PRESENTATION — Samuel W. Black, director of African American Programs at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, was at the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center Saturday to discuss the history of jazz music in Pittsburgh. — Craig Howell
WEIRTON — People may not always think of Pittsburgh when they think of jazz, but hundreds of professional jazz musicians have called the Steel City home during the last century.
Visitors to the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center were able to learn Saturday about some of the history of jazz music in Pittsburgh, and its contributions to the nation’s culture.
Samuel W. Black, director of African American Programs at the Senator John Heinz History Center, was on hand to discuss some of his own research into the early Pittsburgh jazz scene.
“When you think of jazz, you don’t necessarily think of Pittsburgh,” Black said.
Through his research, Black has found information on close to 500 jazz musicians who have lived in Pittsburgh, ranging from the 1920s and 1930s to modern day.
This included individuals such as Earl “Fatha” Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Paul Chambers, Billy Eckstine, Grover Mitchell, Roy Eldridge, “Duke” Spaulding and Marva Josie.
Black explained that jazz music has a variety of nuances, depending on where the musician lived and the influences around them. Pittsburgh’s jazz scene has more of a “sophisticated” feel to it, Black said.
“A lot of them studied classical music,” Black explained, noting many musicians started out by learning the piano.
Early lessons often came from home, with parents and other older relatives teaching the children, with some also learning in church.
“It was not so much what we would call formal musical education,” he explained.
In fact, Black said, jazz music, which developed while segregation was still in effect, wasn’t always looked upon as acceptable in the public school system. Those schools which did adopt programs usually did so after students lobbied for it.
That also has led to much of the history of jazz music, in general, being divided or even lost. Mary Lou Williams, he noted, created a Pittsburgh jazz family tree, which now is located at Rutgers University. Earl “Fatha” Hines’ collection is in Oakland, Calif., where Hines died, while Erroll Garner’s collection is at the University of Pittsburgh.
“They weren’t keen on collecting or preserving the material,” he said.
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