Pittsburgh Jazz Festival

Mary Lou Williams Founds the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival at the Civic Arena 1964

Renown jazz pianist / arranger Mary Lou Williams founded the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival in 1964 and served as its director for three years.  Walt Harper succeeded Williams as executive director.  The concerts were booked by George Wein who founded and produced the Newport Jazz Festival.  The annual festival was held at the Civic Arena in 1964, 1965, 1968, 1970, and 1972.  A crowd of 5,500 attended the first night of inaugural festival held at the Civic Arena on June 19 and 20 1964.  On Friday June 19 Dakota Staton, Art Blakey, the Thelonious Monk Quartet, the Mary Lou Williams Trio, Walt Harper's Quartet, Blakey Sextion, and singer Joe Williams performed.  The Saturday June 20 show starred Sarah Vaughan, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the Harold Betters Quartet, the Jimmy Smith Trio and the Bernice Johnson Dancers.  The arena's new $20,000 sound system delivered the music loud and evenly.  The two day festival drew 13,000 jazz fans.

The 1965 festival  3 day affair held from Friday June 18 to Sunday June 20th was an historic jazz concert that featured an all star line up of jazz superstars. On Friday night Count Basie, Miles Davis, the Stan Getz Quartet, and Thelonius Monk performed. The Stan Getz Quartet included Gary Burton and Steve Swallow.  John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, Earl Hines, Carmen McRae, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Mary Lou Williams appeared on Saturday. Joining Duke Ellington onstage was the composer of "Take the A Train" Pittsburgh's Billy Strayhorn. John Coltrane’s Quartet included McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. On Sunday evening June 20 Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Pittsburgh's piano master Ahmad Jamal and Muddy Waters performed.  On Sunday afternoon June 20th a piano jazz workshop was held featuring the greats of piano jazz Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Taylor, Pittsburgh's Charles Bell and Willie "The Loin' Smith. Ellington and Hines teamed up for the song "House of Lords". The workshop closed with a version of "Rosetta" played by Hines, Smith, Williams, Taylor and George Wein sharing two pianos. A live recording of the entire piano workshop entitled "The Jazz Piano" was released by RCA on vinyl with 10 tracks in 1965 and reissued with 19 tracks of the entire concert on CD by Mosaic Records

Charles Bell, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Billy Taylor and Willie "The Lion" Smith at the 1965 Pittsburgh Jazz Fest.

The 1966 festival held on July 2, 3, and 4 moved to Point State Park for shows starring Dizzy Gillespe, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz.

The jazz festival returned to the Civic Arena in 1968 on June 22 with Walt Harper and Ray Charles. On Sunday June 23, 1968 8,000 jazz fans turned out to see Dionne Warrick, Cannonball Aderly, Gary Burton, Herbie Mann, Hugh Masekela and Theolonius Monk.  The 1970 festival featured on Sundary June 21 the Thad Jone-Mel Lewis Band,Eric Kloss, Frank Cunimundo, Walt Harper, Miles Davis, Joe Williams, and Ramsey Lewis.  The 1972 festival was another incredible line up with Buddy Rich, Carmen McRae, Cannonball Adderly, the Billy Trio and the Silhouettes and Saturday June 17. On Sunday June 18 B.B. King, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Mann, Walt Harper, Dizzie Gillespie and legendary trumpeter Roy Eldrige appeared. The 1973 Pittsburgh Jazz Festival was held at Three Rivers Stadium starring 1973 Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles B.B. King and Charles Mingus.  The Festival was renamed the Kool Jazz Festival in 1982 and moved to Heinz Hall.  Mellon Bank was the sponsor of the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival for 16 years from 1986 to 2002.