Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay in the 1930s described Pittsburgh's Hill District as the “Crossroads to the World” as it was a center for African-American music, art, and commerce. From the 1920s to the mid 1960s the Hill District was the center of a thriving jazz scene of night clubs, big band ball rooms, and concert theaters. It was a must stop on the tours of the big bands and small jazz combos. Pittsburgh's jazz artists learned their craft on the Hill and went on to shape the course of jazz history.
Pittsburgh is one of the foremost cities in the world for the development of leading jazz artists. Pittsburgh's jazz artists have greatly influenced the history of jazz as leading instrumentals and founders of the Be Bop, Hard Bob, and Vocalese styles of jazz.
Earl "Fatha" Hines who recorded with Louie Armstrong on the definitive Hot Five records influenced generations of jazz pianists with his innovative trumpet style.
Roy Eldridge, one of the most important trumpeters in the history of jazz, influenced a generation of swing trumpeters in the 1930s and 1940s.
Billy Eckstine, who got his start in the Earl Hines band, led the first bop big-band that included Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughan, Pittsburgh's Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. Eckstine also became the first African American singing star.
Song writer/pianist Billy Strayhorn working with Duke Ellington over 30 years wrote some the definitive classic songs of jazz including "Take the A Train", "Satin Doll", "Chelsea Bridge", "Lotus Blossom" and the masterpiece "Lush Life".
Drummer Kenny Clark was one of the founders of Be Bop and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Drummer Art Blakey founded the Jazz Messengers.
Ray Brown is the master bassist of Jazz.
Maxine Sullivan created an innovative style of Jazz singing.
Eddie Jefferson originated the vocalize style of scat singing.
Big Band Hall of Fame Members
Elected to the Big Ball of Fame were Pittsburghers Billy Strayhorn,Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine, Roy Eldridge,Sammy Nestico,Maxine Sullivan,Joe Pass, Erroll Garner, Kenny Clarke, Mary Lou Williams, and Perry Como.
Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame Members
Honored in the Downbeat Hall of Fame are Pittsburghers Billy Strayhorn, Ray Brown, Roy Eldridge, Kenny Clarke, J.J. Johnson, Earl Hines, Art Blakey, and Mary Lou Williams.
Pittsburgh School of Jazz Piano
The Pittsburgh school of jazz pianists that began with Fate Marable's stays in Pittsburgh includes Earl Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamal, Sonny Clark, Horace Parland, Dodo Mamarosa, Orlando DiGirolamo, Johnny Costa, and David Budway.
Jazz Bass Masters
The Pittsburgh school of jazz bassists includes Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Ray Crawford, John Heard, Bobby Boswell, Eddie Safranski, David Izenson, Jimmy Di Julio, Ron Fudoli, Dwayne Dolphin, and Richie Good..
Pittsburgh's tradition of producing influential jazz artists continues today with trumpeter Sean Jones, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, bassist Dwayne Dolphin bassist Richie Good and others.