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

The Day Louis Armstrong Lost His Color: A Short Story

The Day Louis Armstrong Lost His Color: A Short Story

Reanimation and the blues, magical-realist style

Louis Armstrong Louis Armstrong (photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress)

Louis Armstrong awoke one morning wanting to make some music, but when he sat in front of the mirror of his hotel bedroom—because he liked to see his embouchure as he practiced—he noticed that he had lost his color again.

It happened sometimes after a restless night. Louis knew that he had thrashed some thanks to a dream about his old mentor King Oliver. King was hurting in real life because of all the sugar sandwiches he ate. His gums were destroyed and he couldn’t solo. Louis figured he would be dead soon, that that was just too much for a man like King to take.

In his dream Louis kicked King over a cliff, which is what some people had said he’d done when he left Oliver’s band and started out on his own, and maybe that had knocked out his color in the night.

“Aw shit, hon,” Louis Armstrong said to his girl, Alpha Smith. He could hear her in the kitchen of their suite where she made coffee and read the papers. She liked to read to the sound of Louis doing his scales. No one else made scales sound like chamber music commissioned by a Prussian count. Turning over a page of her New York Herald Tribune, she looked into her mug, wished she had made more coffee. “It’ll be fine, Satch,” she answered. “You’ve lost your color before. It always comes back.”

Louis touched his formerly prodigious cheeks. They looked sunken in the mirror, alarming.

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“We were at home then. Didn’t have no big Carnegie Hall concert. I could afford to give it a day or two.”

Alpha wasn’t worried. “People aren’t coming to see your face. Beautiful as I think it is. They’re going to be here to hear you play that horn. And sing for me, baby.”

He liked the effect her voice made coming in from out of the room; it lent depth, heft, bottom, balance, bass and horn, to their call-and-response. He was working on a new talking blues that could use that same treatment on stage with the boys. Would have to change where he stood. Alpha always had killer ideas.

“Aw shit,” he repeated, to himself. His face could almost pass for Colin Clive’s, that guy who played Frankenstein—the doctor, not the monster—in The Bride of Frankenstein, which Louis and Alpha had seen a few nights before.

They liked it so much that they sat through it three more times. Elsa Lanchester as the bride was a howl. That hiss she made when she rebuffed the monster, the cat who wanted to marry her! Man, Boris Karloff made you feel sad, which wasn’t what monsters could usually do. Nobody felt bad for old Drac, Louis reflected.

He tried to replicate the sound of that hiss on his trumpet. The vibrato wasn’t enough. He had to find a way to get a wilder sound, but also feminine. Not cheap, lowdown, and alley-catty. It was a queenly hiss, pissed as all get-up as the Bride was by this dead-tissue dude wanting to jump her bones, if she even had bones. She must have. Maybe Louis had enjoyed the film too much, and that was why his face looked like Colin Clive’s.

The previous time he’d lost his color, he resembled Bix Beiderbecke, who at least had been another cornet man. That was a few years back, right after Bix died. And talk about reanimation! People might have thought Louis had found a way to bring Bix back. He practiced hard that weekend until his color returned, grateful not to be on the road.

That’s when he started working on a lot of spirituals that went over like wildfire in big towns like Boston, Chicago, L.A., which he hadn’t expected. From problems come triumphs. Sometimes, anyway. Of course, everyone still wanted to talk about those old Hot Five and Hot Seven records, from almost a decade ago. But Louis was on the Decca label now, he had more to say. Besides, he sang better now that he was older. And it wasn’t like he didn’t sing like a badass earlier.

Speaking of badasses, the Pittsburgh Crawfords were in town for a Negro League game. They were Louis’ favorite team. He loved watching Josh Gibson catch when he could, always wanted to meet him.

“Just go up and introduce yourself,” Alpha said as they sat in the stands, eating their hot dogs, Louis stirring a cup of sauerkraut with the meat sticking out one end of the bun.

The weather was cool for September in New York. After his makeshift meal, Louis pulled up his jacket, his favorite one with the light fur lining, drawing the collar folds around his mouth.

“I can’t go up to Josh Gibson like this,” he protested, gesturing to his face. “We’re talking a man who hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium. Do you think Josh Gibson goes to Frankenstein pictures?”

“I think he probably does,” Alpha countered. “They’re good movies. But you’re not going up to him as Colin Clive, you’re Louis Armstrong, you’re just having a strange day. Josh will get it.”

“Oh, so it’s Josh now?”

There was jocularity in his voice, so she smiled back, but there was an edge there as well, like with some of his solos that started out as if to say, “Relax, listeners, this is going to be funny,” and then they were for a bit—or possessed of mirth, anyway—before Louis torched you with his blues, that blue flame being his trumpet sound when Louis was most like Louis.

