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Walt Harper

| Monday, Oct. 30, 2006

A beloved pianist and band leader for sure, Walt Harper was foremost a conservator of tradition and promoter of musical geniuses. He was a club owner who presided over jazzmasters' brilliant shifts from strictly stated melody to pure intuition.

"To many people around here, Walt Harper was jazz," said Bob Karlovits, the Trib's jazz writer.

Mr. Harper died long after the golden heyday of Walt Harper's Attic, the club that helped Market Square stand straight in the 1970s before it slumped again. Later, in the 1980s, he operated Harper's in One Oxford Centre.

There, he brought trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to town for the first time. As Mr. Marsalis is an expositor on the mathematics of jazz, Harper was an expositor of the mathematics of running a business.

Jazz has to be heard. And contrary to myth, players and club owners with payrolls to meet are not utterly sustained by the wonder of a perfect riff.

"He brought in Mel Torme to Harper's for six days and he would fill it every day," Mr. Karlovits said.

And so Harper carved out a particular place in the jazz lore of Pittsburgh, which has produced the likes of Erroll Garner, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Lena Horne and Stanley Turrentine.

At a memorial service for Mr. Turrentine, Harper said of the saxman that the "sweetness and tenderness of his sound will never be replaced."

The same may be said of Walt Harper, whose life resonated with love of jazz.

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