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University of Pittsburgh Hosts Its 50th Jazz Seminar and Concert

Five-day virtual event will pay tribute to its past program directors Nathan Davis and Geri Allen

Nicole Mitchell (photo: Amanda Friedman)
Nicole Mitchell (photo: Amanda Friedman)

Over the past five decades, the University of Pittsburgh’s annual Jazz Seminar and Concert has become a staple of the Pittsburgh music scene. It began under the leadership of the late Nathan Davis, founding director of Pitt’s jazz studies program, and continued under the late Geri Allen, the program’s second director. Now the contributions of both directors are being honored this week as part of the 50th Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert, which runs from November 2-7 and, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, consists only of virtual events streamed via YouTube. The program’s third and current director, flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell, will join other Pitt faculty and students as well as other musicians and scholars for these events.

On Monday, November 2, Pitt faculty member Dr. Aaron Johnson leads a panel with previous students of Dr. Davis to highlight his innovations in jazz and education. On Thursday, November 5, Pitt faculty member Dr. Michael Heller and Columbia University faculty colleague Dr. Ellie Hisama will convene Feed the Fire, an all day cyber-symposium on Allen that also serves as a launch for Pitt’s Jazz and Culture journal, which focuses entirely on Allen’s contributions and influence. Keynote speakers include Terri Lyne Carrington, Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin, Dr. Gina Dent, and Dr. Angela Davis.

Additionally, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the origins of jazz as an expression of the Black community, Mitchell will discuss the topic of racial equity in jazz and jazz education with Gail Austin (Kente Arts Alliance), Ayana Contreras (WBEZ-FM, Vocalo Radio), and Willard Jenkins (DC Jazz Festival, WPFW-FM). 

“Pitt’s Jazz Studies Program is one of the oldest and most reputable in the country,” Mitchell said in a statement, “and it’s our immense honor to herald visionaries Dr. Nathan Davis and Geri Allen who built it with creativity, love, inventiveness and tenacity so that it can stand strong today. It’s important for us to remember from where we came so we can plan well where we will go for the next fifty years in jazz.”


All events are free and can be found on the Pitt Music Department YouTube channel. A partial schedule of events is below.

Monday, Nov. 2, 12 p.m.
“Dr. Nathan Davis: Musician, Innovator and Educator” 
Former students of Davis will share recollections in this live discussion, moderated by Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies Aaron Johnson. Panelists include Dale Fielder; James Johnson Jr.; Alton Merrell; Kenneth Prouty; and Doretta Whalen.

Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7 p.m.
“Jazz Talk” with Nicole Mitchell
This episode, titled “Racial Equity in Jazz and Jazz Education,” will feature panelists Gail Austin, managing director of the Kente Arts Alliance; Ayana Contreras of WBEZ in Chicago; and national arts consultant Willard Jenkins. 

Thursday, Nov. 5, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 
“Feed the Fire: A Cyber Symposium in Honor of Geri Allen” 
This all-day conference at Columbia University will bring together internationally renowned scholars and performers to discuss Allen’s legacy as an artist and educator. The event will coincide with the release of a special issue of Pitt’s journal Jazz and Culture, focusing entirely on Allen, slated to be published this fall. The final keynote presentation will feature political activist, philosopher, academic, and author Dr. Angela Davis; Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin (William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University), Terri Lyne Carrington (drummer, composer, producer; Founder, Berklee Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice); and Gina Dent (Associate Professor of Feminist Studies at University of California-Santa Cruz). During breaks, an extended performance video of Ms. Allen will be played.


Additional participants include: Mount Allen III (Geri’s brother, Director of Operations at SFJAZZ); Dwight Andrews (Emory University); Courtney Bryan (Tulane University); Michael Dessen (University of California, Irvine); Kevin Fellezs (Columbia University); Ellie M. Hisama (Columbia University); Vijay Iyer (Harvard University); Aaron J. Johnson (University of Pittsburgh); Veronica Johnson (Detroit Metro Times, JazzTimes); Tammy Kernodle (Miami University); George E. Lewis (Columbia University); Nicole Mitchell (Gantt) (University of Pittsburgh); Fred Moten (New York University); Robert O’Meally (Columbia University); Yoko Suzuki (University of Pittsburgh); and Francis Wong (Asian Improv Arts).

You can access the above event at

Friday, Nov. 6, 7 p.m.
“Reminiscing Eminence”
International jazz artists Terri Lyne Carrington (drums) and Vijay Iyer (piano), along with Nicole Mitchell Gantt (flute) and Pittsburgh-based Dwayne Dolphin (bass), will discuss the influence of Geri Allen. Following the conversation, each will perform a pre-recorded solo as well as a collaborative piece inspired by the work of Geri Allen.


Saturday, Nov. 7, 7 p.m.
Pitt Jazz Faculty Showcase
Pre-recorded at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, small ensembles of Pitt jazz faculty will perform songs, many of them composed by Nathan Davis.  Musicians will include:

Nicole Mitchell (flute)
Kenneth Powell (saxophone)
Yoko Suzuki (saxophone)
Ralph Guzzi (trumpet)
Aaron Johnson (trombone)
Mark Strickland (guitar)
Frank Cunimondo (piano)
James Johnson Jr. (piano)
Irene Monteverde (piano)
Jeffrey Mangone (bass)
James Johnson III (drums)
Sandra Dowe (voice)
Pitt Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement Kathy Humphrey (voice)