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Pittsburgh jazz documentary ‘We Knew What We Had’ returning to WQED

Shirley McMarlin

A locally produced documentary on Pittsburgh’s rich jazz music history is airing again nationally, with a special airing scheduled at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 on WQED, Pittsburgh’s PBS member station.

Produced by MCG Jazz, the 60-minute documentary, “We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told,” explores social conditions and historical events that combined to make Pittsburgh one of the leading contributors to the legacy of jazz music in the world, MCG Jazz says.

The program includes interviews, historical photographs and more than 20 live performance clips of homegrown jazz masters like George Benson, Ahmad Jamal, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Eckstine, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams and others.

The title, director Jeff Sewald says , comes from something a couple of the old jazzmen said while being interviewed for the film. They knew that Pittsburgh was a great jazz city but didn’t think it had ever received its due.

As an example, Sewald says, noted documentarian Ken Burns didn’t even mention the Steel City in his 2000 miniseries, “Jazz.”

“That’s like missing Detroit if you’re talking about Motown,” Sewald says. “Pittsburgh’s place within the context of jazz history is just monumental. It’s one of a half-dozen cities worldwide that can lay claim to such a rich heritage — and the story is still continuing.”

The film captures the spirit of a distinctly American art form, the character of a regional locale and the soul of a hardy and determined people, MCG Jazz says.

Since its original airing in 2018, “We Knew What We Had” has been telecast 1,500 times in 400 markets in 46 states. The film received two Tellys at the 39th annual Telly Awards, including the gold Telly Award in the craft-use of music category and bronze in the general-cultural category.

“We Knew What We Had” is distributed by American Public Television with presenting station WQED Multimedia for broadcast on television, locally, nationally and around the world. Currently, more than 550 telecasts are scheduled nationally during the month of February.

The documentary also will have a public screening in the Mt. Lebanon Public Library , 16 Castle Shannon Blvd., on Feb. 17.

Details: weknewwhatwehadfilm.com

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.


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Jack Fordyce | Tribune - Review
Native Pittsburgher and jazz legend George Benson is among performers featured in MCG’s documentary, “We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told,” returning to WQED on Feb. 28.