking for decent jobs and a better way of life.

In the 1920s, while Louis Armstrong was carrying jazz from New Orleans to Chicago, and Duke Ellington moved his Washingtonians from the nation's capital to New York, Pittsburgh was developing its own rising jazz stars. First and foremost was Earl Hines, a pianist and bandleader who would have a tremendous influence on jazz for decades. Hines groomed singer and bandleader Billy Eckstine who later formed the band that influenced the great trumpeter Miles Davis' decision to become a musician. In the night clubs and gambling dens of Pittsburgh's African-American entertainment districts, a young Mary Lou Williams got her start playing popular tunes for the "sports" and later became one of the greatest pianists in all of jazz history.

Pittsburgh's distance from the major East Coast markets, in certain ways, limited the opportunities for its musicians. But in many ways it also helped local players develop their own jazz scene, and a regional sound that they carried to Cincinnati, and other midwestern cities. Pittsburgh was on the way to Chicago, but far enough away that bands traveling through the city tended to stay for a few days. This gave locals like Art Blakey, Ray Brown and Ahmad Jamal the opportunity to hang out with their heroes, pick up tips, join in the late-night jam sessions at the after-hours clubs, and occasionally even get a chance to sit in during a downtown concert.

By the 1930s local musicians had developed a Pittsburgh "sound" that combined a strong, straight-ahead urban swing feeling that they merged with a deep blues, carried north by the black men and women drawn to Pittsburgh during the Great Migration. The sound was also defined by very strong drumming; drumming that Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke would take to national and international audiences.

Pittsburgh also had a strong black middle class that encouraged the arts, especially music. In 1926, many of them began to send their children to Mary Cardwell Dawson's music school. Cardwell Dawson, a former high school teacher, founded the National Negro Opera Company, the first black opera company in the United States, in 1941. There she trained Bobby McFerrin Sr., the first African-American hired as a permanent member of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York.

The black middle class, however, did not fully embrace jazz, which they associated with sin and crime. Religious people called it the "devil's music." But many of the youths trained in Pittsburgh's black churches and music schools saw the great artistry possible in this emerging art form, and the possibilities for work. By the 1930s dozens of nightclubs in Pittsburgh's Hill District supported a vibrant jazz scene. After playing the white theaters and downtown clubs, jazz musicians from around the country would head down to one of the dozens of clubs in the Hill to cut loose and play late into the night, and often into the early morning hours. There was Crawford Grill, the Ellis Hotel, the Webster Grill, the Blue Note, the Ritz, the Bamboola, Stanley's, the American Legion's Carney Post and the Iron City Elks Club. When those closed, black and white musicians eager for a jam headed to the Musicians Club, operated by the American Federation of Musicians Local 471, the black musicians' local.

The jams at the Musicians Club also attracted movie stars and other visitors eager to hear some good music. As Pittsburgh jazz musician Nelson Harrison remembered, "That's where the action was... whatever you were here for, you found a way to get there rather than go to your hotel room and get some sleep—you didn't want to miss that action!" In Pittsburgh's after-hours clubs the national stars knew they were in some stiff competition, for word was out that, as trombonist Hill Jordan recalled, in Pittsburgh "a guy might jump off a garbage truck and play you off the stage."

Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other major bandleaders often came to Pittsburgh to fill a vacancy in their bands. Indeed, it was Crawford Grill owner Gus Greenlee who arranged the introduction of Duke Ellington to Pittsburgh teenager Billy Strayhorn. After joining the Ellington band, Strayhorn would become one of the great jazz composers and arrangers. Great musicians seemed to flow from the Iron City.

The list of outstanding jazz musicians from Pittsburgh is a long one and includes bass players Paul Chambers, Eddie Safranski, Ray Brown, and Lillian Carter, one of the first great female instrumentalists. Integral members of this list also include pianist Erroll Garner, Dodo Marmarosa and Ahmad Jamal, saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, guitarist and singer George Benson, singer Dakota Staton, trumpet master Roy Eldridge, and drummers Art Blakey, Joe Harris, Roger Humphries and Kenny Clarke, whose pioneering drumming for Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker helped shape the sound of Bebop in the 1940s.

Today, the Pittsburgh jazz scene remains strong. Now appreciated as one of the great musical art forms of the twentieth century, jazz is taught in this city's music schools and universities. The city hosts an annual Jazz Festival and continues to produce new generations of top-flight musicians, including Beaver Harris, Horace Parlan, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Cecilio Valdez Washington and the Salsamba Latin Jazz Group, who add another layer to the Pittsburgh Jazz scene.

Views: 13


You need to be a member of Pittsburgh Jazz Network to add comments!

Join Pittsburgh Jazz Network

© 2021   Created by Dr. Nelson Harrison.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service