Celebrating Roger Humphries, Sammy Nestico and a new Billie Holiday Documentary

This past week of the Pittsburgh Jazz Days of Winter has seen at least 70 (yes, SEVENTY) jazz events in the Pittsburgh region. Some of the most notable of them had Roger Humphries as a feature.

So, it is appropriate that we share this recent article about Roger that even he hadn’t seen until this week. It’s a profile from an online magazine called “Wax Poetics.” The writer is Guest Blogger Tom McClure who visited Roger back in 2017, and was just published in late 2018. You need to read it for yourself!

Young Roger Humphries by photographer Teenie Harris. Courtesy of Roger Humphries.

Young Roger Humphries by photographer Teenie Harris. Courtesy of Roger Humphries.

A signed, framed photograph of “California Soul” singer Marlena Shaw hangs from the basement wall. There’s also a photo of a tan bass-drum head, with a hand-painted portrait of Ray Charles’ visage on it. Below Ray’s image, it reads, in black-ink hand-lettering, “Roger’s drum,” and there’s a large hole punched in it. There’s a classic black-and-white photo by Pittsburgh Courier photographer Teenie Harris of a very young boy named Roger Humphries playing a drum kit in the 1940s. 

There are stories old and new, and pictures, too.

Roger Humphries at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, studio during Horace Silver’s  Song for My Father  session, October 26, 1964. Photo by Francis Wolff and courtesy of Blue Note Records.

Roger Humphries at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, studio during Horace Silver’s Song for My Father session, October 26, 1964. Photo by Francis Wolff and courtesy of Blue Note Records.

In 2008, bassist Christian McBride, then serving as creative chair of jazz music for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was curating a Horace Silver tribute concert in L.A. in which Silver would be honored as a spectator, as he didn’t play anymore… according to NPR, “there was one musician that McBride was determined to add to the evening’s lineup: drummer Roger Humphries. McBride says he had to track him down. ‘Roger Humphries has been such a legendary underworld figure for so many years,’ McBride says. ‘I mean, he’s one of those kind of guys where he sounded so great on all those Horace Silver records… So it was time for him to make his comeback on the national scene. So Roger came in and just sounded so good, sounded so good—I was really honored to play with him.”

That we in Pittsburgh get to enjoy the music and the students of Roger Humphries every day is something to celebrate.

Celebrating Sammy Nestico, Party On

There’s yet another big media splash on Pittsburgh Native and Duquesne University Alum Sammy Nestico from at television outlet in California.

We were delighted to share some of WZUM’s own celebration of Sammy a short while ago during the week of his 95th birthday.

Billie Holiday’s Story

We just came across news about a new Billie Holiday Documentary in the works - with more than 200 hours of never before heard interviews. The short article appears in Hollywood Reporter:

Billie Holiday,  William P. Gottlieb  collection at the  Library of Congress .

Billie Holiday, William P. Gottlieb collection at the Library of Congress.

Billie, a film to be directed by James Erskine, has received backing from Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday estate. The New Black Films and REP Documentary production is also being made in association with Belga Films, the BBC and Multiprises.

The biopic will follow Holiday's life through the eyes of Linda Lipnack Kuehl, who as a fan and literary journalist in 1970 began a biography of Holiday.

Kuehl eventually tape-recorded over 200 hours of interviews with Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Count Basie and Holiday's step-parents, lovers, school friends, jail-mates, lawyers, pushers, pimps and even the FBI agents who arrested her.

Clearly filed with untold and sensitive stories, this is a major project who has multiple production partners, including the BBC

Sophia Dilley, vp film and TV development and production for Concord, welcomed the documentary collaboration.

"We are thrilled to be working with the creative team of James Erskine and New Black Films, who have taken great care to produce a documentary that honors the life and work of Billie Holiday in an exciting, genre-defying way," she said in a statement.

Scott Hanley

WZUM