Music

Photo by Victor Dryer / Courtesy of Creative.Life.Support

“Do you want my real name or my studio name?”

Asaun Brown, an aspiring rapper, hasn’t actually spent much time in recording studios, but he’s not fooling around. He’s 20 years old and goes by the name Sonny the Kid – a play on both his given name and his feeling that he’s a kid at heart, and prone to disregard authority figures.

And he wants to be a professional recording artist.

“I have some big goals for music,” he says. “I plan on changing the world with all this stuff.”

Photo by Ryam Cardoso

A visit from a pioneer for women in punk rock is among the highlights of the fifth annual Ladyfest.

The three-day grassroots music festival welcomes Alice Bag, whose group The Bags helped create the 1970s Los Angeles punk scene along with legendary groups like The Germs and X.

Image courtesy of the August Wilson Center

The Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival is back this year, but don’t look for it on Penn Avenue. Instead, you’ll have to walk one block south to Liberty.

City of Pittsburgh

It’s the first full week for the City of Pittsburgh’s annual line-up of free outdoor summer events, including concerts and films.

Photo courtesy of Violoncheloops

Among the many things remade by digital technology, don’t forget the one-person band.

Jae Ruberto

If you’ve ever visited the Pittonkatonk May Day Brass BBQ Potluck Picnic, the fifth annual incarnation will be broadly familiar: Bands playing outdoors for free in Schenley Park, with plenty of food and a family-friendly atmosphere. It remains volunteer-run (though musicians are paid), and free of corporate advertising and of anything for sale – all rarities for a long-running music festival.

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania's highest court has ordered a judge to free rapper Meek Mill on bail while he appeals decade-old gun and drug convictions.

The Supreme Court directed a Philadelphia judge who had jailed him to immediately issue an order releasing him on unsecured bail.

Mill was sentenced in November to two to four years in prison for violating probation.

Mill issued a statement saying his five months in jail have been "a nightmare" and thanking all his supporters.

Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh

In all of the U.S., there are only a few dozen sets of instruments that qualify as gamelan ensembles – the collections of gongs and other tuned percussion instruments needed to play this form of music indigenous to Indonesia.

One such gamelan resides at the University of Pittsburgh, whose University Gamelan group marks its 20th anniversary this week with a pair of concerts. Guest performers include composer Ismet Ruchimat, vocalist Masyuning, and musician Idra Ridwan.

Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh

These days, jazz studies programs are common at American universities and colleges. In 1969, there were only two at major universities. That’s the year Dr. Nathan Davis arrived at the University of Pittsburgh to establish its program.

A respected saxophonist, the Kansas City native had spent most of the 1960s living in Paris where he was an integral part of that city’s particularly vibrant jazz scene performing and recording with world renowned artists. That background influenced his approach to running Pitt’s jazz program, according to drummer Thomas Wendt.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

In the basement of the Keystone Church of Hazelwood, a group of high school students practiced a hip hop dance performance, counting aloud the steps in the routine in rhythm with a backing music track.

Allegra Battle / 90.5 WESA

How does Pittsburgh’s music scene need to change? That’s one critical question a new project involving local organizations aims to understand and address.

The project, called the Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Project, was launched in October and is made up of 91.3 WYEP, the City of Pittsburgh Office of Nighttime Economy and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Leaders from these organizations will look at the regulatory environment, ways to build more opportunities and other aspects of Pittsburgh’s music scene.

David Bachman Photography

Pittsburgh Opera’s new world-premiere performance, Douglas J. Cuomo’s Ashes & Snow, might be an edgy, contemporary work, but it was inspired by a classic piece of music: Franz Schubert’s Winterreise, meaning "winter journey."

Schubert wrote this song cycle in the 1820s, as a musical setting for a series of 24 poems by German poet Wilhelm Muller. The poems tell the story of a jilted lover wandering a rural landscape in winter.

“I am finished with all my dreams. Why should I linger among the sleepers?” runs one line of the English translation.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Nicole Steele, clad in a face mask and thin plastic protective cover over her shirt, strung a ukulele while 14-year-old Yaheim Young played alongside her. The two had a jam session on the ninth floor of the UPMC Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville. 

Keith Srakocic / AP

*Updated on Monday, Jan. 29 at 3:30 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra picked up two Grammys at Sunday night's awards ceremony. 

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Renowned composer Kathryn Bostic first worked with Pittsburgh-born playwright August Wilson in 2003, scoring the Broadway production of “Gem of the Ocean.”

“Being a part of that process and being in rehearsals and hearing his words, the cadence in his words and his writing is to me are very musical and symphonic,” said Bostic, who lives and works in Los Angeles. “That’s when I began to first get this idea to try to create a symphonic piece.”

