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Trudy Pitts: Extraordinary Pianist & Master of the Hammond B-3

Pheralyn Dove By

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[The following is an excerpt from Pheralyn Dove's forthcoming memoir, No Time for Tears: A Book of True Life Stories, and the chapter titled "Today I Cried."]

The Student Meets the Master

Talking to keyboardist Trudy Pitts is like going on an adventure. It's the type of escapade where wanderlust, laughter and discovery are all intertwined. Whether on the telephone or in person, the discourse is utterly unpredictable, always exciting. I remember one night we were on the phone, reminiscing about when we met back in 1985. It was during my first month on the job as the arts and entertainment reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune.

Trudy's husband, a drummer and impresario known as "Mr. C," bypassed the receptionist and came straight over to my desk in the newsroom. He was accompanied by Jewel Mann, the tall, tan, attractive owner of Jewel's" They introduce themselves, say they want me to do an article on Gloria Lynn, a singer who was coming to Jewel's North Broad Street supper club.

"I been checking you out, young lady—Lady Dove—and er, ah—I think you might have some potential. So I brought Jewel down here to set up this exclusive interview with Gloria Lynn. I'm bringing her to town in a few weeks. Yeah, I've been reading your columns and I really think you have the chops to do Gloria Lynn some justice. But before we get that far, we got to school you first. Jewel, give her the bio and the photo. See, we gonna give you the inside scoop, because Gloria Lynn is one of the last of the surviving true vocalists from the old days who's still around, still performing."

Jewel is laid back, charming, mostly just standing there, agreeing with everything Mr. C is saying. We develop an easy rapport and quickly discover we both have roots in South Carolina. She hands over the carefully prepared bio, her detailed press release, the photo.

"I realize you don't have a clue who I am," continued Mr. C. "I know I look like an old man to you, but back in the day I had this group—Mr. C's Hightones—and John Coltrane was one of my sidemen. Yeah, John Coltrane."

I'm more than a little intrigued by Mr. C's forthright manner—his arrogance. Actually I'm kind of turned on by it. Just come on with it—bring it on! Also, I'm interested in covering the story. Contrary to what Mr. C thinks, I'm very familiar with Gloria Lynn's work. My favorite is her dreamy ballad, "I Wish You Love." It's one of those jazz classics, a standard.

Mr. C keeps barreling away: "After you finish taking care of Gloria Lynn, I want you to do a cover story on my wife. Trudy Pitts. She's one of the finest piano players in the world. I'm sure you'll love her. And I'm not just saying this because she's my wife. I mean Trudy is truly something special. She was in my group with Trane and the rest of the cats. She's played all over Europe, she recorded with [guitarist] Pat Martino—helped put him on the map. Hey—you ever heard of that British ocean liner, the Queen Mary? Well on the Queen Mary's final Trans-Atlantic crossing, Trudy was the organist. The passenger list was so impressive. I mean Sir Winston Churchill was on the ship. And he absolutely adored Trudy....But look a here, Trudy's out front in the car. We couldn't find a parking space so she's right out front; she's in the fire lane looking out so we don't get a ticket. Want to meet her?"

Trudy Pitts—Legends of Acid Jazz"Sure."

We go outside. A vibrant, buxom, middle-aged woman hurdles out of the car. She smiles broadly, greets me by my name, practically shouts at me, and then bursts out laughing.

"Hey Pheralyn! Bright Moments!"

She gives me a bear hug, effectively signaling everyone to join in her laughter. And I don't mean those stingy polite laughs. I'm talking thunderous laughter—Trudy, Mr. C, Jewel and me—we laugh and shake like we just experienced the funniest thing that ever happened to Black folks standing in the middle of South 16th Street in front of the Tribune on a sunny March afternoon.

We've been like family ever since.

You could not picture a couple sharper in contrasts. Mr. C is the color of a gleaming yellow lemon. His personality also mirrors a lemon; he can be perceived as tart or refreshing, depending on the perspective. Conversely, Trudy is chocolate ganache: smooth, sweet, warm, easy to love. She's so humble to be such an immense talent—doesn't flaunt her stuff. She says her music is her ministry, that it's the only thing she's ever wanted to do.

Collaborations: Musical Magnificence

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