Nelson Harrison isn't shy about his passion for Pittsburgh's prominence in the history of jazz music.
“Pittsburgh is the jazz capital of the world," Harrison said. "A lot of people don’t know that. The last hundred years of jazz wouldn’t have happened at all if it hadn’t been for Pittsburghers who innovated almost every major movement in Pittsburgh.”
The former trombonist for Count Basie’s band is one of more than sixty local jazz musicians playing at a jazz concert in Oakland tonight, celebrating the Black Political Empowerment Project's 30th anniversary.
It’s a “vintage”-themed evening, harkening back to the days when the Hill District was a thriving jazz center and a common stop for big bands on tour.
Other guest artists include Al Dowe, another trombonist who’s also managed several Pittsburgh jazz clubs over the decades, and his partner, vocalist Etta Cox.
But the senior performer of this retro Pittsburgh evening will be 93-year-old pianist George “Duke” Spaulding. After arriving in Pittsburgh in the 1940s, Spaulding said he was a Baldwin Piano Company technician for forty years, tuning pianos for some famous acts that came through town.
“I tuned for Liberace, Boston Pops, you name ‘em," Spaulding said. "So I’ve been into music all my life, and I intend to leave here with my finger on a key.”
Another so-called “vintage” performer, vocalist Betty Douglas, said she’s hoping to build a new audience for local jazz through her teaching at Geneva College in Beaver Falls.
“I had students come up to me after [a lecture] that said, ‘You know, I had never listened to jazz before, but I am going to now,’” Douglas said.
Roger Humphries and the RH Factor and The Tim Stevens / Leonard Johnson Project will be the host bands, with scores of Pittsburgh jazz greats playing along. The music starts at half past five.