Trudy Pitts, a classically trained pianist who became a prominent jazz organist and an important music educator in Philadelphia, died there on Dec. 19. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Pitts was 78.
Pitts was something of an anomaly in the organ-jazz tradition that found a natural home in Philadelphia in the middle of the 20th century. One of jazz’s most populist and accessible schools, organ jazz had much to do with machismo and intuition: Drenched in the blues and gospel, organ trios became the jazz equivalent of rock ‘n’ roll bar bands with their danceable swing and rousing displays of chops. On paper, Pitts probably shouldn’t have excelled in the idiom like she did. As Chris Kelsey reported in his 2007 Overdue Ovation, Pitts started on piano at age 6, eventually studying to become a concert pianist at Juilliard. She hadn’t played much jazz or, for that matter, B3 organ when she was considered to replace Shirley Scott in a group led by drummer Bill “Mr. C” Carney, whom Pitts would marry in 1958, three years after they met. But by the time she signed with the Prestige label and issued a string of LPs in 1967 and ’68, her mastery of the Hammond B3 was indisputable, and her sound was a thing apart from other Philly-born or -based organ greats, among them Scott, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Charles Earland.