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Trudy Pitts: Meeting the Next Keyboard Challenge

Victor L. Schermer By

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To me music is a feeling, then after that come all the tools...It's an art form, and all art forms are born in your spirit as a feeling.
On September 15, 2006, Trudy Pitts will have the distinction of being the first jazz musician to perform on the spectacular new organ in Verizon Hall, at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, in a concert opposite the great singer Nancy Wilson. The largest concert organ in the United States, officially known as The Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ (Dobson organ Op. 76), it was designed and constructed by the great organ builder, Lynn Dobson, and his incredible crew from Lake City, Iowa, and first used in classical concerts in May, 2006.

It is a massive state of the art pipe organ with both mechanical and electronic "trigger" mechanisms, two separate consoles, and computerized programming capability. Pitts' selection as the one to initiate the use of the organ in the jazz idiom indicates the extraordinarily high regard for her great talent and accomplishments, which those of us in the Philadelphia area have been fortunate to have at our doorstep for many years. Pitts is a felt presence everywhere in this city, and, although she has limited her traveling due to her family responsibilities, she has received international acclaim for her performances and recordings, as well as her creativity, innovation, candor, mentorship, and teaching ability.

Trudy Pitts

One of the great things about Pitts is her "up front" readiness to engage herself fully in whatever she does. In this interview, her eagerness, enthusiasm, honesty, assertiveness, and richness of self-expression provide a refreshing change from the public relations "spinning" and prevarication that has become so commonplace in the contemporary media. It is this same directness and "living presence," along with her prodigious talent, that makes Pitts an exciting performer who is always eager to take on new challenges.

Chapter Index

  1. Early Musical Life and Influences
  2. From Classical and Church Music to a Jazz Career
  3. The Dobson Organ and Pitts' Upcoming Kimmel Concert
  4. Pitts Speaks Out on Life and Spirituality


A propos of her winning enthusiasm, Pitts is the first person I've interviewed who started the dialogue before I asked her a question! As soon as I turned on the tape recorder, she jumped right in and said:

Trudy Pitts: Well, I'll be free and open just to answer your questions. It's a flow, it's a feeling, it's improvisation. But it's experienced improvisation, so it is what it is.

All About Jazz: I'm gonna put that in the interview.

TP: All right, baby!



AAJ: We'll start out with a warm-up question. It's the notorious desert island question: If you were going to that desert island, what recordings and scores would you take with you?

TP: Boy, that probably takes a lot of thought—you're really starting off with a whammer! If you're a musician, your scope is so wide; it's hard to really blow it down to a few compositions or performers. Well, I suppose I would take one of the Rachmaninoff piano concertos. I prefer to speak of individuals rather than a specific album. With that in mind, I would take some Ahmad Jamal, whom I've admired ever since I wet my feet in the jazz idiom.

Some Debussy—as part of the evolution of classical music, I dig him very much. Probably take my son's CD, TC, the IIIrd, who is an aspiring jazz vocalist. He has a fairly new CD on the market, Mega Jazz Explosion (Independent, 2006). Of course it has a personal meaning for me. If I were going to be by myself on an island, I'd need to have my family there in spirit. I could listen to his beautiful work on CD. Finally, I might just take my solo CD, entitled Me, Myself, and I (Independent, 2003). Then again, Vic, all of this is tentative and open to possibilities, because I listen to so much music and so many different recordings. On another occasion, I might give you five different ones.

AAJ: Debussy, of course, is one of the formative influences on jazz.

TP: Absolutely. And Ravel. Hey, you listen to that stuff. Arnold Schoenberg. You can hear lots of things that jazz musicians have built on, maybe not even consciously but subconsciously. That period of classical music has been very influential in the work and study and performance of some jazz musicians, including myself.

AAJ: The bebop and post-bop musicians were especially interested in the classical composers. [Saxophonist] Charlie Parker, for example, studied and even memorized Stravinsky's compositions.

TP: My ears tell me that the bebop period, as [woodwind multi- instrumentalist] Rahsaan Roland Kirk once said, is the most creative "Step into Beauty" in the development of jazz. It'll never wear out.

Oh, yeah! Speaking of bebop and the evolution of the music, the bebop period has been, and still is even as we speak, the most creative development in this journey of jazz or African American classical music, if you will. Any progress that has been made in jazz resulted from the advent of bebop, with Charlie Parker, [saxophonist] Sonny Stitt, and some of the others who contributed so profoundly.

AAJ: It was a time of invention.

TP: They're synonyms—creativity and invention.

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