Pittsburgh's dearth of local jazz clubs has been the subject of much hand-wringing over the past few years. Yet, while things ain't what they used to be, as the song says, live Pittsburgh jazz can still be discovered with a little detective work. Among the opportunities, the Cultural Trust continues to spotlight all manner of local players with its JazzLive series. Throughout the year, the series hosts two local acts on Tuesdays at the Backstage Bar, in the Cabaret at Theater Square. Through August, the evening's first set moves the festivities outdoors to Katz Plaza. All performances are free to the public.
Pianist Craig Davis, who performs at the plaza in the coming week, might still be a little young to be considered a veteran musician, but his experiences say otherwise. Before he graduated high school, he was often invited to sit in with drummer Roger Humphries. Having started out playing classical piano, performing alongside Humphries was an eye-opener and led to a semi-regular position in the group. Humphries "helped me learn how to swing a lot better than I would have if I was just going to school, studying jazz in a conservatory," Davis says. After high school, he attended the Berklee College of Music, in Boston, and Indiana University's School of Music, in Bloomington, receiving his undergraduate degree from the latter.
The local Alanna imprint released Out of the Gate, Davis' debut CD, in 2006. The 10 tracks found Davis leading a trio for some pensive and lyrical moments, with trumpeter Sean Jones dropping by to turn up the heat on tunes like John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." and an especially dynamic version of Cedar Walton's "Bolivia." Davis likes the classic post-bop style, but he also enjoys working out pieces by composers like Chick Corea and saxophonist Joe Henderson. Next week, he intends to spotlight some of Henderson's compositions that are built on modal scales, breaking away from typical chord changes. He will also salute Dodo Mamarosa, a local pianist who played with Charlie Parker before returning to this area and living out of the spotlight.
Davis' performance comes just as he is departing for New York and the graduate program at the Manhattan School of Music. He'll study composition and arranging, and hopes to develop ideas for his next CD. "The standards are nice, but I want to do some compositions that include some different meters and [arrangements for] multiple horns," he says.
JazzLive presents Craig Davis (5 p.m. Tue., July 15; Katz Plaza, Downtown) and Kevin Howard (7 p.m. Tue., July 15; Backstage Bar, Theater Square, Downtown). Free. 412-471-6070 or www.pgharts.org
- Out of the gate: Craig Davis