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
At fifteen, I decided to learn to play guitar. My influences were Joe Negri and George Benson. Both were amazingly talented...way back then. As I see it, both are largely responsible for the growing number of guitar players from Pittsburgh. But it was George and I who had hustled through Center Avenue that afternoon, straight to his house and on to his music room where I sat and watched in awe as he ripped through single-string runs at astonishing speeds, and with unbelievable ease...way back then. It was George, my greatest influence, to whom I am forever grateful.

The venues I frequented most were Mason's (where George often played), The Crawford Grill and The Hurricane...Miss Birdie's place. I used to think of Birdie Dunlap as the Hill's Grand Hostess...she really had it goin' on. It was there that I met and talked guitar with Kenny Burrell, Thornel Schwartz, Pat Martino, and the person I recognize as being the worlds greatest musical-story-teller...Wes Montgomery. In addition to this good fortune, the Hill was bulging with live music venues...up the hill and down the hill, a potent, fertile environment for someone having what I had on my mind; for the venues, to me, were not only places to play, also, they were places to learn. Most venues were monitored by Union Representative, neighbor, and friend, George Childress of Local 60-471. Nearly all who played union houses were union members. I did, and I was. The following venues were all up for grabs (not all mentioned here were union houses): The Aurora Club, The Florentine Lounge, The Workman's Club, The Savoy Ballroom, The Ellis Hotel, The Loendi Club, The Corinthian Hall, Nita's Bar, The Terrace Hall Hotel, The Northside Elks, Mutt's Hutt, The Flamingo and Hank and Dons.

After working with numerous groups, singers and horn players, I formed my own combo: vocalist, guitar, bass and drums. I had known going in that the singer was under age by a few years; but she was super-talented and really had enjoyed her role with the group; so I didn't give her age a second thought. But sure enough, it became compulsory that I meet with and speak with her mother as the group had landed its first club appearance; and because her mother went along...I claim the distinction of being the person who introduced Phyllis Hyman to this city's night club circuit. Saxophonist and mentor, Art Nance had contributed his talent to the groups first few gigs. Things were going great, and not very long after, Phyllis' career took off at the speed of light...and not very long after that, I took to the road with The Jimmy McGriff Quintet.

Now, surely the path I'm on could be different...but, I have truly been blessed...its like my path has been all that happens along the path serves to make me a better guitar player and person...God knows I could not have had a better life...and moreover, God knows, as well as I, that there could not have been a better gift for me than growing up on The Musical Hill.

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Comment by Susan Patterson on March 23, 2009 at 12:56pm
Hi Kenny,
I really enjoyed your blog on the Musical Hill. I too appreciate so much the history of music in Pgh. My Mom worked at Eddies Restaurant where George and many other famous people came to eat. August Wilson, she said, used to sit in the back booth where he would often write some of his thoughts down.Thank you so much for taking me back to a memorable time.
Comment by Kennard Roosevelt Williams on March 13, 2009 at 2:11pm
Thanks for your comment Ed, I appreciate it very much.

Teaching jazz, as you do, is surely one of the keys; you deserve to be commended.

Best wishes,

Comment by Ed Skirtich on March 13, 2009 at 4:29am
Hi Kennard,

Thanks for sharing your stories of The Hill.

You have been an inspirational figure in my life and career with passing all kinds of knowledge on how a young guy like myself on how to get hired as a pro musician and bandleader and band.

That's really terrific too on what you guys and gals did in the music business back in the day.

Now the hard part for us is, how to keep jazz history alive and in the present times of 2009.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kennard!


Ed Skirtich
(412) 422-4149 (H)
(412) 841-8046 (C)

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