PNC has selected the winners of the Celebrating Black History essay contest. They are Gabriel Yancy (Pittsburgh CAPA), Gigi Varlotta (Pittsburgh CAPA) and Essence Davis (Obama Academy).
Entries selected all reflect a personal, profound connection with their subject. Yancy chose Sean Jones; Varlotta chose Swin Cash; and Davis chose Demeatria Boccella.
It lives on through the music
by Gabriel Yancy
“I remember the rich legacy that’s in the Hill District… I just wanted to live around that part of town… just to say I lived in the Hill District.” —Sean Jones
Sean Jones is a critically acclaimed trumpeter, composer and overall amazing person who I had the pleasure of meeting when he presented a group master class to my Jazz Band last year. After just hearing him talk about this complex instrumental conversation that we call jazz, I feel a great respect for him.
As a pianist and saxophonist at CAPA, I normally feel a connection to other musicians, but he was different. Everything he said was so true, so beautiful, that it made jazz sound less like a genre and more like a language. He seemed to perfectly articulate everything I had ever thought about it.
Jones has also been incredibly important to the story of Pittsburgh. As he says in the above quote, he was a significant part of the cultural boom of the Hill District. In fact, his band, The Mission Statement, was the last show ever to play at the famous Crawford Grill, a place that housed many jazz music greats including Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. When this amazing house of creativity closed, shortly after, he thought that all of the music that was the reason he came here would go with it. Little did he know that his very own life would prove his thoughts wrong.
Sean Jones is one of the remaining embodiments of the life, energy and beauty that was the Crawford Grill and, along with countless other musicians throughout the city, has passed this feeling of Jazz down to those of us who didn’t get the chance to experience the Crawford Grill. I have experienced this hands-on. When he talks so fondly about listening to this music growing up it makes me almost feel like I was there. I can picture the men and women all crowding around this room, making way for these world famous musicians to enter. I can imagine them laughing and moving to the groove; letting everything except the music escape. I can’t say that I ever went to the Crawford Grill, but I can say that Sean Jones has kept it alive so that people like me feel like they did.
While during Black History Month it is important to celebrate and acknowledge those African-Americans who have made a great impact, it is equally, if not more important, to also celebrate diversity. The most significant reasons behind this is the fact that diversity hasn’t always been around and that we often take it for granted. I mean, my own grandparents didn’t see diversity growing up. At that time everything was segregated. Now, through the celebration and appreciation of diversity, we are able to recognize that it didn’t always exist and that we need to respect and enjoy it; because if you really think about it, without diversity, everyone’s life would change for the worse.