Jazz series will honor legend Grady Tate

By Bob Karlovits, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, April 28, 2011

When singer and Pittsburgh native Tim Strong grew aware of how some other nations treasure members of their arts community, he decided it was time for that to happen in the United States.

He also decided to honor his mentor, singer and drummer Grady Tate.

“When you look at what he has done on drums, as a singer, or working with programs like the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, you see how important he is,” Strong says of Tate.

Part of that honor will come this weekend when Tate and Strong will be here for two live appearances that will be filmed as part of Strong’s upcoming documentary on Tate.

Tate is thrilled at Strong’s concentration on him, but says the appreciation of his work stems from a fairly simple source.

“I just keep trying to do what I do as well as I can, if not make it better,” says Tate, 79, who has led a career as a drummer for acts ranging from Simon & Garfunkel to Duke Ellington. He has appeared on more than 5,000 recordings, include a famous vocal effort, “Windmills of My Mind.”

He will perform at a private event at the Hill House this evening and then Saturday at the August Wilson Center, Downtown.

The event at the Hill House will be called “Live at the Hurricane,” and will be a tribute to one of Tate’s early professional shows, with organist Wild Bill Davis at the now-defunct Hurricane Grill. He remembers it was in the 1960s, but will go no further.

“I’m 176 years old now and things I say can turn out wrong,” he says with a laugh.

The Saturday show, called “Windmills,” after the album, will feature such Pittsburgh-area stars as drummer Roger Humphries and saxophonist Kenny Blake.

Tate’s history here will make both of those shows potential parts of the film, Strong says.

Strong’s career started here, too. After working with the Benn E. Benack Big Band and the Civic Light Opera, Strong went to New York City, where Tate became a professional and musical mentor for 15 years.

The singer then began traveling the world with his diplomat wife and saw the appreciation for artists in some lands.

That led Strong to forming the National Arts Treasure Initiative, a group he hopes will inspire cultural patriotism for jazz and other forms of American art.

He says he wants to do that by making one or two documentaries a year, which he will distribute through a variety of organizations, including jazz festivals.

It was only natural to pick his mentor as his first subject, particularly when his hometown’s heritage came to light, Strong says.

“It has been a stunning career the way he has taken so many people so many places over the years,” Strong says of Tate.

Jazz legend Grady Tate plays Wilson Center

Saturday, April 30, 2011
By Rick Nowlin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If you happen to make it to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture tonight, you just may end up in a film. And it won’t be your run-of-the-mill jazz concert, either.

This filming will be for the documentary, “Grady Tate’s Windmills,” in honor of the veteran drummer and vocalist and the first installment of the nascent National Arts Treasure Initiative.

The goal of Tim Strong, a vocalist, executive director of the project and a musical disciple of Mr. Tate, is to [recognize] living legends. “I want them to be appreciated while they’re still on the planet.”

The concept was inspired by travels to other lands with his wife, a career diplomat, where Mr. Strong said that someone like Mr. Tate would be considered “a national treasure.”

The title of the documentary refers to the 79-year-old Mr. Tate’s definitive vocal rendition of “Windmills of Your Mind,” which earned him a Grammy nomination in the late 1960s.

Although Mr. Tate is not from this area, “his first professional job was at the Hurricane Lounge with organist Wild Bill Davis,” says Mr. Strong — an alumnus of Braddock High School.

Mr. Strong, who has spent much of his career overseas, met Mr. Tate in the mid-1980s in New York. After Mr. Tate heard Mr. Strong sing on a demo, Mr. Tate told him, “Don’t you ever stop doing what you’re doing.” Mr. Tate even produced Mr. Strong’s first acoustic jazz album, which was eponymous, in 1993, and they two have kept in touch since.

Tonight’s show also will feature, among others, New York-based pianist Sumi Tonooka; and local musicians saxophonist Kenny Blake and drummer Roger Humphries.

No timetable has been set for the documentary’s release. The initiative’s goal is to release two such biographies per year.

