Artists and Audiences Celebrate Pittsburgh Jazz • The Duquesne Duke

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Sophie Perrin | Personal Editor | Supporting local and international artists, the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival gave audiences a taste of jazz, blues, R&B and more.

Sophie Perrin | Personal editor

September 22, 2022

The 12th annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival made a triumphant post-Covid return to the city September 16-18 at the August Wilson Cultural Center and Highmark Stadium. The festival featured 18 artists and musicians from across the region and afar; including Ron Carter, Buster Williams, Ledisi, Average White Band, Butcher Brown, Samara Joy and more.

The program for each day was varied, mixing big traditional names and contemporary artists. The event was created in 2011 by Janis Burley-Wilson, President, CEO and Artistic Director of AWAACC. As a champion of jazz music in Pittsburgh for more than 20 years, Burley-Wilson also created the Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival, which took place September 14-15, as well as the Blue Sessions music series and the TruthSayers speakers.

Star-studded performances kicked off Friday night at the August Wilson Center with famed bassist Ron Carter’s “Ron Carter Foursight.” Carter is a three-time Grammy Award winner and was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet for five years. In addition to having more than 2,200 album recordings, he won his last Grammy, Best Jazz Instrumental Album, earlier this year for “Skyline.” The following Friday, events moved to Highmark Stadium for a weekend of non-stop concerts from 12-10 p.m. each day.

On Saturday, Melissa Aldana, the Dan Wilson Quartet, the Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Aymee Nuviola Band, the Vanisha Gould Quartet, Nate Smith & Kinfolk, Donald Byrd @90 and Stanley Clarke N 4Ever.

D Byrd @90 is a tribute band to Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds. Donald Byrd III, the President of the Donald Byrd Cultural Foundation, made an appearance alongside original Blackbyrd Keith Killgo. The tribute band consisted of icons Gary Bartz (saxophonist), Nate Smith (drummer), Endea Owens (bassist), Frank Lacy (trombonist) and Brett Williams (pianist). In an interview with WZUM Pittsburgh, Killgo said Byrd wants young people to know that “you can’t know enough” and that being well-rounded “gives you the ability to be creative.”

On Sunday, the festival wrapped up with a strong lineup of contemporary jazz, funk and R&B artists: including Butcher Brown, Samara Joy, Buster Williams & Something More, Chief Adjuah, Average White Band, Ledisi and Incognito, with Maysa Leak. The evening started with more traditional jazz musicians and turned into a series of funk and R&B sets. The combination of a variety of artists of different ages and styles brought together Pittsburgh residents who sought to hear jazz standards and innovative works.

Another highlight of the evening was the Average White Band, a group of Scottish musicians who have released several hits since their debut in 1972, including their No. 1 hit ‘Pick Up the Pieces’, which they performed for their final. “It’s good to be back,” Alan Gorrie told the cheering crowd, already on their feet after their debut song, “Whatcha Gonna Do for Me?”

The band celebrates its 50th anniversary at this festival, about three years after the death of Malcolm “Molly” Duncan, the band’s original tenor saxophonist and co-founder. Duncan died of cancer in 2019, leaving Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre as the only two original band members. Despite tragedy during the pandemic, the band, which also includes vocalist Brent Carter, saxophonists Fred Vigdor and Cliff Lyons, drummer Rocky Bryant and keyboardist Rob Aries, has been rocking Pittsburgh audiences for all of jazz funk and R&B.

The Average White Band was discovered in 1973 and signed to Atlantic Records the following year. The band’s influence has spanned a variety of genres, from sampling by bands like The Beastie Boys and Arrested Development to Marvin Gaye.

After Average White Band, Ledisi took the stage for one of the most energetic sets of the night. Born in New Orleans and raised in Oakland, Calif., Ledisi is a Grammy winner and nominated 12 times, as well as the recipient of three Soul Train music awards to name just a few of her accomplishments. She had the audience singing along to every lyric, with her own songs such as “Add to Me” and “Knocking” featuring powerful messages about girl power and self-love. Ledisi’s motto is “love yourself by any means necessary”. As a young woman, she was inspired by Nina Simone’s words about being a confident black woman. Now she carries on Nina’s legacy by preaching love and faith to her audience and encouraging her listeners to realize their worth.

The festival returned to a thriving time for the arts in Pittsburgh, with in-person concerts and community engagement activities restoring the music and arts scene as Covid subsides. Additionally, the AWAACC is kicking off an exciting fall season. The center will host many engaging events such as Lit Fridays with Mel D Cole, graffiti workshops and Soul sessions. This coming weekend, an interactive exhibition of “Enter the American Century Cycle” will take place, as part of the RADical Days 2022 series.

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