Jazz drummer Thomas Wendt hears two things on a regular basis in his line of work.
People often approach him and ask where they can find a schedule of jazz events and venues in Pittsburgh. While jazz station WZUM-FM 101.1 and some websites offer some information, a comprehensive list is hard to find. While that feels disappointing, it’s nothing compared to the other comment he gets all too frequently.
“The worst thing to hear is, you played a great gig and then, four days later somebody says, ‘Oh, man! I didn’t know about that. I would’ve come to that!’’ wendt says. “And you’re thinking, ‘Dammit!’”
But a local task force of people from the jazz community are working to change that. Just over a year ago, Wendt and Dr. Harry Clark — the founder and former principal of the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts, as well as a trumpeter — were approached by Peter Gordon, of Thirsty Ear Records. In his role as CEO of the Jazz Forward Coalition, Gordon was organizing a Jazz Hubs project in four cities: Washington, D.C.; Portland, Oregon; Phoenix, Arizona; and Pittsburgh. He explained at 2017’s Jazz Connect Conference that the goal was to create “a hub in markets around the country where the jazz community gets together on a regular basis to work on common issues and common goals, work with each other to help develop the market… to ultimately build audience demand.”
While the Jazz Hubs Project, and the connection with the Jazz Forward Coalition has officially ended, out of it came a local task force of musicians, educators and promoters committed to achieving these goals in Pittsburgh. Meeting each month, they’ve been able to set up a page on an international online database which will be celebrated during a series of events called Jazz Days of Summer. Running from Aug. 11 through Aug. 19, it encompasses every jazz event happening in Pittsburgh during that time frame.
A big part of the task force’s effort came together when research revealed that Pittsburgh hosts between 35 and 55 jazz performances a week. “For a mid-size city like Pittsburgh, it’s pretty impressive,” Wendt says. Jazz Days “is a way to show the region just how rich the jazz community is on a regular basis, and to present a united front to the region.”
Rather than limit the Jazz Days banner to a select list of performances, it seeks to include everything from straight-ahead jazz to more experimental, free improvisation. To that end, the events coincide with the launch of the website Pittsburgh.Jazznearyou.com, where jazz fans can access information about performances and musicians. The site has similar pages for cities ranging from New York to Paris, and its founder, Mark Ricci, is also the creator of the web resource All About Jazz.
“Hopefully in the next couple of months, that will become the place where folks will go to see what’s happening in the jazz community,” Wendt says. “It’s a platform that was already built and is already in use, and it’s going to link us with other cities globally and nationally.”
In addition to helping audiences find the music, Wendt says the website provides a tool for musicians, who can make sure their bookings don’t fall on the same night as a show that can take all the audience away. “It’s really a great thing that a city like Pittsburgh in 2018 has three, four or five good jazz gigs on one night. But it’s not a good thing that they’re all scheduled in a way that each event can’t benefit from having a good audience,” he says.
Following the efforts of the Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Project, it’s significant that people like Wendt and Clark have already begun to take action, albeit independent of that report. But Wendt says the time is right. “We have to work together in order for everyone to be able to succeed,” he says.
For more information visit Pittsburgh.Jazznearyou.com.