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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
Early in the evolution of jazz music, jam sessions became the opportunity for players to develop musical ideas, learn repertoire and phrasing, performance conventions, and learn from their peers. Probably the most famous jazz jam session was held on Monday nights at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, NY, starting in 1941. Swing Era soloists such as jazz saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and jazz trumpeter Roy Eldridge joined the house band, which included Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and others. The concept of "Jamming" allowed the players to experiment with new musical concepts and improvisatory ideas and the Minton's sessions became the incubator for the language and conventions of Bebop.

Jam Sessions can also be cutting contests and participation can be highly competitive and selective. Even the Minton's musicians reported performing compositions in unfamiliar key centers at increased tempi to keep novice players off the bandstand. Overall though, the main benefit of jazz jam sessions is the real time performance context and the oral transmission of the jazz language. Participants are expected to follow some ground rules, i.e. knowing the basic repertoire, supporting every band member's improvisations, structuring the length of their improvisations similar to their band members, etc.

Most jazz musicians will gladly share some of their memorable jam session experiences, such as meeting some of their heroes and future mentors, or realizing some glaring deficiency in their playing and repertoire and as a result going back to the practice room and reaching new heights. When I first arrived in the United States in 1988 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I was most eager to learn anything I could about this fascinating art form that had transformed my life and brought me via a one-way ticket and one suitcase to this new country and culture. Every Sunday night there was a jam session at Club 98 in Birmingham, Alabama. Club 98 was a place mostly frequented by the African-American population of Birmingham and in an area not usually considered safe. Coming fresh from Germany, I was completely color blind though and didn't know anything about safety conventions, all that counted was the most inviting atmosphere of the musicians in the club and their willingness to sit down at the piano with me and show me all their favorite voicings and introducing me to all their favorite repertoire. Some of the musicians there were also members of Sun Ra's band, another Birmingham native, and rather experimental. I must say that those Sunday nights at Club 98 were some of the best education that I received during my ten years of Graduate Music School.

Inspired by my memorable experiences, I recently helped initiate a jazz jam session series at Bloomington's new jazz club Jazz at the Station. It is on Thursday evenings from 8-11pm, sponsored by our jazz society Jazz from Bloomington, the Bloomington Area Arts Council and supported by a grant from Chase Bank. One of the finest IU Jazz Masters students Marlin McKay leads the house rhythm section and everyone is invited to come and participate. The series started this Fall 2008, and very soon a core group of participants seemed to develop. The group consists mostly of current IU students, some professionals from the community, and less than a handful amazing pre-college talent. As I was watching the dynamics and some of the amazing musical and pedagogical moments during the series, I was wondering why not more aspiring players, especially younger ones, would take advantage of this opportunity. Of course busy schedules, transportation issues, and probably some intimidation factors are involved, but maybe the new generation of jazz players is not aware of the values and opportunities of this setting and their learning experience has changed. It really sparked my curiousity and I want to find out more about the place of the jazz jam session in current jazz pedagogy. As a result, I have initiated a study involving surveys of jazz musicians and students on their perception and experiences with jam sessions. Any of you jazz musicians and students out there, please take five minutes and follow the following link to complete the survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=kqM8aQHIZ8xjFNWgiXAtsg_3d_3d

Your participation and help to shed lights on the issue is much appreciated, please spread the word to any other possible participants. Probably by this summer, I'll share some of my results and findings and further directions in this research endeavor. Also, if you know of any jam sessions please let me know. I'd like to visit and survey some of the participants and observe other settings. For a taste of the Bloomington jam session, check out this wonderful video that the father of my 12-year old piano student Evan Main shot, when he played Afternoon in Paris with the college kids in his soccer outfit:

www.youtube.com/watch

or type in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0ebovmzltg

Till soon

Monika

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Comment by Bruce C on February 24, 2009 at 12:00pm

