Das Neueste vom Ortner-Roberts Duo EnglishFlag

Nov 10, 2010

Great Review about Tom's lecture concerning "The Forgotten History of Pittsburgh Jazz"

Please check out the great review written by Brian O'Neill, published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, on November 1st, Page 2:

Around Town: Tom Roberts tunes in Earl 'Fatha' Hines

Around Town: Tom Roberts tunes in Earl 'Fatha' Hines Tuesday, October 26, 2010 By Brian O'Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Tony Tye/Post-Gazette Tom Roberts: the melody lingers

There can't be many white boys from Swisshelm Park who grew up idolizing an old black piano player from down the Mon River, but Tom Roberts' musical hero always has been Earl "Fatha" Hines.

Now Mr. Roberts himself is one of the top practitioners of stride piano, having played everywhere from Carnegie Hall in New York to Buena Vista Coffee a few blocks from his North Side home. He has toured with Leon Redbone, arranged and performed music for Martin Scorsese's biopic "The Aviator," and still finds time to teach neighborhood 10-year-olds to tickle the ivories.

Yet he still can't stop talking about Earl "Fatha" Hines, the pianist from Duquesne who helped shape the early history of jazz.

About 60 people showed up last week at the Allegheny YMCA to hear Mr. Roberts, 48, talk about the roots of the Pittsburgh jazz scene. He began, of course, with Mr. Hines. Born in the early 1900s, he grew up in a musical, middle-class family, was steeped in classical training, and would go to Kennywood to hear his father's brass band.

Then young Earl came across the river to stay with an aunt and attend Schenley High in Oakland. While still a teenager, he began playing nightclubs with a man named Lois Deppe, and young Mr. Hines was so good, the great ragtime pianist Eubie Blake said, "This boy is a genius. He has no business being here."

Mr. Hines moved to Chicago, hooked up with Louis Armstrong, and began a career that stretched into the 1980s. Modern jazz pianists still incorporate his innovations, Mr. Roberts said, without realizing the source.

He punctuated his talk with film clips and old recordings that sounded as if they came from a Betty Boop cartoon. He played "West End Blues" from 1928, with Hines on piano and Armstrong on trumpet, and told us, "Listen to how they chased each other back and forth."

Then he played a clip from the 1954 film "The Glenn Miller Story," and we saw Babe Rusin get up and play tenor sax.

"It's ridiculous we've forgotten he's a Pittsburgher," Mr. Roberts said.

A few days after the presentation, I went over to Mr. Roberts' house, went through the parlor with the victrola in the corner and the photos of early jazz greats framed on the walls, then stopped to check out the old 78s and LPs that are carefully stacked against one kitchen wall, a collection that stands 6 feet high and 7 feet wide.

"There was nowhere else to put them," Mr. Roberts explained, "and this was before the wife came along."

That would be clarinetist Susanne Ortner-Roberts. She came over from Augsburg, Germany, in 2006 to do outreach work with area survivors of the Holocaust. They met when both played a bar mitzvah celebration in Mt. Lebanon. They married in 2007 after touring Europe together. (When you fuse jazz and klezmer, anything can happen.) Now the Ortner-Roberts Duo plays everything from Caribbean to gypsy to Benny Goodman in what they call "hot world chamber music."

A man with tastes that eclectic simply can't abide that some people think any jazz tune before the 1940s is irrelevant.

He told the crowd at the Y that there was a point when the music of Johann Sebastian Bach was virtually forgotten, but Felix Mendelssohn resurrected his genius. Musical roots are important for their own sake.

"Mozart isn't important because he gave rise to Philip Glass or Spinal Tap."

He's lucky. He knows his stuff because he smashed a knee playing baseball when he was around 10. He couldn't do much of anything that summer of 1973 but go across the street to his grandmother's player piano and teach himself to play. That same year, Scott Joplin's ragtime music from the movie "The Sting" was in the air. Marvin Hamlisch won an Oscar for his song adaptations and the tunes won over young Tom.

His grandmother also had a Louis Armstrong record from a car dealership, and when he heard the piano, he said, "Holy cow, what is that? That's something I want to be able to do." Only later did he find out the piano player was from Duquesne.

"To me it was like a time machine transporting me back to another time and place."

So he was the kid at Taylor Allderdice High School who turned his friends on to Armstrong records while they pitched Alice Cooper's shock rock records to him.

He's still hunting for lost treasures. The other night, after showing a Pittsburgh Courier ad from the 1920s about a group called the Tuxedos, a man walked up to him afterward and told him the Tuxedos were a bunch of physicians from Sewickley.

One more piece in the puzzle of the early Pittsburgh jazz scene was filled.

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947. More articles by this author First published on October 26, 2010 at 12:00 am

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10299/1097996-155.stm#ixzz14tw0vr5C