Pittsburgh – the Fort Knox of Jazz

In the 21st century era of world music, it is imperative that America's most important cultural contribution to the world - jazz music - be preserved, taught, expounded, developed and celebrated.

Pittsburgh is one of the most fertile breeding grounds for icons of the culture. In 2008 Nelson E. Harrison, Ph.D. created jazzburgher.ning.com, representing the region's historical and geographic significance in order to offer the perfect atmosphere for the education, presentation, documentation, archiving, production and research of the performing art of jazz and its related musical forms. The site is designed to attract the consciousness of researchers, young people and the world-at-large to the significant contributions of Pittsburghers and stand as a living monument to the cultural excellence spawned in Pittsburgh's communities and celebrated around the world by countless millions.

The Crawford Grille #2

There remains one venue symbolic of this nature, closed to the public since December 2003 but thankfully designated as a historical landmark on the National Registry in 2020, that has the iconic cultural and historical significance to attract tourists and visitors from around the globe as a “first day” event upon its restoration – The Crawford Grill #2. It served as a Spirit House for the music for 60 years and was the focal point of the creative inspiration and interaction of countless artists who gathered there regularly. Located at 2141 Wylie Ave. in the Hill District, Crawford Grill #2 has been consecrated by human experience, creativity, emotions and music. While it was open, it was a melting pot of true diversity where peace prevailed despite whatever may have been happening outside of its walls.

No town could boast a finer night life than Pittsburgh in the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. This is one reason so many jazz legends were produced during those years. The construction of the now erstwhile Mellon Arena effectuated the simultaneous bulldozing of the richest repository of Pittsburgh's jazz legacy, the lower Hill District. If the legacy is to be perpetuated, a means must be available to hold the memories of a fertile atmosphere long since lost and scarcely remembered. In addition, young people between the ages of 18-40 need a way to experience the music in some way as it as it is meant to be enjoyed. Although the Crawford Grill remains as a silent monument awaiting resurrection in the name of the spirits that still resonate in its shadows, there is no better venue that represents that era and tradition.

Teagarden Mary Lou Williams Tadd Dameron Hank Jones Dizzy Gillespie Gottlieb
Mary Lou Williams in her apartment with Jack Teagarden, Tadd Dameron, Hank Jones and Dizzy Gillespie

The creators and master craftsmen of this music who have truly touched our hearts and helped to shape our lives with their artistry are truly an endangered species. It is a  modern-day tragedy that their stories remain untold and become lost forever upon their passing from life. The master craftsmen of the 1920s and 1930s are almost all gone today. Among the survivors, there are few well enough and available to tell their stories. Future generations need to know that this great music came from the people (not the steel mills, the water or the geography) and who they were.

Make Time and Explore

Modern technologies now give us an opportunity to have and use many online resources to explore the treasured artistry of the many legends associated with the Pittsburgh tradition, discover and cull the evidence that will support the following assertion: "If New Orleans is accepted to be the birthplace of jazz, then Pittsburgh is its Fort Knox."

The following are some names to start your research:

  • Earl "Fatha" Hines
  • Billy Eckstine
  • Mary Lou Williams
  • Billy Strayhorn
  • Billy May
  • Roy Eldridge
  • Kenny Clarke
  • Art Blakey
  • Ray Brown
  • Erroll Garner
  • Ahmad Jamal
  • Sammy Nestico
  • Stanley Turrentine
  • George Benson
  • Dakota Staton
  • Joe Harris
  • Maxine Sullivan
  • Barry Galbraith
  • Dodo Marmarosa
  • Grover Mitchell
  • Eddie Jefferson
  • Phyllis Hyman
  • Bob Babbitt
  • Slide Hampton
  • Lena Horne
  • Leroy Brown
  • Joe Westray
  • Paul Chambers
  • Roger Humphries
  • John Heard
  • Mickey Bass
  • Ron Anthony
  • Joe Pass
  • Musa Kaleem
  • Joe Kennedy, Jr.
  • Steve Nelson
  • Peter Matz
  • Cecil Brooks, III
  • Lou Blackburn
  • Eddie Safranski
  • Cutty Cutshall
  • Syreeta Wright
  • Bob Cooper
  • Jimmy Ponder
  • Horace Parlan
  • Joe Negri
  • Adam Wade
  • Johnny Costa
  • Chuck Jackson
  • Edgar Willis
  • Tommy Turk
  • The Variety Club
  • Ralph Lalama
  • Ray Crawford
  • Sammy Nestico
  • Steve Grossman
  • Bill Tole
  • Darrell Grant
  • Perry Como
  • Gene Kelly
  • Jester Hairston
  • Sonny Clark
  • Jeff "Tain" Watts
  • Beaver Harris
  • J.C. Moses
  • Henry Mancini

Nelson E. Harrison is a Ph. D. in clinical psychology, educator, composer, archivist, lyricist, arranger, ASCAP, speaker and veteran trombonist of the Count Basie Orchestra. He speaks music as a native language and his lyrical skills have been endorsed by a significant number of major jazz composers and vocalists. He assumed the challenge of continuing the vocalese repertoire by lyricizing 125 selected bop tunes by iconic composers thus making their music more accessible to singers. In 1999 Nelson self-published "The World According to Bop," his first anthology of original lyrics to 88 bebop and hard bop. Dr. Harrison has been an active professional musician for 62 years and has interacted and or played with hundreds of major artists and composers.

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