Remembering Trudy Pitts
8.10.32 - 12.19.10
I always call her Aunt Trudy, because she’s been family for years. My uncle, Ellsworth Gooding, was a saxophonist who played a lot around Philadelphia and toured. He was in the Army band. He was in the band that Trudy and Mr. C [Bill Carney, Pitts’ husband] had back in the ‘50s or ‘60s. They were like brother and sister to my uncle. When I left Trenton, New Jersey to move to Philadelphia with my mother, we moved in with my uncle Ellsworth. The night we moved, Mr. C gave us the key to the house because my uncle was on the road. That first night was the beginning of when I discovered that I wanted to play this music. I had moved into a jazz household there in Mount Airy [section of Philadelphia]. Everybody at that time had some trade. They worked at the Naval Shipyard, they worked as electricians, but they were all musicians.
In a way, it’s funny that I was called on to write this piece because there was a time when I was just Orrin, Goody's nephew. Joey was the keyboard wiz and rightfully so. It took a second for Mr. C and Aunt Trudy to realize that I really wanted to play and I'm actually glad that made me work hard for their attention....even if they didn't realize that's what they were making me do.
Trudy was doing Jewels and some other clubs in Philly, but it was when she started working at Meiji-In that I really got to see her play a lot. That was my hang until it stopped. The brunch there was amazing. Trudy would be there every Sunday with Lee Smith [bassist and father of Christian McBride] and Mr. C. I remember seeing her at the Mellon Jazz Festival and I remember seeing her do a duo with Marian McPartland. I never studied formally with Trudy. I would just study what she was doing and apply that to what I was doing. I loved her appreciation for classical music and for show tunes. There were times that she would accompany my mother who was an operaa singer. My mother would have to sing a whole different way when Trudy was accompanying her, because she was used to the pianist playing what was exactly on the paper. But Trudy would come in and play a whole other orchestrated piece.
Trudy would be at all the family picnics. One thing I really appreciated was that, up until the time she was ready to move on, she, along with Edgar Bateman, was one of the very few elder statesmen that still supported the music and when she came she always blessed us with a song!" She was never too big to sit in. I loved hearing her coach a band or just asking them to lay out while she played and sang a solo piece. She was out there at every gig, checking out what everybody was doing. I was running a jam session at Reuben’s Mark [in Philadelphia] for a few years and she would always be there. Even when she was sick and had the oxygen tank, she’d be there. She really did live in the present with us.
There was a record that she did that was never released internationally. It was done in Bermuda in connection with a gig she had there. The record was called Anysha. It’s a record a lot of people don’t know about. That was the first record I really delved into. I had always heard that she was on records or that she had recorded for Prestige, but I didn’t have them. I eventually went back and got her records through Dusty Groove. I have them all now. It was really cool checking out how she sounded back then in comparison to other people during that time. She had a sound of her own on the organ. It was totally different than Shirley Scott or Jack McDuff or anyone else at that time. She played the organ like an organ.
Someone sent me a cassette of Trudy and Shirley playing a duo concert and you could tell right away who was who. Trudy wasn’t necessarily a bebop player like Shirley. Trudy is that missing link between McCoy Tyner and the rest of the Philly cats. I wasn’t there back in that day, but I know the way she voices chords, the way she uses fourths, the way she approached chord progressions, that’s some real Philly shit there. It's bebop but it’s not only bebop. It’s church, it’s classical, it’s everything.
As a person, she was real. That’s what I think is missing these days, because musicians have become some fake, trying to get that record deal or that gig or whatever. You don’t have real things. With Trudy, you knew you were going to get the truth and you were either going to have to deal with it or not. Most of it you wanted to deal with because it made sense. Not only did she have a career playing the instrument, but she was also a mother who raised two kids, while touring and playing music. And she and Mr. C stayed married all those years. We don’t know how hard it must have been for them to deal with everything, playing together and being nice to each other through all that life threw at them. I know it wasn’t easy. I know she, like a lot of women, had to put a lot of things on the back burner. Who knows what she might have done professionally as a musician if she didn’t also have those responsibilities as a wife and mother? She was in touch with her femininity and motherhood, but she could sit down at the keyboard and be hard-core, just like one of the guys. It’s amazing.
I hope that people will remember her and her music. The sad part is that in the last 40 or 50 years, she was never recorded on a label that had international distribution. But I think that Trudy will be rediscovered because of that one record with Pat Martino—El Hombre. That was Pat’s debut as a leader. I can see there being a remix of that album and a dance vibe. Regardless, there will always be those Philadelphia jazz musicians like myself, Joey, Duane Eubanks, Christian, Dwayne Burno, Mike Boone, and so many others that will always hold "Aunt Trudy" dear to our hearts. She lives on in the way that we play.
(As told to Lee Mergner)