Trudy Pitts and Nancy Wilson
Mellon Jazz Fridays
The Kimmel Center, Philadelphia
September 15, 2006
The atrium lobby of the Kimmel Center was crowded and abuzz with excitement because it was the first "Mellon Jazz Friday of the season, and furthermore, it was the occasion of Trudy Pitts' daring initiation of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ as a jazz instrument, and, in addition, Nancy Wilson, one of the all-time great vocalists, with many connections to Philadelphia, was featured on the bill. The atmosphere became even warmer when a young lady in the loge section behind the stage shouted hostile remarks at the gentleman from Mellon Bank who was doing introductory remarks at the podium. (The fellow handled the situation with extraordinary grace and humor, which was about as good a commercial for the bank as you can get.) Then Trudy Pitts came on stage and faced the gartantuan organ console, which she referred to as the "monster. David and Goliath all over again.
Ms. Pitts, however, proved herself a formidable musician willing and able to take on the daunting task of making jazz from a massive pipe organ designed for the classical repertoire. Accompanied by her trio of Tim Warfield on tenor sax, Bob Devos on guitar, and her husband and long-time soul mate, Mr. C (Bill Carney) on drums, Trudy Pitts performed a phenomenal set of music, so well interconnected that it virtually formed a suite, displaying a sensitivity, soulfulness, power and virtuosity that was both startlingly beautiful and left no doubt that she is a predominant master of her craft. If the late great jazz organist Jimmy Smith had heard her, I'm sure he would have been overwhelmed with emotion at her accomplishment. She brought his innovations and mastery to a stunning pinnacle of achievement.
The program she selected for the performance was exquisite. She interwove in a continuous flow the countrapuntal theme from Bach's great cantata, Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring (a brilliant idea for a motif, since Bach was a master of the organ), with several of her own compositions, a Fat's Waller standard (with perhaps a reference to Pitts' own piano work) and ending up with the universal spiritual "Amazing Grace. The Bach theme was used to connect the jazz compositions and remind us of the rich tradition of the instrument on which she was performing.
After the first "Jesus..., Ms. Pitts did a lovely version of her own ballad, "Anysha, named for her daughter, who was in the audience along with Trudy's son "TC3, a fine jazz vocalist in his own right. Another run of "Jesus... was followed by a second Pitts original, "Steppin' in Minor, and then in the same sequence, there was her own "Trudy's Lament, with a light bossa nova rhythm sustained by Mr. Devos on guitar and Mr. C's steady and precise percussion. Then, Waller's famed "Jitterbug Waltz, featuring Tim Warfield on sax, followed by a final original, "Trudy's Dream, and segueing into (literally) an "all stops out rendition of "Amazing Grace . The latter would have rocked the rafters were it not for the exceptionally clean sound of organ builder Lynn Dobson's remarkable pipes. Every note of that massive instrument is "clean as a whistle (indeed, each pipe of an organ is simply an upscale version of a pennywhistle!). Trudy Pitts proved beyond a doubt that she could slay Goliath (and the audience) if not with a stone and slingshot, then with a little help from her nimble fingering and her dancing feet working overtime all around those foot pedals!
It's hard to sum up an extraordinary achievement such as this. I can only express wonder at Ms. Pitts' phenomenal capabilities and resilience, and also at the craftsmanship of Mr. Dobson and his crew in constructing this remarkable pipe organ with its beautiful craftsmanship and woodwork and excellent tonal quality. It perfectly complements the acoustics of Verizon Hall to produce a pellucid, memorable sound.