International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame | Pittsburgh City Paper

International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame

Covering the walls in a quiet corner of the bustling William Pitt Union is a collection of bronze plaques bearing the likenesses of jazz greats, past and present -- from Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt to Fats Waller. And in their midst, along with a few tables and benches, you'll find a large glass case of memorabilia.

It's not exactly the Hard Rock Café, but you could approximate the effect by bringing along a between-class snack.

The display case houses the faded flotsam and jetsam of a musician's life in the jazz era: telegrams and contracts; passes to jazz festivals (Monterey, Montreux, São Paulo); original scores, instruments and personal items. You'll find Sonny Rollins' tenor saxophone, Count Basie's fisherman's cap, and a mouthpiece and slides belonging to Dizzy Gillespie. At one end, there's an original painting by Miles Davis, depicting two stylized figures in mid-dance ... or is that mid-flight?

But what stands out in this small collection is a practice pad and drumsticks donated by Kenny Clark. The pad is taped and decaying, the sticks battered and mismatched, and in them, you see the ghost of practice, discipline and melancholy, but also the wildness of the music.

These artifacts in the Hall of Fame are merely the tip of the iceberg, a few prizes from the University's extensive Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives. Housed in Hillman Library, the full archives are available to the public only by special arrangement. Together with the Archives and the Hall of Fame, Pitt's jazz department publishes a scholarly journal, maintains a dedicated recording studio and, for over 30 years, has headed up the celebrated annual Jazz Seminar and Concert.

Even if you're not a music student, or even a jazz-head, it's well worth stealing a moment to take in a little jazz history, and take away some insight into the lives of the musicians who improvised the art form into life.

International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame William Pitt Union, University of Pittsburgh, Oakland. Free.