“I am not going down to the dugout to try and talk to Josh. But we’ll leave a ticket with the team secretary. That way, if Josh comes to the concert tonight and I still don’t have my color back, at least he’ll hear me play. Which is fair, since he’s treating us by playing himself. Look, he’s coming up to bat now.”

Gibson went 1-for-4 with a double, but the double must have traveled 435 feet. In the fading sunlight Louis forgot his problem. But then dusk came, and darkness, and their cab took them to Carnegie Hall, where Louis frantically rubbed his face backstage.

“My color is still not there, hon,” he mumbled, like the words were part of a scat vocal, not really words, pleading to Alpha, as if she might execute a finger snap on the offbeat that would put him back on his regular 1 and 3. He would not let the rest of the band see him. They had assembled on the stage, warming up with a blues vamp while the crowd filled in, wondering where Louis was.

A knock on his dressing-room door. The time was now.


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Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on December 21, 2021 at 11:40pm

The Day Louis Armstrong Lost His Color: A Short Story

Reanimation and the blues, magical-realist style

Louis Armstrong Louis Armstrong (photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress)

“Fuck me if I’m going out there like this, A,” he said. When Louis was scared, his language got awfully blue. “Get me a partition. A stagehand can walk me out with a partition, then set it down, and I’ll play behind that. Yes. That’s a novel idea. These are progressive times in art. Didn’t someone say I was the jazz answer to Picasso? Or one of those crazy dudes?”

Alpha nodded that it was one of them. Maybe Gertrude Stein, she thought. She couldn’t remember. She knew when newspaper people were trying to make a buck with a splashy headline. “If that’s what makes you comfortable, babe,” she said. Her voice didn’t fully transmit that she agreed with Louis’ plan, or thought it necessary, but the fact was he had a show to give.

The band was a crack one. Talented professionals. They knew Louis had his moods and this was probably the result of one of them. If he wanted to play behind that partition, he had earned the right, earned it a long time ago. All of them had absorbed every last drop of those Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. That music coated their souls, and it was a forever coat.

Naturally, everyone listening knew it was Louis. No trumpet had ever been played like he played his trumpet. King had been the best, then even he had to say, “Nope, not anymore,” and Bix had looked up at King, so when it came to seeing how high up Louis was, he’d have had to lay flat on his back.

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Louis blew some of his solos that way behind his partition, feet sticking out under a white sheet on a cheap rack, something chorus girls normally changed behind backstage so that the male hoofers could not see their tweeters, which was Louis’ slang for, well, you know.

The applause came in surging waves, crescendo followed by crescendo. It was so loud, so bracing, so powerful, that Louis thought, “Man, Josh Gibson must be out there, I bet he can clap louder than a motha—”

They finished the final number, and the band did their bows, exited from the stage. The last little clap—the hands might have belonged to a child—faded away, made Louis think of how a hi-hat is like a clapping hand, a sound of joy.

But still he stood behind his partition. No one was leaving. They would not let him walk away without having seen him at least once. He turned to his right, where Alpha was standing in the wings, making a pushing motion with her hand, nudging him. She mouthed that it would be okay, and Louis began an encore. He never did encores. You paid your money, you got your show. That was his ethos. He learned it from King. You could come back again, and he’d try to give you his art once more. But done was done, and new would be new.

Alone, he began “West End Blues,” his favorite of the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. But he didn’t play it like he did years before. He took it even slower, for twenty minutes, then twenty-five. He shined up his tone, spit-polished the golden rhythm in the slow curves of the song’s walking blues. And he played his color right back into his face. Finally, the number came to a close. There had been times in Louis’ life when people were too moved to clap. Maybe four times, three, not many more. This was one of them. No tension was better. It was the tension of love, and grace.

Still, it was useful to break it, so that life could go on again—not that he had stopped anyone’s life, but he had added on—and people could take what they’d heard back out into their worlds, as a part of who they now were, who they hadn’t quite been a couple hours before.

He leapt from behind the partition, his horn at his chest, to the apron of the stage, like he was jazz Superman, only he didn’t need no big S on his shirt, just this banged-up piece of brass.

In his most gravelly of gravel voices, he exclaimed, “Look! I’m Colin Clive!”

The Bride of Frankenstein was all the rage in New York City just then. The audience loved the joke, and the spotlight even shifted from Louis, to Colin Clive himself, who was in the crowd, whistling with his fingers.

Maybe there were some days Colin Clive awoke and he was Louis Armstrong.

“You’ll have to puzzle that one out,” Alpha said backstage, packing Louis’ horn into its case, after he had shared his theory.

“I got them ‘Tweeter Blues,’ baby,” he added.

“I bet you do,” she laughed, kissing his beautiful mouth.



Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature—for a wide range of publications. He also talks regularly on the radio for the likes of NPR and Downtown with Rich Kimball. His most recent book, Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls (Tailwinds), was published in 2019, with an entry in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club to follow in 2020. Find him on the web at (where you’ll also find his unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.

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