‘It’s unbelievable’ Davis says of the 40th Pitt Jazz Seminar

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by Kevin Amos
For New Pittsburgh Courier

International jazz greats came together at the University of Pittsburgh Nov. 2 through Nov. 6 to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert.

As the first academic jazz seminar of its kind in the country, the four day event featured artists connecting with aspiring students in a lecture format, and then performing together as an ensemble.

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HORNS—Randy Brecker, Peter King, and Javon Jackson.

Nathan Davis, PhD., the director of Jazz Studies reflected on the past years. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I had not planned something like this. It just evolved. What has been created is an academically viable historical project that brings together musicians, students and the general public. Jazz brings everyone into the fold.”

During Jazz Week, the musicians conduct free lecture/demonstrations on the Pitt campus, provide miniclinics at area schools, and visit community centers. When talking to Davis about the role of the teacher in developing musicians he stated that, “The role of the teacher is to provide a chance for creativity and emotion to shine through as well as teaching the technical aspects.”

“I had started out when I was younger sitting in with Jay McShann, when I was 15, but then there were gigs where I could do that. There is a strong need for mentoring these younger musicians. They hold the key to forwarding this music.”

Over the decades, some of the greatest names in American jazz history have participated.

“It started when I was still in Paris,” Davis continued. “Art Blakey knew me and he wanted me to play at the Crawford Grill with him when I came to Pittsburgh. He was aware that I would be at the University teaching. So I did what Art said. Well you can’t exactly tell Art Blakey no, you understand, and he returned the favor being one of the first performers for this event. Actually that was 41 years ago.”

“Well, the doors opened up because of Art Blakey, he put the word out to other musicians. Kenny Clarke also had a very major role. He helped immensely. Because of these two major Pittsburgh musicians helping me out, many of the most important Jazz musicians have played here. I have been amazed myself of the magnitude of it all.”

Musicians taking part in the 2010 Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert included Randy Brecker; Steven Scott replacing George Cables on piano; Leon Lee Dorsey, Pitt assistant professor of jazz studies and coordinator of Pitt’s Jazz Studies Program; Jon Faddis, Winard Harper, Javon Jackson, Peter King, Bobby Broom and Dave Pike.

Cables was unable to perform due to illness in his family but he picked Scott as a suitable replacement. Scott did an outstanding arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” which pleased the crowd immensely. Speaking of crowd pleasers, Harper wowed the sold-out audience with his percussive acrobatics and brush work while working with Pike, Dorsey and Scott in the rhythm section.

Ballads, always a favorite at this concert were highlighted by the great guitar work of Broom. Jackson invoked John Coltrane performing “My One and Only Love.“ The only thing missing was a Johnny Hartman type vocalist. Brecker also had an outstanding solo moment doing “When I Fall in Love,” as did the amazing Faddis doing some muted trumpet work, and King on alto. The core group performed the Benny Golson composition “Blues after Dark,” and also went up tempo with “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie” and for the concert encore “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock.

Also, Dean N. John Cooper announced the 2010 International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame inductees, who are Jelly Roll Morton and Wayne Shorter.

(For more information about Jazz at Pitt go to: http://www.pitt.edu/~pittjazz/academy.html.)

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