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City of Asylum moves annual celebration to Alphabet City

| Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Waclaw Zimpel
Waclaw Zimpel
Tom Rainey Trio
City of Asylum
Tom Rainey Trio
René Marie
John Abbott
René Marie
The Garden Theater and Alphabet City occupy most of this block on Pittsburgh's North Side.  Tuesday, June 5, 2018.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
The Garden Theater and Alphabet City occupy most of this block on Pittsburgh's North Side. Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

City of Asylum's jazz poetry celebration is getting smaller by getting bigger.

The event of music, writing and socially conscious thinking has grown into a Jazz Poetry Month from the one-evening event in Sampsonia Way in 2005.

This year it has moved into Alphabet City, the new restaurant-concert-site-apartment complex on North Avenue and has a month-long string of free events. The first concert is Sept. 7 with the Tom Rainey Trio featuring guitarist Mary Halverson.

But that growth also will return the event into a more intimate nature, says Henry Reese, founder and CEO of the group that provides shelter to politically persecuted writers.

From its start, the event has grown to include readings throughout the North Side and concerts at the New Hazlett Theater or outside near the National Aviary.

But Reese wanted to bring the event back to more intimate settings and is doing that at Alphabet City. There will be more concerts, more poets, but fewer seats.

The events all are free, but with seating of only about 150, reservations are a must.

Reese says the organization wants to “celebrate all forms of creative expression” and this event gives a chance to make sure “all voices are heard.”

Music ranges from that of Oliver Lake, the avant-garde saxophonist who is a founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, to the minimalist jazz of Poland's Waclaw Zimpel.

Besides poetry readings at the concerts, the annual freedom to write lecture will be Sept. 8, featuring Zineb El Rhazoui, a Moroccan writer who worked at the French satiric journal, Charlie Hebdo.

Tracy K. Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who is the incoming national Poet Laureate, will appear Sept. 30.

Each event will open with a jazz set, then poetry and finally poetry and jazz combined.

Lake, who has participated in the event from the beginning, will perform with his Jump Up band that could be called avant funk.

The jazz lineup: Sept. 7, Rainey Trio; Sept. 15, Jerome Harris and Brandon Ross; Sept. 16, Lake and Jump Up; Sept. 17, Lake and area musicians; Sept. 22, Zimpel; Sept. 23, the LAM trio from Poland; Sept. 24, Hubert Zemler and Krzysztof Dys; Sept. 30, Tim Berne Trio; Oct. 1, Berne and Matt Mitchell.

Most shows start at 7 p.m. Lake and Jump Up, Zimpel and the Berne trio are at 9 p.m.

A complete lineup, with a full list of poets and reservation links is at

Just part of the band

When Rene Marie hires musicians, she says she is looking for members of the band, not backup players for her singing.

That music mindset will no doubt show in her performance Sept. 16 at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

Marie, 61, is a singer who is really an equal part of a band, not a “star” being supported by others. They share solos; they help to create the direction the songs will go. “When we get on the stage, I want to be able to turn ‘em loose,” she says with a laugh. “I push ‘em and I want to be pushed back.”

She showed that clearly in shows here in 2002 and 2006, and says she is glad to finally be getting the chance to return.

Marie is a creative person. She has written two stage shows” “Slut Energy Theory,” which is about abuse and self-esteem; and a musical presentation, “Two Skirts and a Shirt.”

She will be with the three other members of her group, Experiment in Truth: pianist Allyn Johnson, drummer Quentin Baxter and bassist Elias Bailey.

Music starts 7 p.m. Admission is $25. Details: or 412-322-0292.

Guild-ed season

Just like the return to school, September brings the area's most consistent series of jazz concerts – the gigs at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on Pittsburgh's North Side.

Every year, Marty Ashby, executive producer of MCGJazz, manages to blend familiar favorites with acts that provide new statements about the music.

This season, for instance, guitarist Earl Klugh (Oct. 27) and percussionist Pancho Sanchez (April 21) will bring their oft-heard sounds to the Guild.

But guitarist/violinist Dorado Schmitt (Nov. 18) will take a look at the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhart, and the Birdland All-Stars (Jan. 27) will feature a painter “improvising” during the concerts.

Music begins Sept. 22 with trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Details: 412-322-0800 or

Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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