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

Renowned jazz pianist, composer Geri Allen assumes the mantle of the Jazz Studies Program

Geri AllenGrowing up in Detroit, Geri Allen’s childhood soundtrack was her father’s collection of Charlie Parker records. It was as though her future as a jazz pianist and composer was preordained; and ever since, she has been arranging and re-arranging the notes to reflect the changing verses of her life’s path.

Among the first graduates of Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies, Allen’s work has been influenced by ethnic music from many cultures. She was studying in New York City when the legendary Nathan Davis, founder of Pitt’s Jazz Studies Program, recruited her to come to Pittsburgh, where she earned a master’s in ethnomusicology in 1982.

January 2014 represents a homecoming of sorts for Allen, when she returns to Pitt to assume the post that was long held by Davis, whom she considers a mentor. He retired in the summer of 2013.

“Pittsburgh has such a rich legacy,” says Allen, who arrives at Pitt from the University of Michigan, where she has taught since 2004. “The greatest names of our music came from Pittsburgh: Art Blakey really sanctioned the program when Nathan was just starting.”

She recalls how the Jazz Studies Program helped her, as a performer, also understand the rigors of scholarly research. In the years since, her list of accomplishments stretches wide: In addition to her own recordings, she has performed and collaborated with countless other artists, including her contribution of the song “Unconditional Love” to drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s Grammy Award-winning album The Mosaic Project. Her many honors include the Lady of Soul Award in Jazz and the Danish Jazzpar Prize.

“I think my education at Pitt was key to making those opportunities possible for me,” Allen says. “I have really been focusing on my performance career. I have been in the academy [teaching] performance-oriented courses. This is something that I’ve been doing for many years, and I’ve enjoyed it very much. I’ve seen many of my students come to fruition as performers in their own right, and of course that is very satisfying.”

Directing the Jazz Studies Program represents a new avenue in her career, one that excites and inspires her as she re-establishes herself in Pittsburgh and returns to her training in research.

“It’s definitely a new direction for me, but it was always something that I looked forward to doing toward the later part of my career,” she says.

Months before assuming her post in 2014, she began learning the many nuances of the program Davis nurtured for 44 years.  

“It’s quite complex,” she says, citing the program’s state-of-the art William R. Robinson Recording Studio, which allows students to learn recording techniques and technology; the University of Pittsburgh-Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives, which include the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame; and the International Jazz Archives Journal. “It has many different components to it.”

Among Allen’s early tasks was directing the 43rd annual University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar and Concert in November, a signature event founded by Davis showcasing the world’s foremost jazz performers with a week-long series of free educational seminars. The event culminates in a concert, where  Allen  performed along with Brinae Ali, tap percussionist; Marcus Belgrave, trumpet; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Vincent Chandler, trombone; Ravi Coltrane, saxophone; Kenny Davis, bass; Carmen Lundy, vocalist; Russell Malone, guitar; Kassa Overall, drums; Ernie Watts, saxophone; and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.

Complicating the task was the fact that Allen was still touring and performing away from Pittsburgh during the seminar’s planning stages. She credits the seminar’s committee and the support of her new colleagues on the faculty with helping to make the event possible.

As she steps into her new role, Allen hopes to maintain the core of what Davis instilled, moving into the unknown of the future with respect for its storied past. One such project is the potential for collaboration between the University and the Mary Lou Williams Collective, for which Allen has long served as musical director.

“I’m looking forward to really celebrating this legacy that Pittsburgh has contributed to the world,” she says.

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Comment by Richy Muckle on January 15, 2014 at 2:21am

Welcome Geri......It's great to have you here!

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on January 15, 2014 at 12:33am

Geri Allen takes over the Pitt jazz program from Nathan Davis 

"Nathan Davis is my mentor, and he has supported my academic and performance career."