90.5 WESA

Jimmy Beaumont, then an 18 year old from Pittsburgh’s Knoxville neighborhood, took some lyrics written by his friend Joe Rock, and set them to music in 1958. He had no idea that what he was creating would become to many music historians the iconic ballad of that era. 

"I really hadn’t gone through any heartbreak at that time, but it was Joe’s lyrics that brought it out," Beaumont told 90.5 WESA's Essential Pittsburgh in 2016.

Bruno Mars Meets His Namesake: Bruno Sammartino

Aug 23, 2017
Shaun Hoffman / AP

Bruno Mars has met the man he's nicknamed after: former pro wrestling champion Bruno Sammartino.

The two met Tuesday night when the pop singing sensation's 24K Magic World Tour stopped in Pittsburgh.

Sammartino heard through friends that Mars, born Peter Gene Hernandez, was nicknamed "Bruno" by his father because he was a "chunky" baby. The wrestling legend — now 81 — was about 275 pounds in his prime and the favorite wrestler of Mars' father.

Cannon Designs / YMCA Facebook

A lot of kids have big dreams of stardom, but not everybody can be a singer, rapper or performer. Still, there are aspects of the music and entertainment industry outside of those specialties.

The Community College of Allegheny County’s new partnership with the Homewood-Brushton YMCA aims to inspire young creators with a free, one-semester introductory course on music technology for students ages 16 to 24.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

After 42 years selling used vinyl records, Jerry Weber will walk away from his namesake record store in Squirrel Hill for the last time this Sunday.

PNME

Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble performs works that are hard to describe, like an amalgam of Mozart and Frank Zappa.

And at City Theater, on the South Side, the group is pairing its music with an art gallery showcasing large colorful canvases and sculptures carefully chosen to be displayed on stage during this summer’s performances.

It’s a multi-sensory experience. After one recent concert, Harry Hockheiser, of Squirrel Hill, explained how he enjoyed the combination of mediums.

Heiko DeWees

Andrew Carnegie had a personal bagpipe player on his payroll and the university that bears his name shows its Scottish roots through its signature green and red tartan plaid and mascot, Scotty

Those are not the only ways Carnegie Mellon University upholds its Scottish heritage. Tucked deep in the halls of CMU’s University Center is a small room packed with bagpipes and drums. It’s where Andrew Carlisle has had his office for the last seven years.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Jane Lynch is, perhaps, best known for her role as the mouthy coach Sue Sylvester on the television show Glee. Now she is going live - performing a new show that, so far, has only been heard once. 

Philadelphia's Music Legacy Is Vast But Hard To Find

May 30, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Detroit has the Motown Museum. Mississippi has a blues trail. Memphis has Graceland, Sun Studio and the Stax Museum of American Soul.

But in Philadelphia — birthplace of the lush acoustic style known as The Sound of Philadelphia and the hometown of "American Bandstand" and Chubby Checker's "Twist" — there's no major place of pilgrimage for music fans.

"Tourists come here expecting and hoping to experience our music legacy, and we leave them wanting," said Patty Wilson Aden, president of The African American Museum.

A diverse musical legacy

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

90.5 WESA’s sister station WYEP held a competition for the worst song ever this week.

Listeners submitted their least favorite tunes, which the station pared down to 20 finalist.  90.5 WESA’s Sarah Kovash talked to WYEP’s Director of Content and Programming, Mike Sauter, about what makes a bad song and the five most hated tunes.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

SARAH KOVASH: Now, were you surprised by some of these submissions?

the Afro American Music Institute

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Howard Alexander instructed a group of young musicians at the Afro American Music Institute in Homewood.

As a Xylophone gently clinked in the background, one of the center’s founders, James Johnson, touted some of the accomplishments of former students.  

“The young lady on piano just got a scholarship to go to Duquesne,” he said. “We’ve sent them to Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh, and they do well.”

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Two part-time workers stood on either side of a T-shaped conveyer belt as 61-year-old Joe Spaniol moved down its twin trunks, trading full boxes with empty ones when its contents started to overflow.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

Albert and Jen Wolf love the sound of their daughters practicing their instruments at home, but that wasn’t always the case.

“When they first begin, it’s a lot of very unusual sounds and you’re not sure what’s coming out of that instrument,” Jen Wolf said. 

When I greeted Margo Price in the NPR garage before her Tiny Desk performance, tears were streaming down her face. It was Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. For her — as for many Americans — it was a stunning and bewildering moment in time, a day when life and the everyday took on new meaning. And so when she and her band began to play "All American Made," a song she's sung many times before, those words about America's changes and failures in the 21st century seemed even more powerful.

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