You Are both so right on! I'm a smaller time ..."late bloomer" ...jazz musician here in Maine...formerly of the NYC area where I devoted most of my career to being a professional photographer/artist for 20+ years. My pic of "Sweet Emma" at Preservation Hall here, is what I've done most of my life. When my mid-life "crisis" hit, I moved to Maine...reinvented my life and picked up a horn again after a 23year lapse. Being a "non-traditional" learner reading and formal training comes slowly at times, and making friends and mentors, in Maine's thriving off the "main road" music scene became my way to get back "on me bicycle" again. Learning comes really fast for me in Jam Sessions...and in many places in Maine ther are some really great "seasoned" musicians. Going to Florida's west coast for winter escapes also got me into jam sessions in Sarasota, Braedington, Tampa, and Nokomis...where the learning curve spikes up with many "retired", and some great active jazz "pros". The Sarasota Jazz Club sponsers many great programs, and they had (maybe still have) a Saturday afternoon guest program with a invitational jam session with the guest performer afterwards. I had the opportunity to play with some really great players there. So re-learning for the last 20 years has been a blast, and diligently paying attention to my mentors and helping others on the same path is such a labor of love. I have a trio that has played the last 2.5 years at a local cafe in Ellsworth Maine, and we invite musicians to sit in with us when the occassion arrises. We've had many players sit in and have a blast. Sites like this also make the journey well worth it too, with all the friends and information to share amongst us here. Perhaps a Jam Session Network group.... Thank you Nelson for all the great "work" that goes on here...it is a blessing...truly a blessing....always b ps Several Maine Public High Schools have amazing Jazz progams for young musicians...Blue Hill, and Mount Desert are two of the best ones....(I know there are more ...so Bangor, Herman don't get mad ...lol)
Comment by Monika Herzig on February 23, 2009 at 2:25pm
David Ritz' tribute is beautiful, what special memories. Thank you so much for sharing. I was in negotiations with David Fathead Newman to present him here in Bloomington this February for the Arts Week celebrations and was going to back him up. The agent let me know last summer then that David doesn't want to travel much anymore. I didn't know then that he was battling serious health issues and wish we had planned this a few years earlier and I would have gotten my change to play with the legend.
Also the info on musician's clubs is most interesting. Nelson, would you happen to know some sources where I can read more about this?
Thanks all - and I'm hoping that many of the jazz players/ students are taking the survey in the meantime, so we can gather some data to gather more conclusions and suggestions.
It's at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=kqM8aQHIZ8xjFNWgiXAtsg_3d_3d
Thanks
Monika
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on February 23, 2009 at 5:14am
Remembrance
By David Ritz
February 22, 2009
In summer 1957, I was a teenager who had just moved to Texas from the East Coast. One Sunday afternoon, I happened to walk into a large social hall in South Dallas where a jam session was underway. On the bandstand were three saxophonists: Leroy "Hog" Cooper on baritone, David “Fathead” Newman on tenor and Hank Crawford on alto.

Their playing shook me to my very core. Through their horns, they shouted out a blues with the ferocity of a Blind Lemon Jefferson or a Bessie Smith. Beyond that, their facility with high-flying modern jazz was breathtaking. Whatever thin line separated tight-and-right rhythm-and-blues from burning post-Bird bebop suddenly evaporated in a flash of brilliance.

As it turned out, these men were the nucleus of the newly formed Ray Charles small combo. Along with their leader, they radically rearranged the sound of popular music.



For the next 50 years, they grew as musicians and, apart from their role in Ray's career, carved important artistic identities of their own. They remained close to each other, often touring and recording together. They also became lifelong friends of mine.

Then, in January of this year, within two weeks, all three died -- first Leroy, of heart failure; then David, of pancreatic cancer; then Hank, of a stroke.

The timing was both sad and eerie. Their harmonies had knit them together as a single unit. Three men who seemed to have played as one, suddenly seemed to have died as one.

Leroy was the least known and least ambitious of the three. He was a rotund man, a hip version of Shakespeare's Falstaff, and a witty, lovable guy who struck a hilarious balance between Munchkin and mensch. He led Ray's groups off and on from the '50s through the '70s, from small combo to big band.

Ray once compared Leroy's skills to two other baritone virtuosos -- Harry Carney, a mainstay of the Duke Ellington band, and Gerry Mulligan: "Hog has a bigger sound than Harry and he's got quicker hands than Gerry. I'd put him up against anyone."

After leaving Ray, Leroy lived out a happy life in Orlando, Fla., where he played in the Disney band.

Ray saw the gentle-mannered David as his alter ego. "If I had focused on sax instead of singing and playing piano," Ray told me, "I would have wanted to sound like Fathead." He and David were as close as blood brothers.

Ray was responsible for David's first solo album, which included the classic that became Fathead's signature, "Hard Times." The Ray-David collaboration had overtones of Billie Holiday-Lester Young and Thelonious Monk-Charlie Rouse, twin sensibilities that fit together like yin and yang.

On his own, David earned a sacred and secure place among the romantic giants of the tenor sax, men like Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis.

