MCG Jazz shines as a beacon of hope for local jazz musicians and enthusiasts throughout the pandemic
January 21, 2021 3:30 pm
Does music have the power to heal? For MCG Jazz’s patrons and their affiliated jazz musicians, the answer is a resounding, “yes.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, jazz music has been a lifeline for them.
MCG Jazz’s performances provide solace, a sense of new hope and for musicians, a steady source of economic well-being.
“If I can lift one person’s spirits, I’ve done my job. We all have an emotional attachment to music. It’s do or die—and the audience appreciates that,” says George Heid III, a local drummer, composer, percussionist and an MCG Jazz affiliated musician.
MCG Jazz has existed for 34 years. It is a program housed under Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG), which is an affiliate of Manchester Bidwell Corporation (MBC).
All arts and music programs under MCG share a common vision born from founder Bill Strickland’s personal experience – that through direct involvement in the making of art and through exposure to the masters who teach and perform it, a person’s life will be enriched and even transformed.
This beautiful mission was threatened when the pandemic struck in early March of 2020. MCG Jazz’s concert hall doors suddenly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and they were forced to postpone their remaining concerts.
George Heid III, an MCG Jazz Musicians Performance Fund recipient
Preserving, presenting and promoting jazz amidst a pandemic
Despite the shutdown, MCG Jazz held strong to their mission of preserving, presenting and promoting jazz.
They began to offer virtual concerts and educational programming, safe and socially distant jazz events at outdoor settings and continued to support local jazz artists with their MCG Jazz Musicians Performance Fund.
“Everyone feels very safe at our performances and we’ve been implementing all of the appropriate and recommended CDC protocols,” says Marty Ashby, Executive Producer of MCG Jazz.
One of those events occurred in September of 2020, where several jazz performances were presented by MCG Jazz in the City Theatre’s Drive-In Arts Festival at Hazelwood Green.
“I could finally get out of the house and enjoy nice, good quality music. It was a great experience and it was a safe way to present jazz,” says David Marrangoni, a long-time supporter of MCG Jazz.
Their 34th season turned virtual and currently features a variety of interactive programming to keep the jazz community connected:
Throughout the fall 2020 and into 2021 MCG Jazz hosts archive concert broadcasts and socially distanced live performances from their stage. patrons are able to watch the premiere performance or on-demand for a set length of time.
MCG Jazz Spotlight Show
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, MCG Jazz hosts a 60-minute radio show on The Pittsburgh Jazz Channel, WZUM, 101.1 FM. The show is also available to stream online at wzum.org.
Learning About the Legends
Every week MCG Jazz gives a glimpse into the lives of Pittsburgh Jazz Legends. At the end of each month, a transcription of each legend’s oral history is released on their website.
Allegheny County Parks Summer Concert Series featured MCG Jazz Musicians Performance Fund ensembles: Mark Strickland Trio (pictured), Dwayne Dolphin Trio and Lynn Speakman Quintet
Ask the Artist
MCG Jazz hosted live chat sessions with an artists who have recorded on the MCG Jazz Label. Participants were encouraged to submit their questions and real-time answers.
MCG Jazz encourages the public to follow their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube accounts as well as to subscribe to their e-newsletter in order to keep up-to-date with all of their upcoming virtual and in-person offerings.
“We’re bringing people joy and hope. That’s what the music is all about and that’s what Bill [Strickland] wanted,” says Ashby, “Jazz changes people’s lives and gives them something to hold on to.”
Additionally, their award-winning documentary, “We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Ever Told,” has recently become available for individuals to enjoy from the comfort of their homes. The DVD is currently on pre-sale.
The MCG Jazz Musicians Performance Fund
COVID-19 pandemic restrictions also left a lot of musicians in the area out of work. In order to help their fellow musicians and educators, MCG Jazz created the MCG Jazz Performance Fund.
“We’ve been able to provide the opportunity for jazz musicians to play live together again and its really made an impact,” says Ashby.
MCG Jazz asked The Opportunity Fund to consider helping create a jazz performance fund that would grant funds to musicians to either compose new music or create new arrangements for an ensemble of regional musicians of their choosing.
“I applaud MCG Jazz for their support of local artists,” says Marrangoni, “the organization’s authenticity and dedication to their community really resonates.”
With an initial $20,000 of funds to offer to the musicians, 10 ensemble leaders were selected to create a new project benefiting 40 musicians and providing for 21 performance opportunities.
“It means everything to me to be a performance fund recipient. As a musician, my whole livelihood and happiness is based on performing, “says Paul Thompson, local bassist, educator and an MCG Jazz affiliated musician, “MCG Jazz has opened a door to allow us as a community to keep working and put food on the table.”
Paul Thompson (center), an MCG Jazz Musicians Performance Fund recipient, plays bass in the Deanna Witkowski Trio at MCG Jazz's concert hall
Recently, MCG Jazz presented a virtual holiday concert that featured all of the Musician Performance Fund musicians and their ensembles.
Additionally, MCG Jazz has just released a new album, Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra "Bernstein Reimagined,” which is available for purchase on their website.
Bringing new hope to the jazz community
The revolutionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Jazz speaks for life…it tells the story of life's difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that musicians take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope.”
MCG Jazz is living up to Dr. King’s words. Their efforts throughout the pandemic have brought a new hope to the jazz community and they have helped to ensure jazz music and jazz musicians in Pittsburgh will have a bright future for decades to come.
To show your support for MCG Jazz and their mission, please consider making a kind donation.