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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.

 

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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

Pittsburgh Jazz Legends 13: Maxine Sullivan

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, 26 October 2012 06:46 AM Written by  

"She swung it—not a fierce, hard swing like Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie or Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb, in which one little girl armed with just her voice could swing seventeen grown men with an arsenal of horns into bad health. Rather, Sullivan employed a soft, gentle swing, very much influenced by Mildred Bailey…and Bailey's own chief inspiration, Ethel Waters."  --Jazz historian Will Friedwald, from his book A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers.

She arrived in the world in 1911 as Marietta Williams and grew up in Homestead. She sang with the Red Hot Peppers, a band her uncle led.What changed her life as a 1934 engagement singing at Pittsburgh's Benjamin Harrison Literary Society, a somewhat hoity toity private club.   One of the waiters who enjoyed her singing brought in some jazz players to hear her. For some reason she was asked to perform the Joyce Kilmer poem "Trees" ("I think that I shall never see…"). It was a goofy choice of song by her hosts, but she rose to the occasion, giving it a lilting swing, and her timing could not have been better.

One night in late 1936 or early 1937, the Literary Society audience included members of the all-female orchestra led by Ina Ray Hutton, who encouraged her to go to New York. Sullivan, still singing as Marietta Williams, arrived there in June of 1937. Hutton's pianist, Gladys Mosier, introduced her to Claude Thornhill, a top pianist leading his own big band (in my view one of the greatest of all the big bands, before and after WWII). 

She did some singing as Marietta Williams at New York's famous Onyx Club on 52nd Street in Manhattan, then known as "Swing Street." There, she sang the eighteenth century Scottish folk song "Loch Lomond," one of a number of traditional ballads given swing arrangements by Thornhill.  How her stage name changed to Sullivan is a tale too complicated to get into here.

1937 Sullivan's "Loch Lomond," duly swung. Listen for  yourself.

While she recorded a number of other swinging traditional tunes, here's one with the Thornhill band from the same era: the hard-swinging, non-traditional "Stop! You're Breaking My Heart."

 Sullivan also met bass player John Kirby. The two married in 1939.  She performed with Kirby's innovative sextet, which had the spirit and sound of a much bigger unit.  They divorced in 1942. 

Sullivan continued recording, and made some outstanding recordings just after World War II, like this one.

1951: A year after she married pianist Cliff Jackson, they did this hot performance of  "Some of These Days" for a series of musical films made to run on early TV

1956  "Massachusetts." A  recording that more than doubles down on the swing.  Singer and band really lock in on this one.  No wonder. The band included pianist Dick Hyman, trumpeter Charlie Shavers, Milt "The Judge" Hinton on bass and drummer Osie Johnson.

1958: "Ace in the Hole." Sullivan was winding down her career by the time she did this appearance on the TV show Art Ford's Jazz Party with Sir Roland Hanna at the piano, pioneer female jazz guitarist Mary Osborne and trombonist Tyree Glenn.

Around this time Sullivan taught herself to play valve trombone and was photographed with one in a 1958 edition of Jet Magazine. With two children, a daughter Paula in school, she retired from music and worked in a school as a teacher's aide under her real name. She did not become a registered nurse as Wikipedia indicates. It wa her daughter went into nursing. In 1965, Sullivan got encouragement to return to performing, but wasn't until 1966 that she resumed any public musical activity. which gradually ramped up through the last years of that decade.  By 1969, she was working extensively with cornetist Bobby Hackett. 

1969: "Harlem Butterfly" from an album featuring accompaniment by pianist Bernie Leighton. and saxophonist Bob Wilber. 

1975: "You Turned The Tables On Me" from the Manassas Jazz Festival with an all star group including piano great Art Hodes, Wally Garner on clarinet, guitarist Butch Hall, bassist Gene Mayl and drummer Bob Thompson

1986: Onstage in Japan singing "A Hundred Years From Today" with an another all star outfit: Saxophonist Scott Hamilton, with pianist John Bunch, Chris Flory playing guitar, bassist Phil Flanigan and drummer Chuck Riggs.

Sullivan did her last gig in New York in March 1987. She died a month later of cancer.

You see a diminutive woman in these later videos, but one whose power to swing had only grown with time, more than bearing out Friedwald's comments.

Among the jazz greats Pittsburgh brought to the world were some phenomenally gifted women From Mary Lou Williams, Lena Horne and Dakota Staton to the late Sandy Staley, to today's Sheryl Bailey, Michele Bensen and Maureen Budway. Within that elite group, Maxine Sullivan was a giant.

Reference: Maxine Sullivan Interview, 52nd St. The Street of Jazz by Arnold Shaw (Da Capo, 1971) pp.96-104

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Comment by E Van D on December 16, 2014 at 10:04pm

Thank you! This made my day. Maxine Sullivan is a jazz gem. So is Scott Hamilton, an old friend from Providence, RI. Check out Scott Hamilton Live at Smalls CD with Chuck Riggs (drums), also originally from Providence, Hassan Shakur (bass), and Rossano Sportello (piano). Recorded live 2/13 at Smalls Jazz Club, 183 W. 10th St., NY. 

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on December 12, 2014 at 2:32am

Comment by Melissa Jones on December 11, 2014 at 1:20pm

YEA Maxine! Also, view Maxine singing "Can't Get Started" on Art Ford's Jazz party:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6jRcIxJ9cE

Tyree Glenn's obbligato fits Maxine like a glove. They are perfect together! 

Comment by Pgh Rich on December 11, 2014 at 5:54am

Man this is great  only thing wrong once I started to listen I could not stop and it put me 1 hr behind in he work I was doing

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