Concert review: Pittsburgh Jazz Celebration showcases range of talent
Toward the end of Tuesday's Pittsburgh Jazz Celebration, guest artist Ramsey Lewis asked the rhetorical question, “What would I be without Pittsburgh?”
Perhaps a better question would be: What would jazz have become without Pittsburgh?
The concert, at Heinz Hall and hosted by singer/actress Gloria Reuben, comprised an incredible amount of talent to pay tribute to the musicians who came from this region and made an indelible international imprint on the music world.
Other artists imported for the concert were trumpeter Sean Jones, vocalist Kurt Elling and pianist David Budway, and driving it all was the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jeff Tyzik, principal pops conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
The whole show was all that — and more.
The PSO portion began with a tribute to pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams, during which the surprisingly lush “Walkin' and Swingin'” stood out. A restrained Mr. Jones was featured on “Fosterville,” a tribute to Lawrenceville native Stephen Collins Foster that included “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Old Folks at Home” aka “Suwannee River” and “Camptown Races.” “Tonk,” a Billy Strayhorn composition that featured Mr. Budway, was pure fun.
PSO bassist Jeff Grubbs, also a jazzman, paid tribute to Schenley High School alum Ray Brown, who played in the 1960s with Oscar Peterson, with the crowd-pleasing “Afterthoughts” Parts I & II, which were mostly improvised. Mr. Elling tore things up on “I Apologize,” a tribute to Billy Eckstine; Mr. Strayhorn's “Lush Life”; and an offbeat rendition of the Drifters' “On Broadway,” of course popularized by George Benson in the late 1970s.
Mr. Lewis finished things up with Erroll Garner's “Misty,” “Poinciana,” popularized by Ahmad Jamal, who Mr. Lewis said influenced him in the 1950s, and the waltz-like “Charade” by Aliquippa's Henry Mancini. The orchestration of “Poinciana,” arguably the most powerful moment of the evening, followed Mr. Jamal's 1958 recording.
The show opened with several numbers by a sextet including Mr. Jones, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, trombonist Jay Ashby, Mr. Budway, bassist Dwayne Dolphin and drummer Roger Humphries, with Mr. Frahm's elastic soloing on “Sugar” the most noticeable. And throughout, Ms. Reuben interspersed snippets of an upcoming documentary on Pittsburgh jazz, “We Knew What We Had.”