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Understanding, And Teaching, The Language Of Jazz

University of Pittsburgh
Nicole Mitchell is the new director for the University of Pittsburgh's jazz studies program, effective July 1, 2019. She most recently taught at the University of California at Irvine.

On today’s program: Pitt's jazz studies program has a new leader with lots of big ideas; Larimer's African Healing Garden makes its home in an empty lot; Ohio residents are fighting companies over the fate of fracking waste; residents in Bucks and Montgomery counties are battling contamination in private wells; and the Voter Participation Center is campaigning to get more Pennsylvanians to vote.

Pitt's Nicole Mitchell on mentorship, collaboration & honoring Pgh's past

Critically-acclaimed improvisational flutist, composer and band leader Nicole Mitchell started playing at age 9, but didn’t find her avant-garde sound until college when trombonist Jimmy Cheatham of the Count Basie Orchestra shared his time and wisdom. She says that relationship, and her work with the nonprofit Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago, taught her the value of community-based mentorship—something she hopes to foster in the jazz studies program at the University of Pittsburgh. 

“One on one, having that experience with someone who is doing what they do that you’re inspired by right there in front of you—that’s really the best way to learn the music,” she says. 

Mitchell, who took over as director July 1, tells The Confluence's Megan Harris she knows she has big shoes to fill replacing beloved pianist and composer Geri Allen, who died in 2017. Mitchell says she wants to honor Allen's legacy, and hopes to build on and celebrate Pittsburgh's place in jazz history.

“The multiculturalism we have right now, and our ability to interact and understand each other, even though we had a long way to go—a lot of that is because of jazz music,” says Mitchell. “It’s really a lot of big shoulders that I’m standing on, so it’s important for me that I understand the language and all of the work that’s been done before. But I also think that it’s a responsibility to contribute my own voice, and to add something new—to really dig deep and find my own voice.”

The 48th annual University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar and Concert kicks off Tuesday, Oct. 29.

Growing a sense of peace and community in a former vacant lot

Three years ago, Larimer resident and community organizer Betty Lane saw a vacant lot that had become an eyesore in her community as an opportunity for development and community growth. The lot became home to the African Healing Garden, a community green space used as a tool for education as well as a local relaxation spot.

“Having lived through the gangs in this neighborhood and all of the violence and the killing, I felt like there needed to be a place of solace, a place where people could just come and sit and smell the aromas,” Lane says. “To use the name African Healing Garden, I feel like it takes it back to the motherland.”

Ohio residents battle with water treatment over fracking waste

When Patriot Water Treatment began sending fracking waste from Warren, Ohio through its sewage treatment plant, pollutant discharge reports showed that Patriot was exceeding its discharge limits to the sewage treatment plant. Excedences were found for pollutants like zinc, ammonia, and, in one case 68 times the limit of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), which includes salts known to come from frack waste.

As part of the Allegheny Front’s series on fracking in Ohio, Who’s Listening?, Julie Grant talks with Leatra Harper of the FreshWater Accountability Project and her attorney, who are both fighting to hold regulators accountable.

PFAS could be contaminating wells in Bucks and Montgomery counties

A toxic class of chemicals once used in fire fighting foam at former military air bases contaminated public drinking water, so water authorities installed treatment systems. But as WHYY's Dana Bate reports, private wells are different, sometimes miles from those bases and the treatment systems that could protect residents. Bate spoke with a resident who has water delivered to her home daily to keep her family from consuming the well water. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is still investigating the source of the PFAS. 

You can't vote if you aren't registered

The nonpartisan nonprofit Voter Participation Center has launched a new campaign aimed at encouraging voter registration ahead of the 2020 election. In June, they began mailing out registration applications to 1.7 million unregistered people across 14 states, including around 120,000 to people in Pennsylvania. The application forms are state-specific and can be sent directly to election officials.

“We don’t particularly make it that easy in this country to register and vote,” says Page Gardner, founder and president of the organization. “There is an enormous number in Pennsylvania that are not having their voices heard, and that’s the fundamental issue that we are going after.”

According to the the center’s research, over half of all Latinx people, more than one-third of African Americans and 43% of young people overall are unregistered in Pennsylvania.

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich, Julia Maruca and Hannah Gaskill contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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