“My gift is to bring this home as well as treat him like the royalty that he is,” Mr. Strong says.

Jazz legend Tate returns to Pittsburgh roots

A pair of jazz legends are returning to their Pittsburgh roots.

Drummer and vocalist Grady Tate and internationally acclaimed jazz and blues vocalist Tim Strong will perform Windmills: The Grady Tate Concert on Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m. at the August Wilson Center, along with New York pianist Sumi Tonooka, saxophonist Kenny Blake, drummer Roger Humph­ries and other distinguished local and national artists

Tate and Strong will also return to Pittsburgh Hill District for” Live at the Hurricane,” a private event at the Hill House’s newly renovated Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium on Thursday, April 28. 2011. Tate began his career at the legendary Hurricane Club as a drummer.

Grady Tate

Grady Tate

Both appearances will be filmed and incorporated into a full documentary honoring him not only as a drummer and vocalist, but as one of the greatest American musicians of the last century.

Harold Wheeler, conductor and musical arranger for “Dancing With The Stars” and “The Academy Awards,” will serve as Honorary Chairman for the week’s events.

A documentary, “Grady Tate’s Windmills,” will be the first in a more encompassing project called “the National Arts Treasure Initiative” which will produce additional documentaries honoring other American music and jazz and blues legends.

The aim of the National Arts Treasure Initiative is to inspire cultural patriotism for an art form that still lacks recognition and exposure.

“Jazz is America’s main indigenous music style,” said Strong, founder and visionary of the National Arts Treasure Initiative and executive producer of “Grady Tate’s Windmills.” “It has been revered and embraced the world over, where it is identified as truly American in its roots.”

Strong said that “Pittsburgh has a long jazz legacy” and describes the city as being “one of the most important jazz cities in the nation,” spawning the likes of Earl Garner, George Benson, Billy Eckstine, Stanley Turrentine, Art Blakey and others.

Returning to Pittsburgh, Strong looks forward to featuring his hometown in the launch of the “National Arts Treasure Initiative.”

“Our goal is to produce one to two documentary films per year on living jazz legends,” said Strong. “We want to celebrate them now rather than wait to honor them after they’re gone.

“A foundation is being established to take forward this vision as a contribution to the preservation of a truly American genre. And we want to start NATI with Grady using Pittsburgh as one of the featured backdrops for what will become “Grady Tate’s Windmills.”

Tate began his professional career in Pittsburgh, at the Hurricane Club, in the 1960’s. As a drummer, Tate has performed with hundreds of artists on more than 5,000 recordings and was the drummer of choice for musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Herbie Mann, Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand, and Miles Davis, earning him the reputation as one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time.

But it was as a vocalist that Tate gained special recognition, and putting him in a rare category, alongside the likes of Nat King Cole, of singers who have emerged from the ranks of musicians. This earned him Grammy Award nominations for Best Vocalist for the definitive version of “Windmills of Your Mind” and a captivating remake of Michael Jackson’s “She’s Out of My Life” with legendary jazz organist Jimmy Smith.

Born in Pittsburgh, Tim Strong initially performed professionally with the Benn E. Bennack big band, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, and his own band, the Tim Strong Review. In 1976, Strong moved to New York City where he spent 17 years recording and performing alongside world renowned musicians including Tate, Wheeler, Herbie Mann, Joe Locke, Bob Braye, Michael Brecker, Sammie Figueroa, and Igor Butman.

With two traditional acoustic jazz CD recordings in New York and New Zealand, Strong has toured internationally performing in Russia, Australia, South Korea, Europe and New Zealand. Strong is also a veteran actor having performed leading roles Off Broadway, as well as touring shows of Europe, New Zealand, and Korea.

A strong narrative voice has allowed Strong to record a multitude of announcer voiceovers for commercials and symphonic and film narrations. Most recently, he was the narrator for the short film, “Ray of Light,” for the Ray Charles Foundation’s newly opened Ray Charles Memorial Museum.