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48th Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar

Mackenzie Horne By

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48th Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar
Various Venues
Pittsburgh, PA
November 1-3, 2018

The Pitt Jazz Seminar took place the first weekend of Novenmber under the musical direction of Terri Lyne Carrington; Thursday, Friday, and early Saturday were packed with guest lectures while the all-star concert was scheduled for 7:30 on Saturday evening. Sean Jones and Reginald Veal were facilitating a lecture on community outreach in the Hill District, the historic cradle of Pittsburgh jazz, at 11 'o' clock that Saturday morning. One need only glance over past Jazz Seminar programs here, which have included the likes of George Cables, Pharoah Sanders, Esperanza Spalding, and Idris Muhammad, to realize this annual event is so much more than a programming gimmick; it is a connect-the-dots and paint-by-numbers guide to the evolving diversity of jazz. Conceived by the late Nathan Davis, innovative reedman and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, the Seminar was entering into its 48th season.

Dutch saxophonist Tineke Postma spoke about the historic cultural exchange between European and American jazz musicians. Postma, who subsisted on a robust musical diet of bebop during her childhood in the Netherlands, followed in the footsteps of the masters when she embarked on her own one-woman exodus to New York City. In the liner notes of Postma's debut record First Avenue (Munich Records, 2003), Terri Lyne Carrington wrote that European musicians are carrying the torch and that American musicians should pay attention. If this is true, Postma is a woman who carries many torches—her literacy as far as the history of the music goes is impeccable and she has incorporated the Nordic sound into her performances, notably during an appearance with Wayne Shorter at the 2012 International Jazz Day at the United Nations Assembly Hall.

Pianist Orrin Evans, a son of the Philadelphia jazz piano tradition, presented his ideas on modern self-promotion. The newly-minted The Bad Plus member has been involved in every aspect of the music business, from managing Philadelphia's Blue Moon Jazz Club at the age of eighteen to stuffing manila envelopes with new promotional material on the floor of his first place in New York. The Thelonious Monk Competition runner-up delivers bombastic energy to all that he does whether he is conducting the Captain Black Big Band or producing projects by artists like Sean Jones. Evans is a man who rises to the occasion, and most especially so in the face of adversity, defiantly asserting "I didn't get into this to get out of it."

A soulful Joey DeFrancesco took a brief leave of absence from his beloved organ, delivering his lecture on jazz improvisation from behind a piano. DeFrancesco's well of credits runs deep and rich; lest we forget, the Miles Davis/ George Benson/ John McLaughlin alum got his start playing the family organ at four years old and by the time he was eleven, he had shared the stage with Philly Joe Jones. Citing Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown as influences, DeFrancesco also claims to live by the Gospel According to Charles Mingus... that is, he thinks "labels should go in the trash because musicians are only playing music." "I was born into everything you need," he went on to say, referring to a childhood bursting at the seams with encouragement, one fine record collection, and his favorite toy (the living room organ). His records have evolved over the years into productions that are more spiritual; this transformation can be clearly heard when one compares The Champ (HighNote, 1999) with Enjoy the View (Blue Note, 2014) for example, where Billy Hart soldiers behind the kit on both of these projects). DeFrancesco himself describes his contemporary records as being "less of an advertisement."

Canadian trumpet player Ingrid Jensen spoke and played from a place of supreme authenticity during her talk on the power of resonant energy. Jensen's reputation as a masterful improvisor revealed itself in uncontrived ways throughout the presentation. Her style is evocative, reminiscent of the sounds of Kenny Wheeler. She has worked with such illustrious names as Gary Bartz, Clark Terry, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Billy Hart. There is no doubt that Jensen lives the mission of her music; her exploratory nature is one that serves her well on her expedition to settle the human mind and lead listeners to a space that is freeing. Postma, Carrington, and Jensen have collaborated together in several configurations over the course of the last decade and all three women shared working and personal connections with the great Geri Allen. The late pianist, educator, and composer worked with Postma, Carrington, and Jensen as a group and contributed to a number of the artists' respective solo projects.

Before facilitating his discussion on the art of accompaniment, Mark Whitfield announced that his friend and former Jazz Futures band mate Roy Hargrove had passed away that Saturday morning at the age of 49. A collective gasp went through the room like the release of a great, human airlock. The guitarist reached for his instrument and performed the Lionel Hampton/Sonny Burke tune "Midnight Sun" in acknowledgement of Hargrove's passing.

Whitfield's work with Hargrove is just one of many credits attached to the guitarist's name—the shortlist includes Benny Green, Art Blakey, Clark Terry, and Quincy Jones. He is a highly kinetic player, moving with his music as if attempting to get out the groove's way... and maybe he is. Whitfield emphasized the importance of humility in the face of the music, the driving question of his presentation being "how does a musician create space in something dense without detracting from the composition?" The guitarist attempts to model his own comping style after the some of the genre's most recognizable pianists, specifically McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson, and Joe Zawinul.
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