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Change Comes to Pitt with Nicole Mitchell as New Jazz Chair

The avant-garde flutist plans to embrace the tension between innovation and tradition at the University of Pittsburgh

Nicole Mitchell
Nicole Mitchell (photo: Kristi Sutton Elias)

“We’re really going to be shaking things up,” Nicole Mitchell says. She is referring to the University of Pittsburgh’s Jazz Seminar and Concert, a 49-year tradition that was started by late saxophonist Nathan Davis, who founded Pitt’s jazz program. Each fall, musicians—who over the years have included Art Blakey, Donald Byrd, and Terri Lyne Carrington—have come to Pitt to present seminars on topics ranging from their particular instrument to the music industry in general. While the talks are geared toward music students, each one is open to the public and free.

Arguably the most significant part of the event comes during the Saturday night concert at Carnegie Music Hall, across the street from the campus. During Davis’ tenure, the show felt like a blowing session, similar to Jazz at the Philharmonic. With regular guests like bassist Abraham Laboriel and drummer Idris Muhammed providing the rhythmic foundation, an array of horn players—Joe Lovano, Johnny Griffin, Benny Golson, Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff—took part in a meeting of the minds. Davis, on tenor and soprano saxophone, stepped up his game in the presence of his peers. Always an exciting show, the concert was very much steeped in tradition, which was fine with the Pittsburgh jazz audience.

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Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at