‘Our beautiful night all together’: Pitt presents 52nd Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert Week, adds Dave Burrell archive to ULS


Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

From left, pianist Dave Burrell, flutist Nicole Mitchell, bassist Joshua Abrams and percussionist Hamid Drake play together at Tuesday’s 52nd Annual Jazz Concert in Bellefield Hall Auditorium.

By Renee Dubaich, Staff Writer

A crowd roared as Dave Burrell, an American jazz pianist, came on stage after the University Library System announced that it will now obtain his archive. The night continued with Burrell performing his compositions on piano, with other musicians Joshua Abrams on bass, Hamid Drake on drums and Nicole Mitchell Gantt, the outgoing director of Jazz Studies, on flute.

About 300 audience members attended the 52nd Annual Jazz Concert on Tuesday night in the Bellefield Hall Auditorium. The concert, free and open to the public, occurred as part of Pitt Jazz Studies Program’s 52nd Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert Week, which runs Oct. 31 through Nov. 5, 2022. This is the first time since 2019 that this week-long annual event took place in person after restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

Other events occurring throughout the week feature performances by national artists and regional musicians, a screening of a jazz film, a panel discussion, a community workshop, a presentation by a visiting scholar and five concerts.

Aaron Johnson, assistant professor in the music department and interim director of jazz studies, said the annual Jazz Seminar and Concert Week is a longstanding tradition at Pitt created by Dr. Nathan David. Johnson also explained the purpose of the week and its impact on the college community.

“The annual event was an opportunity for [David] to bring people that he knew and respected him to come and play for our students and for the community here at Pittsburgh, and so it’s been going on forever and ever,” Johnson said. “It’s been a tradition since then. This is all for the students, this is jazz in the university setting.”

Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

The concert began with a presentation by ULS, which officially announced the addition of Burrell’s archives to the American music collection. The archive includes various music memorabilia throughout Burrell’s life, including posters, documents, commercials, archival and studio recordings, correspondence with agents and more. ULS will open the archive to students and researchers later this year.

Burrell also received an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award at the event in recognition of his contributions to jazz music. Burrell established himself as a pianist in New York City back in 1965. He has recorded original compositions as well as collaborative work with other jazz musicians throughout his career. One of his most renowned pieces of work is his jazz opera “Windward Passages,” an ongoing project since 1980.

Burrell accepted the award, waved at the audience and said he was thankful to be there and to perform with the other musicians.

“Tonight is our beautiful night all together,” Burrell said.

The performances of the night ranged from solos, duos and  trios and ended with a quartet. Duos included piano with drums and flute with bass. Trios included piano, drums and bass, as well as flute, drums and bass. 

Each musician performed solos as well to display their individual styles including avant-garde, psychedelic, Creole and experimental. The performers left and regathered on the stage throughout the night, each performance unifying different instruments, conveying various styles, renditions, moods and musical elements. 

Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

Lauren Faber, jazz studies program assistant, explained the musical style of the performances, especially Burrell’s.

“A lot of it was very improvisatory and Dave’s style was beautiful. He was playing excerpts from music that the audience would’ve been familiar with like standard jazz charts, that he would sort of weave into his own playing so it was really special and different, it was not typical big band style, it was really cool,” Fauber said.

Burrell said giving his archive to Pitt meant a lot to him because it will help continue the legacy of his work.

“I think it’s the most important invitation and it’s unimaginable what it really means to me,” Burrell said. “Now that Pitt has my archive, I feel like it’s … a rebirth. I also feel a momentum that has increased to keep adding and replenishing and I see the effect that I have on the students… I feel like I am able to contribute to at least this decade, the nowness and the necessary role that I have already begun to play in music education.”

Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

Burrell explained how he and the other musicians worked collaboratively during the performances on Tuesday night.

“I needed [the musicians] to inspire me, which meant, in turn, I needed to motivate them,” Burrell said. “I thought, ‘What are we gonna do tonight? Are we gonna go crazy and just scream and yell on our instruments?’ and I thought, ‘No, we’re not gonna do that. We’re gonna be part of one big family and we’re going to embrace every kind of mood that seems to be in the human experience.’”

Faber said now that the annual event is back in-person, she hopes it will continue with the same enthusiasm for years to come. She said this was a great opportunity to recognize Burrell’s legacy and celebrate a jazz musician who is still performing to this day.

“It’s just exciting because we’re back, we hope that this is the kickoff for the rest of the seminars in future years. The momentum will keep going and it will keep growing,” Faber said. “We thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to invite Burrell to come and celebrate him, it’s so rare that you can ever get a musician who has archives that is still living, so that was super exciting for us, we wanted to celebrate him while he’s alive and playing so well still.”