Once or twice I’ve written here about Highland Park – either the neighborhood or the park itself, because where I live and the paths that cross there provide for some quality moments in time. Every Sunday in August the Highland Park Community Club and Citiparks presents Reservoir of Jazz; a series of free jazz concerts in the park adjacent to Reservoir No. 1, the uncovered one with the walking path around it. While the concerts start at 5:00, if the weather is good people begin arriving as early as noon, staking out the better parking along the loop in the park and on Highland Ave. By 6:00 we can sit on our porch and enjoy both the aural and visual stimulation. We get to hear the music and watch the bee like ballet of cars inching up and down Bunker Hill Rd., turning onto our street, backing out, three point turns, all in the vain attempt to find that hidden spot that precludes a 500 yard walk uphill to the park.
Depending on the performance, the music itself is the gamut that is jazz; electric, Dixie, be-bop and swing, or Afro-Caribbean. Some of it I truly enjoy while others are lost on me. That doesn’t mean I don’t stay outside to listen and watch. This is Pittsburgh. Outside of the neighbors on our block, there are always friends and acquaintances walking or driving up and down Bunker Hill going to the concerts; there’s always someone to say “hi” to. Perhaps the funniest episodes are the double-takes from library users who pass by. We have that disconnected moment that happens when you meet people out of context – at the store, while they’re walking to a Sunday jazz performance, or sitting on their porch in sandals and shorts drinking a beer. “You’re the library guy.” I think I enjoy these Sunday afternoons more for their social and community value than for the music itself.
I tend to like my jazz slow, dark, smokey and relaxing. I didn’t go to my senior prom; instead about 6 of us went to a club in NY called Sweet Basils and listened to Ron Carter play bass all night – back when smoking indoors was legal and you could be 18 to get a drink. My other favorite jazz memories are from late nights in the garage listening to Israel Radio’s equivalent of WDUQ’s “Nightside” program with Tony Mowod. Me, a fleet of John Deeres and Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins and all was right with the world. Here are some of my favorites, new and old that sometimes take me back and always leave me content.
- Last Call at the Balcony. A mournful mixed set recorded at a Shadyside landmark the last night it was open in 1997.
- Jazz for a rainy afternoon. A compilation of 19 pieces by some of the greatest performers of the last 50 years. It’s what you’d expect and want to hear at 2 am on a rainy November night.
- Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. A beautiful warm session of 5 works by Ellington, one by Coltrane and one by Billy Strayhorn recorded in 1962. It’s musical honey when you hear it.
- One night with Blue Note preserved. A two CD set (originally 2 LPs) recorded in 1985. A veritable Who’s Who of New York’s preeminent jazz men of the day. A most ambitious effort if you’re new to jazz.