The Walt Harper Jazz Awards were presented at the annual jazz and art gallery at CJ’s in the Strip District, hosted by long- time Talk Magazine publisher Luther Sewell and wife, Roxanne. This year’s event featured free performances by the Roger Humphries Band, Dwayne Dolphin and countless other jazz musicians performing in and outside of CJ’s.
ROXANNE AND LUTHER SEWELL
“We have been doing this event for the past seven years and the main reason we do it every year is to keep jazz music alive in Pittsburgh,” Luther Sewell said. “Our city is known for jazz music and the musicians over the years. We need to keep introducing it to the younger generation as well. Since we have very few jazz clubs, we created a jazz festival. This way you get to listen to over 20- something musicians, who are all very good. Some of the musicians are national and others are local. We want to show Pittsburgh that we have great jazz and we present it to them for free. It costs nothing to come out and have a great time and listen to great music.”
“I feel that jazz is an important part of Black history in Pittsburgh,” Roxanne Sewell said. “We lost so much of it because the big venues no longer come to Pittsburgh. Luther and I through Talk Magazine have decided to create this jazz festival. We have a rich history and as you can see here, we have over 20 musicians that come out and play. There are so many more musicians that are not here. This is a way for us to keep jazz music going and for our young people to understand what jazz music is all about. This is something that the African-American race contributed to the American culture. This year we decided to bring vendors in and include art as well.”
“Keeping jazz music alive was on the minds of everyone who attended this event,” said jazz legend Nelson Harrison. “With other genres of music dominating the industry, jazz music isn’t as popular, especially among the young.
“Any time we gather to celebrate our culture is a beautiful thing. The sense of community that it brings and the fact it brings all ages and backgrounds to enjoy the music is great. The genesis of the art form is Black people and I’m here to enjoy. People from around the world have embraced jazz music. I thank Luther and Roxanne Sewell for putting this event together every year. They are a great part of the community and they acknowledge the musician as the ether. What we are doing here musically is the soundtrack of the community that I grew up in. You couldn’t go anywhere in the Black community without this coming out of every door. There is a mural on Wylie Avenue that represents what the community was about back in the day as far as music was concerned. All of those sounds were going in your ear from the time you were a little kid until now. The people in the audience knew as much about the art form as the musician did.”
Most of the musicians said the community needs to do something to keep jazz alive no matter what it takes.
“Jazz is in real bad shape right now. If jazz music was pushed more, it would be more popular,” said musician Dwayne Dolphin. “Right now all you hear is R&B music. For the general population, they have no idea where to find jazz music in the city of Pittsburgh. Talk Magazine having this event is a good thing for jazz music. We have a lot of upcoming shows and we are going on tour. A CD is in the works for next year as well from me and the Piccolo Band. We need to get the word out about our music and jazz music as a whole anyway we can.”
Jazz legend Roger Humphries performs every week at CJ’s in the Strip District and other venues around the city. Humphries was three years old when his family first discovered his early talent at playing drums. He said he had a love for music as long as he could remember. He was encouraged by his older brothers Lawrence Jr. and Norman, who were musicians at that time. Additionally, his son Roger Jr. and Norman’s son, Gregory, have followed in their footsteps as professional drummers.
“One of the things we can do to keep jazz music alive is to have different places we can play at,” said Humphries. “Places like CJ’s in the Strip District and hopefully they are going to open up the Crawford Grill in the Hill District soon. When you have these places open, people can go by as young musicians and learn how to play jazz. We listen to the masters and it’s a part of sharing. This is from the heritage of African-Americans and the music is so fantastic. You never hear this music played the same way twice. You do this music with artistry and people are glad to hear it.”
“Some of the greatest musicians have come from Pittsburgh,” singer Sandra Dowe said. “Jazz music is something that we must keep alive. I think sometimes people get comfortable going home and having their own entertainment with DVDs and CDs and they need to get out more. It would not hurt to have more jazz radio either.”
It is very important to keep jazz music alive in Pittsburgh and Caren and Don Miller, owners of CJ’s, are doing their part to make that happen.
“I agree that jazz music is dying and that is why at CJ’s we try to keep it alive,” said Don Miller. “We have jazz at CJ’s every Thursday and sometime on Saturdays. I think jazz music is becoming a lost culture. We need to educate our young people with this kind of sound and if they just take a listen to it, they will like it. We could very well go to a deejay on Thursdays and make more money, but that is not who we are and we want to do our part in keeping jazz music alive.”
Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Pittsburgh and Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, explained how important jazz music is to everyone.
“Jazz is such a mainstay in the African-American community and in the world. Having a nice summer afternoon to come out and listen to jazz and talk to friends, there is nothing that can beat it. This evening is relaxing and rewarding. I am pleased to be here,” Bush said.
“As African-Americans this is a gift that we gave to the planet,” Stevens added. “Jazz is the regional music piece of the United States of America and the southern roots of this nation. We have some of the greatest musicians and vocalists from Pittsburgh here. You can see the happy smiles on the faces of the people that came out. This is a great atmosphere and this is what is possible through jazz. There is a mixture of ages and races in the house and it’s positive. Jazz brings folks together in a positive atmosphere. I don’t think anyone feels uncomfortable coming to a jazz performance. With other genres of music out there today, we are not sure if there is going to be gun play or violence. Normally in a jazz environment, you just get positive vibes and great people coming out to enjoy themselves. Those who do have that flexibility should come out and see what jazz music can do for you. I call Roger Humphries the ‘Dean of the Jazz Scene in Pittsburgh.’ There’s a lot of venues in Pittsburgh that feature jazz music and we need to do our part in keeping them alive.”