Artists, audiences celebrate Pittsburgh jazz

Sophie Perrino | Staff Writer | Supporting local and international artists alike, Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival gave audiences a glimpse of jazz, blues, R&B and more.

Sophie Perrino | Staff Writer

Sept. 22, 2022

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

Each day’s lineup was diverse, mixing traditional greats with contemporary artists. The event was first created in 2011 by Janis Burley-Wilson, President, CEO and Artistic Director of the AWAACC. As a champion for jazz music in Pittsburgh for over 20 years, Burley-Wilson also created the Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival, which took place on Sept. 14-15, as well as the Blue Sessions music series and TruthSayers speaker series.

Star-studded shows opened at the August Wilson Center on Friday night with “Ron Carter Foursight” from renowned bassist Ron Carter. Carter is a three-time Grammy award winner and was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet for five years. Apart from boasting over 2,200 album recordings, he won his latest Grammy, Best Jazz Instrumental Album, earlier this year for “Skyline.” Following Friday, events moved to Highmark Stadium for a weekend of continuous concerts from 12-10 p.m. each day.

Saturday featured 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 Donald Byrd Cultural Foundation President, made an appearance alongside original Blackbyrd Keith Killgo. The tribute band was composed 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 that Byrd would want 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 solid 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, featuring Maysa Leak. The night began with more traditional jazz musicians and moved into a series of funk and R&B sets. Combining a variety of artists of different ages and styles brought together Pittsburghers looking to hear jazz standards and innovative works.

Another highlight of the night was the Average White Band, an ensemble of Scottish musicians who have released several hits since their start in 1972, including their #1 hit “Pick Up the Pieces,” which they performed for their finale. “It’s good to be back,” Alan Gorrie told the enthusiastic crowd, who were already on their feet after their first song, “Whatcha Gonna Do for Me?”

The band is celebrating their 50th anniversary at this festival, about three years after the death of Malcolm “Molly” Duncan, the original tenor saxophone player and co-founder of the band. Duncan died of cancer in 2019, leaving Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre as the only two original band members. Despite the tragedy during the pandemic, the band, also including vocalist Brent Carter, saxophonists Fred Vigdor and Cliff Lyons, drummer Rocky Bryant and Rob Aries on the keyboard, had the Pittsburgh audience moving for the entire set of jazz funk and R&B.

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

Following Average White Band, Ledisi took to the stage for one of the most energetic sets of the night. Born in New Orleans and raised in Oakland, California, Ledisi is a Grammy winner and 12-time nominee, 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, featuring songs of her own such as “Add to Me” and “Knocking” with powerful messages about feminine 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 lyrics 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 re-establishing the music and arts scene as Covid subsides. In addition, the AWAACC is launching an exciting fall season. The center will be hosting numerous engaging events such as Lit Fridays with Mel D Cole, Graffiti workshops and Soul Sessions. This upcoming weekend, an interactive exhibition of “Step into The American Century Cycle” will take place, as part of the RADical Days 2022 series.