In sushi heaven with Trudy Pitts

Jazz pianist Trudy Pitts: an appreciation

2 minute read
Pitts: Extending a tune into jazz eternity.
Pitts: Extending a tune into jazz eternity.
The jazz pianist and organist Trudy Pitts, who died December 19, was one of Philadelphia's greatest musical treasures. Although her obituary in the Inquirer neglected to mention it, from the 1980s through the turn of this century Pitts and her husband, the drummer and occasional singer Bill Carney, played a gig at the wonderful and long departed Japanese restaurant Meiji-En.

Meiji-En, located at the foot of Callowhill Street, offered a spectacular view of the Delaware River and food to match. But if you love classic jazz the way my wife and I do, the food and the scenery took a back seat to the music.

On weekend evenings and at Sunday brunch, Pitts, Mr. C. (as her husband was known) and, usually, an up-and-coming guest artist set a standard of jazz improvisation right up there with the giants of her generation. My wife and I spent many heavenly hours devouring sushi and listening to her play.

Like so many of the great names in jazz, Pitts was classically trained and— like her contemporary, the late pianist/singer Shirley Horn— had studied at Juilliard. Horn said that the language of Rachmaninoff and Debussy had formed her own musical vocabulary, and Trudy Pitts's voicings and harmonies often reminded me of Horn's.

Only a smattering of Pitts's work is available on Youtube"“ here is one from 2009 "“ and nothing captures the way she played the piano on those occasions. One performance stands out in particular: a rendition of the jazz standard Invitation (here's a version I particularly like), with a long meditative coda that seemed to extend the tune into jazz eternity.

Years after Meiji-En closed, when Pitts played at the Art Museum on a Friday evening, I approached her and thanked her for the pleasure she'd given us at that restaurant. She beamed at the memory of those days, observing wistfully that all good things must come to an end. And, indeed, here we are at the end of a life that touched the souls of so many Philadelphia music lovers.♦

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