Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar returns with free, in-person programming


The 52nd annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert will invoke the memory of Pittsburgh jazz great Art Blakey, with a theme of “We are All Jazz Messengers.”


Flutist Nicole Mitchell, who came to Pitt in 2019 as the third leader in Pitt Jazz Studies’ 50-year history, left in September for a position at the University of Virginia.

Pitt’s Jazz Studies Program was founded in 1969 by saxophonist Nathan Davis, who ran it until his retirement in 2013. Pianist Geri Allen took over the program until her death in 2017.

A search has already started to fill the endowed chair position. Aaron Johnson, assistant professor, is serving as interim director.

The event runs Oct. 31 to Nov. 5 and will feature performances by national artists and regional musicians, a gift to the Pitt Jazz Archives, a jazz film, panel discussion, community workshop, presentation by a visiting scholar and five concerts. All events, including the concerts, are free to the public.

Aaron Johnson, assistant professor and interim director of the Jazz Studies program, said that after two years of virtual concerts because of the pandemic, “With the 52nd Jazz Seminar and Concert, we welcome the return to live audiences and are able to offer free events this year as thanks, both to our supporters who stayed with us online and for us just being able to be here and do what we love — celebrate this great music.”

In the same way, drummer and bandleader Blakey and his Jazz Messengers were “devoted to spreading the word of jazz and its powers to enlighten and delight audiences,” Johnson said.

The main Jazz Seminar concert at 8 p.m. Nov. 1 will feature pianist Dave Burrell and his trio.

“Burrell has been an important if underreported figure in creative music since the mid 1960s,” Johnson said. “He has been an important contributor to musical projects that included Marion Brown, Archie Shepp, Grachan Moncur III, Beaver Harris, and the recently passed Pharoah Sanders (who played at the 45th Pitt Jazz Seminar). Although only Shepp and Sanders are well known from that group, all of these artists were on the front lines of the most creative music post-Coltrane.”

In addition to performing, Burrell has been a significant composer of works for solo piano, small groups and large orchestras, and a groundbreaking jazz opera “Windward Passages” in 1978, Johnson said.

Burrell is donating his archive to the Center for American Music, part of the University of Pittsburgh Library System, which will be acknowledged at the concert. The archive consists of 24 linear feet of posters, recordings, programs, photographs, correspondence, scores, and contracts that document his career from the 1960s through the present. It will open to researchers later this year.

Johnson said the archive donation is significant because, “Jazz has long been recognized as a music in which the process of creation is treasured, and scholars, archivists and librarians are realizing that the archival collections of our aging giants, which contain private and unreleased recordings, photographs, programs, sketches, business papers, correspondence, and in-progress works are valuable places to do jazz scholarship.”

Saxophonist Tia Fuller will play with a group of Pittsburgh-area musicians on Nov. 4, be featured at the Pitt Jazz Faculty concert on Nov. 5, and host a community workshop at the Afro-American Music Institute on Nov. 5.

Pitt Jazz Week events

OCT. 31

Kickoff performance: The student-based Pitt Jazz Ensemble will perform under the direction of Ralph Guzzi. Noon, Lower Lounge, William Pitt Union.

NOV. 1

52nd annual Pitt Jazz Concert, with the Dave Burrell Trio, featuring Hamid Drake (drums) and Joshua Abrams (bass), along with Nicole Mitchell (flute). 8 p.m., Bellefield Hall auditorium

NOV. 2

Film screening of “We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told” (2018), written and directed by Jeff Sewald. Producer Marty Ashby will introduce the film and answer questions afterward. 7:30 p.m., Cathedral of Learning, Room G24

NOV. 3

Chamber Ensemble concert, followed by Dave Burrell panel, “Conceptions and Expansions: A Discussion of the Music of Dave Burrell.” A panel of jazz musicians and scholars will include Burrell, Monika Larsson, John Szwed, David Murray, Ted Daniel and Pitt Associate Professor of Jazz Studies Michael Heller. 7:30 p.m., Frick Fine Arts auditorium

NOV. 4

Feature artist concert with Tia Fuller, accompanied by Pittsburgh musicians Roger Humphries (drums), Alton Merrell (piano) and Jeff Grubbs (bass). 7:30 p.m., Bellefield Hall auditorium

Visiting Scholar Series seminar, with Fumi Okiji, on “Aesthetic form in musique informelle and the new thing.” 1 p.m., Cathedral of Learning, Room 213  

NOV. 5

Pitt Jazz Faculty Concert, featuring Tia Fuller. Faculty performers will include Mark Strickland (guitar), Irene Monteverde (piano), Ralph Guzzi (trumpet), Yoko Suzuki (saxophone), James Johnson III (drums). Non-faculty bassist Tony DePaolis will join them in a performance of the music of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. 7:30 p.m., Bellefield Hall Auditorium

Community outreach workshop with Tia Fuller, hosted by James Johnson Jr. 2 p.m., Afro-American Music Institute, 7131 Hamilton Ave., Pittsburgh

Following Jazz Week, the Pitt Jazz Studies is breaking new ground, Aaron Johnson said, by collaborating with the community-based Kente Arts Alliance to present a debut U.S. performance of the improvising Ethiopian group QwanQwa at City of Asylum, 40 W. North Ave., North Side, at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at Alphabet City. Tickets are required, but free. Find details about in-person and online tickets here.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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