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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

Sean Jones Resurrects Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra

Wednesday, October 07, 2009 By Rick Nowlin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Lake Fong/Post-Gazette Trumpeter Sean Jones: "It's important for me to let Pittsburgh know, 'This is your orchestra.' " One might call the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra the "house band" for Heinz Hall. Sean Jones is trying to make the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra the "house band" for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. The trumpeter and Duquesne University faculty member, who serves as co-musical director of the revitalized 16-piece band that performs its first concert in its new digs tomorrow night, subscribes to a simple idea: "There are other cities in the world that have their own jazz orchestra -- why doesn't Pittsburgh have one?" That is, a legitimate repertory orchestra, not a pick-up band of musicians who get paid by the gig. The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra is loosely based on the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Wynton Marsalis-led ensemble with which Jones also has performed. "It's the resident jazz orchestra -- they're salaried musicians, like the Pittsburgh Symphony," Jones says. "My goal is to have the musicians in this band be taken care of as much as those musicians are. That's something I believe that should happen in every city." Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra • Where: August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Liberty Avenue, Downtown. • When: 8 p.m. tomorrow. • Tickets: $33 and $22.50; 412-456-6666 or proartstickets.org. But it isn't new, even for Pittsburgh. Jones, who last year approached Shay Wafer, the August Wilson Center's program director, about reviving the PJO, got the concept from Nathan Davis, longtime director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh who had originally assembled the PJO for similar reasons in the mid-1980s, initially as a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House. Davis envisioned a monthly concert series, including commissioning new works by living composers. It even had a permanent home -- Carnegie Library in Oakland, which had donated office and rehearsal space. "We were going to have salaries -- $150 for the performance plus $50 for two rehearsals," Davis says. "It meant that every musician would get $250-$300. They would have retirement, pension plan, medical benefits -- that was our dream." That first 1986 fundraising gig featured the Modern Jazz Quartet, and George Benson was a guest artist for another show. Among the musicians who played in the orchestra were Danny Cohn, Chuck Austin, Johnny Costa, Joe Harris, Nelson Harrison, Joe Dallas, Harold Betters, Randy Purcell, Ray DeFade Sr. and Sandy Staley. Unfortunately, back then the PJO couldn't get funding from major corporate benefactors. Davis said that they asked him, "Isn't jazz self-supporting?" And band members were playing with other, similar groups for less money, so it eventually folded. "You couldn't blame the musicians because they have to work wherever they can work," Davis says. That may be less of an issue today, since the orchestra has received grants from the Multicultural Arts Initiative, for which it recently played a benefit, and from the August Wilson Center itself, where it will perform quarterly as part of the concert series, play different contracted events throughout town and then, hopefully monthly, Jones says. Wafer said that the center was happy to cooperate. "Pittsburgh has such a tremendous jazz legacy, and when Sean approached us about [re-creating] the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra and it being a resident big band for the August Wilson Center, we were thrilled and honored to provide a home for a new generation of jazz musicians," Wafer says. For the PJO, arrangements will be written by Mike Tomaro, Jones' partner, the band's lead alto saxophonist and Davis' counterpart at Duquesne University, and sometimes by the composers for special shows, Jones says. "We're commissioning a piece by [veteran tenor saxophonist] Jimmy Heath. We're looking at the spring for that," he said. "[Trumpeter] Terence Blanchard's interested in doing something with the band. So there's a lot on the table." And just as before, top local musicians have been recruited for the project. The saxophone section includes Curtis Johnson, Kenny Powell and -- following in his father's footsteps -- Eric DeFade. Jay Asbhy, whose guitarist brother Marty serves as executive producer of the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild concert series, is part of the trombone section. Slippery Rock University professor Steve Hawk plays lead trumpet. The rhythm section comprises pianist Alton Merrill, bassist Paul Thompson and drummer Tom Wendt. Carolyn Perteete is the vocalist. "It's important for me to let Pittsburgh know, 'This is your orchestra,' " Jones says. And Davis appreciates that Jones is bringing back the PJO. "It's been dead so long, so that's not really passing the torch," said Davis, who is set to retire in the near future. "It's up for the next cats to do it. I did my bit." Rick Nowlin can be reached at rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871. Read more: http://post-gazette.com/pg/09280/1003454-388.stm?cmpid=newspanel0#ixzz0TIX8FQJF

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Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on October 9, 2009 at 9:45pm
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Sean Jones looks to break mold with Jazz Orchestra

By Bob Karlovits
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sean Jones is stepping out of the box that defines everyone and holding the lid open with the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra.

"You have to be willing to do that to keep the music alive," says the trumpeter who is developing a national reputation with his releases and touring schedule. "I've never led a big band before, but you have to be willing to do new things."

He and co-artistic director Mike Tomaro will lead the debut this evening of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, a band he hopes will develop the talents and skills of its members as well as creating a forward-looking ensemble rooted in this city.

"This city has a jazz legacy as strong as that of New York and New Orleans," he says. "It deserves a band like this."

Tomaro is the director of jazz studies at Duquesne University, where Jones teaches.

The trumpeter sees his work as treading new ground. But he hopes the band also will call attention to the performing skills of saxophonist Tomaro, who is better known as an arranger and composer.

Mostly, though, Jones wants jazz fans to realize that big bands don't have to be mimics of the past. He wants the band to be a spot for new arrangements and new sounds, much as the classic Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Band was.

That seems to be happening already. The band had a preview opening at a free concert in Highland Park in August. At that time, Jones thought this concert would be fairly close to that one.

That has changed. Tomaro has put together an arrangement of Jones' "BJ's Tune." Singer Carolyn Perteete will join it for versions of "Never Let Me Go," "All My Tomorrows" and possibly another song. Jones also says the band will do some of its charts of Pittsburgh-oriented jazz works that it didn't get a chance to play in August.

That's the kind of fresh performances Jones is hoping to make regular with the band. He even has commissioned tenor sax star Jimmy Heath, a veteran of many big bands, to write a piece for the band's next concert, which will be in December.

"You gotta have a strategy," he says about the plan for the band. Most big bands are built around "getting together for a gig," he says. That puts a limit on overall vision, he says, because payday is the driving force, not the creation of new music.

The band, which is supported by the Multicultural Arts Initiative and is a resident ensemble at the August Wilson Center, is planning a series of concerts into the spring at the center.

Jones also wants the band to be made up of a steady group of performers who take their membership seriously.

He realizes when a band walks the edge with new music, some conservative fans can fall away. But he is not worried.

"You have to give people something to look forward to," he says. "If it is good, they will come."

Bob Karlovits can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.


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