Online Jazz Seminar to honor Nathan Davis and Geri Allen

The 50th annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert will celebrate former Pitt Jazz Studies leaders Nathan Davis and Geri Allen from Nov. 2 to 7, with performances by national artists, a symposium in collaboration with Columbia University, performances by Pitt jazz faculty, and reflections on the past five decades of Pitt Jazz. 

All events are online, free and open to the public, and can be accessed here. A Nov. 5 “Cyber Symposium in Honor of Geri Allen” from Columbia University has its own URL.

People are encouraged to post their recollections, memories and photos from Pitt Jazz events on the Jazz Studies Program Facebook and Instagram pages throughout Jazz Week, with the hashtag #50PittJazz. Images of international jazz artists who participated over the years also will be posted.

Founded in 1970 by the late Nathan Davis, who also helped to establish the Pitt Jazz Studies Program, the event was the first academic jazz seminar of its kind in the country — featuring international artists connecting with aspiring musicians, students, and the general public in free on-campus seminars; performing individually at local schools and community venues; then performing together as an ensemble at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. 

Jazz masters that have participated over the years include: Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Grover Washington, Clark Terry, Sonny Stitt, Esperanza Spaulding, Max Roach, Cassandra Wilson, Tia Fuller, Jon Faddis, Patrice Rushen, Herbie Mann and countless others.

Davis retired in 2013, at which time one of his former students, nationally recognized pianist and composer Geri Allen, took the reins. Allen passed away in June 2017, following a battle with cancer. Davis passed away less than a year later, in April 2018. 

Award-winning flutist, composer, bandleader and educator Nicole Mitchell took over the program in July 2019.

“Pitt’s Jazz Studies Program is one of the oldest and most reputable in the country and it’s our immense honor to herald visionaries Dr. Nathan Davis and Geri Allen who built it with creativity, love, inventiveness and tenacity so that it can stand strong today,” Mitchell said. “It’s important for us to remember from where we came so we can plan well where we will go for the next fifty years in jazz.”

Events during Pitt Jazz Week 2020

Jazz Ensemble Tribute: A prerecorded video performance of a Nathan Davis composition by members of the Pitt Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Ralph Guzzi, will be posted on Pitt Jazz Studies throughout Jazz Week.

Nov. 2, noon, “Dr. Nathan Davis: Musician, Innovator and Educator”: Former students of Davis will share recollections in this live discussion, moderated by Aaron Johnson, assistant professor of Jazz Studies. Panelists include: Dale Fielder; James Johnson Jr.; Alton Merrell; Kenneth Prouty; and Doretta Whalen.

Nov. 4, 7 p.m., “Jazz Talk” with Nicole Mitchell: This episode, titled “Racial Equity in Jazz and Jazz Education,” will feature panelists Gail Austin, managing director of the Kente Arts Alliance; Ayana Contreras of WBEZ in Chicago; and national arts consultant Willard Jenkins. 

Nov. 5, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., “Feed the Fire: A Cyber Symposium in Honor of Geri Allen”: This all-day conference at Columbia University will bring together internationally renowned scholars and performers to discuss Allen’s legacy as an artist and educator. The event will coincide with the release of a special issue of Pitt’s journal Jazz and Culture, focusing entirely on Allen, slated to be published this fall. The final keynote presentation will feature activist Angela Davis, Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), and Gina Dent, associate professor of feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz. Registration is required. This event can be accessed here.  

Nov. 6, 7 p.m., “Reminiscing Eminence”: International jazz artists Terri Lyne Carrington and Vijay Iyer (piano), along with Nicole Mitchell (flute) and Pittsburgh-based Dwayne Dolphin (bass) will discuss the influence of Geri Allen. Following the conversation, each will perform a pre-recorded solo as well as a collaborative piece inspired by the work of Allen.

Nov. 7, 7 p.m., Pitt Jazz Faculty Showcase: Pre-recorded at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, small ensembles of Pitt jazz faculty will perform songs, many of them composed by Nathan Davis.  Musicians will include Frank Cunimondo (piano); Aaron Johnson (trombone); Sandra Dowe (voice); Nicole Mitchell (flute); Ralph Guzzi (trumpet); James Johnson Jr. (piano); James Johnson III (drums); Jeffrey Mangone (bass); Irene Monteverde (piano); Kenneth Powell (saxophone); Mark Strickland (guitar); Pitt Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement Kathy Humphrey (voice); and Yoko Suzuki (saxophone).  

In addition, Iyer, Carrington and Dolphin will meet online with groups of Pitt students and youth organizations in sessions throughout Jazz Week that are closed to the public. 

More information about Jazz Week participants can be found here.