Jazz scholar: Dr. Geri Allen

Photo courtesy of Dean C. Jones

Jazz scholar: Dr. Geri Allen

Geri Allen is pretty busy these days. In the midst of a tour with ACS — a trio with drummer Terri Lynn Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spaulding — the pianist is preparing for a move that brings her back to Pittsburgh, the city where she earned her master's degree in ethnomusicology in 1982. Come January, she assumes the position of director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh, succeeding her mentor, Dr. Nathan Davis, who retired last summer.

But before that happens, Allen will host one of Davis' most enduring legacies: the 43rd Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert. The weeklong event features free presentations by participating musicians, culminating in a concert on Sat., Nov. 2, featuring 12 musical guests. Throughout its history, the seminar has drawn legendary musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke (the latter two Pittsburgh natives) to perform and lecture in close quarters with fans and students of the music. With Davis retiring, Allen says it was important for the event to continue without a gap. She also stresses that this year's seminar pays tribute to the man who set the standard for it in 1970.

Allen was already on a fast track toward a jazz career before she came to Pitt in 1979. Growing up in Detroit, she immersed herself in the city's fertile jazz scene, playing with people like trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, one of this year's seminar guests. Upon leaving Pittsburgh, she was part of the adventurous M-BASE group in New York, and went on to lead her own groups and play with legends like saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who hadn't played with a pianist in nearly 40 years. Allen's latest album, Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations, puts a modern spin on classic songs that came out of her hometown.

College-level jazz programs were still a relatively new concept in 1979. "I feel I was [coming to Pitt] at the tail end of an era when musicians still learned in the traditional way — from their mentors," Allen explained in an email. "The schools today are focusing more on mentorship and I see a shift happening in that regard. Nathan Davis is my mentor, and he has supported my academic and performance career as a teaching assistant here at Pitt, and throughout my journey as a professional musician/scholar."

The seminar and concert are highly regarded because of their "marriage of the performance and academic aspects of the art form," she says. "Dr. Davis created an innovative prototype for jazz in the academy, which connects university and grassroots community together in a spirit of meaningful exchange."

This year's concert features: trumpeters Belgrave and Randy Brecker; tap percussionist Brinae Ali; tenor saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Ernie Watts; trombonist Vincent Chandler; bassist Kenny Davis; vocalist Carmen Lundy; guitarist Russell Malone; and drummers Kassa Overall and Jeff "Tain" Watts. Along with the individual seminars that several musicians will host prior to the concert, some will also lecture at Pittsburgh CAPA High School, Falk Laboratory School and the Hill House Association Senior Service Center. Jana Herzen, of the Motéma Music record label, will also host a free lecture titled "Navigating the Changing Tides of the Business."

Allen, who just completed 10 years on the jazz and contemporary improvisation faculty at University of Michigan's School of Music Theatre and Dance, feels comfortable stepping in to host the event. "Nathan has been so respected, and he's created such an important legacy that [with] my coming in, I've been very supported [by the seminar committee]," she says. "Everyone wants to see the seminar do well."

While the concert will follow the traditional format of ensemble performances with break-out sections for different subgroups, there are a few additions this year. Most significantly is the addition of dancer Ali (who acts as an additional percussionist) and vocalist Lundy.

The use of two drummers is a bold move, especially with a force of nature like Pittsburgh native Watts, and with Overall, whose experience includes time with Allen and in freer settings as well. But having both is another extension of the way her predecessor would program the show. "Nathan, as a horn player, would always share the bandstand with other horn players," she says. "And I'm a rhythm section player and I thought, ‘OK, let me look at having more than one drummer.'"

Allen's career has been similar to the best jazz, in that it has made new strides while hewing close to its history. Prior to her album saluting Detroit, for example, she recorded the solo album Flying Toward the Sound. On it, she paid homage to pianists Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor, all of whom have vastly different approaches to their instrument. Rather than play their compositions, Allen composed a suite that uses their ideas as a launch pad, thereby taking the idea further.

Likewise, the array of musicians coming to Pitt this month will likely create something new by building on the legacy. Yet as she talks about the event, Allen continually returns to the subject of Davis. "His generosity has benefited many artist/scholars and he has made a profound impact on the perception of jazz as it exists today in the academy," she says. "We owe a great deal to him."

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