Kelly Strayhorn recreates legendary Hurricane Lounge at Kaufmann Center

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COL Jazz, the next generation of jazz greats to come out of Pittsburgh, took the Kaufmann Center stage as part of the Hurricane Lounge series, collaboration between the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and the Hill House’s recently renovated Elsie H. Hillman Kaufmann Center.

The initiative, which was held the second Sunday of each month throughout the summer, featured established and up-and-coming jazz artists performing in a café-like setting to a live audience.

COLJazzBand
THE COL JAZZ BAND (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“Continuing in the Hill District’s rich history of Jazz, it’s exciting to have these afternoons where we bring young musicians to the Kaufmann Center,” said Jennifer Sciullo, audience development director at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

The members of COL Jazz were excited to continue the legacy of Jazz in the historic Hill District.

“It’s a great idea to bring Jazz to the Hill because that’s where Jazz was homegrown in Pittsburgh,” said Brett Williams, 19, COL Jazz’s pianist who is studying musical performance at Duquesne University. He has been a member of the band for six years.

COL Jazz was established in 2000 by Tim Smith, executive director of Center of Life, along with his two sons, Tim Jr. and Isaiah Smith. The band was given a jump start by two musician friends Cornelius Martin and Lewis Doug Ransaw who believed in the group’s talent. The band incorporates contemporary songs and jazz standards into its repertoire.

“Some of our songs are original improvisational songs. Sometimes we come up with them on the spot, they flow naturally while other times we write songs,” explained four-year band member, George Hyde III. The 21-year-old Suny Purchase University student plays drums in the band.

This past spring, COL Jazz earned second and was chosen to perform in the Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterey, Calif.

“There were people from all across the United States and around the world. It was a bonding experience and we learned how the business side of this works. If you are a musician, you are a brand and you have to be able to market yourself,” explained 20-year-old Benny Benack who currently attends the Manhattan School of Music as a Jazz performance major.

Current members of the group are: Williams, bassist Anton DeFade, alto saxophonist Mike Jackovic, Hyde, Benack, tenor saxophonist Jamar Cromwell and artist director/producer Smith.

Jazz singer Maggie Johnson accompanied COL Jazz on several numbers during the concert.

“We really need to support our light music,” said Johnson, who also served as the emcee for the afternoon. “To sing with such a ridiculously talented group of young musicians is phenomenal. The resurrection of the idea of the Hurricane Lounge is great.”

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