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Summer won’t be the same without a real festival |

Summer won’t be the same without a real festival

| Sunday, March 9, 2003 12:00 a.m

It will be easy to find the site of this year’s Mellon Jazz Festival.

Drive past Forbes Field to the Isaly’s headquarters and turn right. It’s over there with all the other things that are no more.

There are those people who will argue Mellon Financial Corp.’s year-round support of jazz events is more important than a festival. And, yes, that has something of a good sound to it, but a summer is not the same without a festival.

Besides creating a truly special time of year, the most important thing a jazz festival does is offer a range of performers within a small span of days. That makes for a nicely defined way of bringing the variety of the music into focus.

It lets a mainstream fan take a look at such people as improvisational wizard Anthony Braxton.

Or it lets a new jazz fan discover a classic performer such as Sonny Rollins.

And it lets a fan of the traditional stumble across Al Jarreau.

That’s what the Mellon festival did at its peak — and did it well. It was wonderful having to make a choice on a Friday night whether to hear Dave Douglas or Virginia Mayhew. And that was knowing you could wrap up the evening with Hugh Masakela.

And that’s why Mellon’s new approach isn’t good enough. It doesn’t create that focus.

Yes, other things will be happening around that time. Craig Poole, owner of the James Street Restaurant on the North Side, plans on having his own festival of sorts the weekend of June 13, around the time the Mellon event could have been.

Al Dowe, owner of Dowe’s on 9th, Downtown, says he will bring in a special guest, too.

The city will be in the midst of free jazz concerts at Riverview Park on the North Side and Highland Park in the East End. And Allegheny County plans concerts — supported by Mellon — at Hartwood Acres and South parks as well as the courthouse, Downtown.

It’s great that all these things are happening, but it’s not enough.

It was good to see the Pittsburgh Jazz Society put together its Winter Jazz Fest last weekend, but it is still a winter weekend — not a main festival around which fans can plan their activities.

This town needs a hefty festival, and jazz fans shouldn’t be shy about grumbling about that.

The fact that there isn’t one right now says something sad about this place.

Pittsburgh’s “great jazz legacy” has another dead member.

Playing by the book

Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco and vibist Terry Gibbs both are featured in print as well as in music these days.

They are the subjects of “A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz: A Biography of Buddy DeFranco” (Parkside, $125 hardcover, $65 soft) and the Gibbs autobiography “Good Vibes: A Life in Jazz” (Scarecrow, $34.95 ).

The two are playing at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, North Side, Thursday through March 16. Tickets are $30. Details: (412) 323-0800.

Author Gibbs is naturally quite proud of his book, which he calls “anecdotal” and “fun.”

DeFranco is a little modest about the book two fans took 12 years to research and write.

“It’s amazing that even if it’s about my life, it’s fairly interesting,” he says. “It’s a book that should have been written about Albert Einstein or someone like that.”

More Miles in the journey

Miles Davis left behind enough music to create new albums out of rereleases.

The new “Miles Davis — In Person Friday Night at the Blackhawk” and “In Person Saturday Night at the Blackhawk” (Columbia/Legacy) both are two-CD releases that have four and nine unissued tracks, respectively.

That lifts the recordings from the San Francisco club far beyond their vinyl days. Remastered versions of these recordings alone would have been worth a release on disc. Davis was technically strong and he was playing tunes that became some of his classics.

His group at the time also was one of those wonderful aggregations Davis had a way of putting together. It featured pianist Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers and sax player Hank Mobley.

But the amount of new stuff makes these albums a new and worthwhile entries in the Davis discography.


“Swept Away”
(Sparky 1)
Mary Ann McSweeney
Three and a half stars

Bassist McSweeney leads a varying-sized group through World Music-flavored jazz that is also classically oriented.

“Prisoner of the Heart”
(Q&W Music Group)
Mary Ann Redmond
Two and a half stars

The songs Redmond sings are pop-focused, but have quite a bit of soul. Her voice is hearty and her grasp of songs such as “You Send Me” first-rate.

“Big Fun”
Bill Evans
Three stars

The ex-Miles Davis sax star borrows an album title from his former boss. The disc is a funky outing filled with good work from Evans and stars such as Les McCann and Hiram Bullock.

“Now Is Another Time”
(Justin Time)
David Murray
Three and a half stars

Tenor sax player Murray leads his big band with a cast of Latin jazz guest stars in an offering of excellent originals. “Mambo Dominica” is a great standout.

“A Jazz Celebration”
(Marsalis Music/Rounder)
Marsalis Family
Three stars

Papa Ellis and children Branford, Wynton, Defeayo and Jason play at a benefit marking Ellis’ retirement as an educator. They are joined by others and put on a show of which most families can only dream.

“Eight Plus”
(Dreyfus Jazz)
The Ron Carter Nonet
Three and a half stars

Bassist Carter leads a nonet built around a cello quartet rather than horns. The tunes in this imaginative outing are mostly original except for a great version of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”

“Soul Journey”
Michael Weiss
Three and a half stars

Pianist Weiss leads a septet with players such as trumpeter Ryan Kisor and trombonist Steve Davis in an all-original outing. Great solo work and excellent arrangements make this stand out.

“For Ella”
(Playboy Jazz)
Patti Austin
Three stars

With Patrick Williams leading the German WDR Big Band, Austin offers the strongest display of her voice ever recorded. But she, wisely, stays away from imitating Ella Fitzgerald in this fine tribute to her.

“It Just Happens That Way”
Mindi Abair
One star

David Sanborn clone Abair offers a pleasant but totally unimaginative session.

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