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Fall Arts: Change brings new opportunities in Pittsburgh jazz circles

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 4:51 p.m.
Sean Jones plays at the August Wilson Center.
Martha Rial
Sean Jones plays at the August Wilson Center.
Saxophonist David Sanborn
Patrick Rains & Associates
Saxophonist David Sanborn

From the days of Dixieland to those of Miles Davis, jazz has thrived on its ability to handle changes.

Jazz in Pittsburgh is dealing with a big change this year with that kind of adaptability. One of the biggest events of any jazz year, the Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert, will move into its 43rd year even after the retirement of its founder, Nathan Davis.

Davis resigned as director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh, a post he had held since 1969, at the end of June. In putting the seminar together, the saxophonist had used his friendship and professional connections in the jazz world to feature stars such as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, sax giant Sonny Rollins and drummer Art Blakey.

His departure naturally raised concern about the seminar's continued existence, but Pitt officials have affirmed it will go on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 and 2. Guests and schedule will be announced soon.

Change also is playing a role with the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra. The band, co-directed by trumpeter Sean Jones and sax player/arranger Mike Tomaro, began as an ensemble in residency at the August Wilson Center, Downtown, but now is on its way toward life as a separate nonprofit organization.

Jones says that shift allows him and Tomaro greater freedom on where and when the band will play. For instance, it will perform Sept. 24 at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, in a show sponsored by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Dec. 14 in a Christmas show at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild with singer Freddy Cole.

The Cultural Trust and the Craftsmen's Guild, of course, are two of the most important jazz presenters in this area.

The Craftsmen's Guild continues it three-decades-long work as a concert presenter with a massive lineup that moves from Ahmad Jamal, Sept. 27 and 28, to singer Cassandra Wilson, May 9, with the likes of David Sanborn and Bob James, Oct. 25, the Paul Winter Sextet, Nov. 8 and 9, and stars from the Newport Jazz Festival, Feb. 15, in between.

The trust keeps jazz alive throughout the year with Tuesday concerts that start at Happy Hour in its Downtown Backstage Bar, moving outside in warm weather.

But it also has bigger events through the year. In April, it celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month by giving those concerts special guests.

Besides the orchestra concert, the Trust will sponsor a Mardi Gras celebration Feb. 11, featuring Jones and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. The trust will have jazz-flavored programming at its First Night celebration, Dec. 31.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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