Hank was a shy man who used silence, rather than words, to convey his feelings. As Ray's chief arranger in the '50s, he gave that little band a big-band voice.

Then in the early '60s, Hank emerged as a solo star, becoming one of the most influential alto players after Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter and Charlie Parker.

His cry was piercing; his deep soul, singer-styled sound had blues lovers waving their arms like worshipers in church. With a poignancy that bordered on pain, he breathed forth ballads with the drama of Etta James and Little Jimmy Scott. Hank could make you weep.

Leroy, David and Hank each had the dialect; they each had the skill, the passion and the craft. They served -- and elevated -- an artist who rose to fabulous heights. But in no way should we underestimate their own importance. No three saxophonists have ever played in closer harmony. No three have had their distinct and vital voices.

Leroy Cooper, gone at age 80. David Newman, 75. Hank Crawford, 74.

Three friends, three beautiful men, three masters.

Ritz has collaborated on the autobiographies of, among others, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and B.B. King.
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on February 23, 2009 at 5:03am
Monika,

Thank you for starting this most essential discussion. You are correct in what you say and your understanding of the importance of jam sessions historically and pedagogically is right on the money. Many young musicians think a jam session is an "open stage" but it is more analogous to a Dojo... a training-under-fire environment with mentors and adepts interacting and honing their skills which include how to entertain as well as how to play. The veterans roll out the "hot coals" and demonstrate how to walk across without getting burned. There are a few places arising that are reviving this practice. We have 3 or 4 in Pittsburgh that are high level and quite exciting. If you ever travel through here on any given day of the week, you won't be disappointed.

Another reason, not typically mentioned, is the disappearance of Musician's Clubs that were operated by the (American Federation of Musicians (AFL-CIO ) union locals in every town. They were almost always open 24 hours/day and traveling musicians always knew where to go to meet their peers in every town. These were virtually abdicated during the integration movement in America. The AFM was segregated as was the entire society until around 1965. Upon the merger of the black and white locals in a given city, the black local gave up its building and moved its records and address into the white local's facility. Prior to the actual move the white locals closed their clubhouse permanently because they did not want to socialize with black players. The black local closed their club when they vacated their facility so there was a mass disappearance of musicians clubs in America. Also prior to the mergers there was what we called "The Chittlin' Circuit which consisted in a parallel society of black-owned entertainment establishments where black musicians worked. Motown was gestated in this environment and the first tours of Motown entertainers (1964-66) provided ample work for the musicians of the black local.This has never been replaced.

Prior to the mergers there were always a handful of white musicians who hung out at the black clubs and that was never a problem. It would be very similar to your experience in Birmingham. Prior to the mergers the black musicians were not welcome in the white union (or any other union for that matter.) After the mergers the Chittlin' Circuit spawned shows were populated with white musicians from the merged local and the black musicians that typically had been playing those shows were ignored by the union officials (with very few exceptions or tokens). Lack of work caused the master black musicians to obtain employment in the strata (lower-middle class) available for them as black people. Many ceased to play altogether. In Pittsburgh the black musicians filed a class-action suit against the merged local #60-471 but it never actually got into court.

Prior to 1968 there were viable black communities in America that were hotbeds of retail trade. The Chittlin' Circuit supported many venues and after-hour clubs that held sessions until daylight. The traveling celebrities would frequent these establishments and there was never a problem with union interference. Following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., White patrons avoided going into the black community where they used to frequent for entertainment and to-date have never returned en masse like before. Venues began to close for lack of trade. A typical black community in a major may have once supported 50 clubs with one or two being quite famous for the events that took place there. These establishments became the "Lost Jazz Shrines" that are almost non-existent today or are silently awaiting new investment and revival like the Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh. Minton's was silent for @ 35 years in Harlem as you mentioned in your original post.

This discussion is a must in order to raise the awareness of people to the factors that created and maintained our great jazz musical tradition recognized as an American National Treasure (HR57) by the 100th Congress. The "jazz-gone-to-college" movement of the early '70s is not able to fill the training or achievement gap that creates new generations of legends. Though the jazz education movement had grown quite large under the aegis of organizations like the erstwhile IAJE, there is a gaping hole in the pedagogy between the performing arts high schools and professional mastery of the craft that begs to be filled by reconnecting students with the masters who possess the knowledge they seek both inside and outside the classroom.

This network and other similar ones are raising the issue and we thank you for your eloquent contribution toward that goal by starting this discussion.

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