Did you know that Pittsburgh had a profound influence on the American musical artform of jazz?
Pittsburgh is home to the mastermind behind the Big Mac. It is the location of the first commercial broadcast in radio by KDKA in 1920. And, of course, Pittsburgh is well known for having been a global hub of the steel industry. But did you know that Pittsburgh had a profound influence on the American musical artform of jazz? Pittsburgh's strategic location between New York and Chicago brought hundreds of the pioneers of jazz through the varied clubs and venues dotted throughout our city.
Jazz came to Pittsburgh's neighborhoods in the mid-1920s and, in fact, The Hill District became known as "Little Harlem" from the 1920s until the early 1950s. The epicenter of jazz music in Pittsburgh was the Crawford Grille in the Hill District, which opened in 1930. As jazz music's popularity rose, "The Grill" attracted jazz legends to its stage, including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Billy Eckstine and Stanley Turrentine. The Grille became known as a spot where black artists and white artists could jam together without the shackles of segregagation.
Birth of Be Bop
Local artists absorbed and learned from the unique stylings of the various master musicians passing through, and in turn developed new jazz flavors of their own. Pittsburgh jazz musicians are widely credited as the founders of the Be Bop, Hard Bob, and Vocalese styles of jazz. A number of influential musicians emerged from our city. Stephen Foster (the father of American music), Kenny Clark, Mary Lou Williams, Ahmad Jamal, Erroll Garner, and Billy Strayhorn (Duke Ellington's primary musical collaborator for 28 years) all came from the Pittsburgh's East End neighborhoods. A number of other musicians came from nearby communities outside of our city, including: Maxine Sullivan, Sonny Clark, and Earl "Fatha" Hines (the father of modern jazz piano). Trumpeter Roy Eldridge, drummer Kenneth Spearman "Klook" Clarke, pianist Dodo Marmarosa, and influential bassist Ray Brown were also born in Pittsburgh. Other notable local jazz musicians include: Paul Chambers, Lena Horne, Eric Kloss, Walt Harper, Horace Parlan, Nathan Davis, George Benson, Art Blakey, Roger Humphries, and Jeff "Tain" Watts. And the list goes on...
If you're a music fan lucky enough to be in town this weekend (June 19-21, 2015) you must check out the Pittsburgh JazzLive International. This year's line-up ncluding artists like Etienne Charles - A Calypso Review, Aaron Abernathy & Nat Turner Band, and the Christian McBride Trio. In collaboration with Pittsburgh Jazz Live International is The Pittsburgh Jazz Celebration on June 16, 2015. This celebration is all about the music made famous by legendary Pittsburghers and features tributes to some of Pittsburgh's greats. Throughout the night, clips for an upcoming PBS documentary celebrating the Legacy of Jazz in Pittsburgh will be filmed live.
Just as Pittsburgh helped to shaped the varied genres of jazz, jazz has shaped the "joyful noise" of Pittsburgh. Music has always been an important part of Pittsburgh from Stephen Foster in the 19th Century to Wiz Khalifa today. Jazz. This distinctly American musical genre has an enduring legacy in Pittsburgh with an influential sound celebrated worldwide. If you love music like I do, do yourself a favor and check out some live jazz in Pittsburgh.
The featured image shows a Teenie Harris photo of the Crawford Grill.