AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
Ramsey Lewis and Marty Ashby know celebrating jazz sometimes requires a big cast.
“There have been times I have done eight or nine symphony dates a year and being on the stage with 100 people is a great thing,” says Lewis, a pianist who bridged the gap between pop and jazz in the '60s with hits “The In Crowd” and “Hang On, Sloopy.”
He knows how music can require small groups and even bands as big as symphony orchestras. It is a demand Ashby had to meet when he put together the “Pittsburgh Jazz Celebration” set for June 16 at Heinz Hall, Downtown.
“Any music lover can tell you about the amazing music legacy in Pittsburgh,” says the executive producer of MCG Jazz at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side.
The event includes a fundraising gala for the guild before a concert put together to explore the jazz that has been a cornerstone of cultural life here.
The concert will be the kickoff to a busy week of jazz in the city. Trumpet player Sean Jones, who will be part of this concert, will perform June 18 at a concert in East Liberty sponsored by Chamber Music Pittsburgh. Then, the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival will begin June 19.
The celebration concert is a bit of a festival of its own, including:
• Lewis playing the music of great Pittsburgh pianists such as Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal
• A small group with trumpeter Jones and pianist David Budway, among others, doing original works
• Budway will be doing Billy Strayhorn's virtuosic, lesser-known “Tonk,” which is far from the harmonically rich ballads for which he is known;
• Singer Kurt Elling doing some of the classic Strayhorn pieces
• The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra backing up one of its bassists, Jeff Grubbs, doing Pittsburgh native Ray Brown's “Afterthoughts,” which is a kind of concerto-for-jazz bass
Lewis seems to like the direction of the concert.
“It is going to be a grand night in Pittsburgh,” he says. “Music is multidirectional, and my life has been multidirectional. My high school was very racially mixed, and I heard all sorts of music.”
For Grubbs, the concert, in some ways, represents the trip he has made in developing his appreciation of jazz — and Ray Brown.
As he developed his talents on the bass at the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University, he started exploring the work of bassists such as Eddie Gomez and Scott LaFaro.
That journey of discovery led him to Brown, and when the chance emerged to play “Afterthoughts,” he jumped at it.
“It is not a work that is well-known,” he says. “I found one European recording of it.”
He says the work displays Brown's abilities as a bassist and a composer.
Jones also sees great benefits in the shape of the show. Besides the little-known Brown work and the performances by Elling and Lewis, the small-group section will present new works, which sometimes are passed over by standards-focused performers.
“You have to give people their money's worth,” he says. “You just can't give them ‘Straight No Chaser' another time.”
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.