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Jazz scene is hoppin' during December in Pittsburgh

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 5:48 p.m.
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The Monty Alexander Trio

December is a special jazz month for me.

In 1964, my parents bought me an album by the Modern Jazz Quartet because they liked the group's version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” — which they called “England's Carol.”

I had never heard of the MJQ — or jazz, really — but the album began my addiction to the genre.

It seems appropriate, then, to begin this column in December. At the beginning of every month, I will alert you to events coming up or other jazz-related items that are worth consideration.

Have a happy holiday – and keep listening.

Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander and the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild will be marking decades of success at the pianist's concert.

The guild has been celebrating its 30th season as a concert venue, but Alexander is raising a toast to 40 years with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. His trio will perform Dec. 3 at the guild on Pittsburgh's North Side.

“It is just like a joyful explosion whenever we play,” says the native of Jamaica. “We are different but it is a kind of happy different.”

Alexander says the three of them started working together in a coincidental way four decades ago. The pianist was looking for a bassist and was directed to Clayton by Pittsburgh native Ray Brown. Clayton then steered him toward Hamilton when drummer Louis Hayes left the trio.

Over the years, the three have been busy with many other projects, but always come back to performing together.

“It keeps me busy — and out of trouble,” Alexander says with a laugh.

The trio will play at 6 and 8:30 p.m. The first show is sold out, but there are seats available at $49.50 for the second. Details: 412-322-0800 or mcgjazz.org

John Pizzarelli

John Pizzarelli is a one-man jazz and cabaret show.

But on his visit here Dec. 16 at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild he will be joined for a holiday concert by his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey.

Pizzarelli, son of the great jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, has moved from focusing on jazz to being a convincing presenter of the Great American Songbook. But never fear, Pizzarelli always has his guitar so jazz won't be forgotten.

Music is at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Both shows are sold out. Details: 412-322-0800 or mcgjazz.org

Sean Jones

Sean Jones will be showing off his new album Dec. 17 at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh.

The trumpeter, who taught at Duquesne University for 10 years before moving to Boston, will be focusing his music on “Live at the Jazz Bistro” recorded at the St. Louis club of that name.

Jones, who now teaches at the Berklee College of Music, was a busy part of the jazz scene during his decade here and it is good to see him returning so often.

Music begins at 8 p.m. Admission is $38.25 and $48.25. Details: 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org

David Murray

David Murray will lift the James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy to a higher level Dec. 11.

Murray, one of the founders of the World Saxophone Quartet, will be at the club's ballroom with multi-instrumentalist Harrison Bankhead and percussionist Kahil El'Zabar.

It is a production of promoter Manny Theiner who has for years tried to keep this area aware of forward-looking jazz. With Murray, anything can happen. He is an inventive, forceful saxophonist/reed player who also knows the importance of melody and quieter moments.

Music begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $30. Details: 800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com

Benny Benack III

Tuesday evening jazz sessions in the Theater Square complex in downtown Pittsburgh are a weekly treat throughout the year, but the event Dec. 27 is a real Christmas gift.

Trumpeter/singer Benny Benack III will offer his tasty, ever-maturing brand of jazz at the Backstage Bar beginning at 5 p.m.

The Upper St. Clair native who is the latest of three jazz players to bear that name, has been steadily building a career in New York City and on national tours. The Backstage Bar becomes a rival of clubs like New York's Jazz Standard for this night.

The show is free. Details: 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org

Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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