Jazz showcases diverse forms, attracts younger audiences around Western Pa.

The Robert Glasper Experiment
The Robert Glasper Experiment
Photo by Janette Beckman
| Sunday, May 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Jazz certainly was easy to appreciate during the month of April.

From the every-Tuesday concerts at the Cabaret Theater and Backstage Bar, Downtown, to events at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and elsewhere, the celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month showed more growth than in past years.

“I am all for creating critical mass,” says Marty Ashby, executive producer of MCG Jazz at the guild. “All the things happening helps to breed a bigger audience.”

Janis Burley Wilson, a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust vice president, arranges jazz programs for the group. “You just can't wait until the last minute anymore,” she says when told about a fan frustrated he couldn't get into the Robert Glasper concert.

Thirteen years ago, when the Smithsonian Institution and the National Endowment for the Arts began this April observance, it seemed like a nice idea.

Seven years ago, when the Cultural Trust started its concerts, it was a well-meaning effort featuring mostly local performers.

But it grew to include stops by song legend Jon Hendricks and sax player Kenny Garrett, to this year's concerts with Glasper, Gregory Porter and Christian McBride, all of whom have won Grammy Awards.

Meanwhile, events were taking place all over, from the libraries in Penn Hills and Shaler to clubs in the North Side.

Besides its usual shows, Manchester Craftsmen's Guild brought in trombonist Bill Watrous to the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy early in the month and celebrated International Jazz Day there April 30 with guitarist Joe Negri.

Even individual performers were showing up in greatly different roles. Trumpeter Sean Jones performed in his quartet at the Cabaret on April 8, again at the Guild with the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra on April 19, then sat in with Glasper's band for one incredible number on April 29.

What does it all mean? It points to the health of the music. Many times, jazz is considered music for an older audience. Certainly, sometimes it is.

But these shows — particularly the ones at the Cabaret — showed there is younger audience out there, too. Audiences for all those shows were greatly mixed, a variety that stood out the most with the Glasper show.

For older members of his audience willing to listen, Glasper showed jazz can go in a vastly different direction. His music is shaped in hip-hop, but has its roots in jazz.

When Sean Jones joined saxophonist Casey Benjamin for their long solo duel, it was simply Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in a new form.

Similarly, Benjamin's amplified, distorted sax comes right from the late-'60s, “Listen Here” days of Eddie Harris.

Jazz can take many forms. The traditional style of Watrous and Negri is as legitimate and creative as the big-band arrangements of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra.

Or, it can go other ways, too. Jones' band offered a good variety of original material, but then, so did Jackie MacLean's “Dr. Jekyll.” McBride did soul music and “I Mean You” by Thelonious Monk.

Do those differences eliminate any of the items from being jazz?

Certainly not — and that is the biggest thing to appreciate.

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

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