World renown artists perform for Cooper Classic

by Kevin Amos

“Synthesis,” a soul and jazz showcase featured Rex Rideout, a four time Grammy-nominated producer, arranger and musician, as well as Dwayne Dolphin and Poogie Bell at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Special surprise guests included Bryan Mills of Chuck Brown Fame, Howie Alexander, Neo-Soul and Jazz greats Ledesi and Sean Jones. This spectacular concert honored the legacy of Chuck Cooper; the first African-American drafted into the NBA and was the second annual event.

PRODUCER—Thomas Bell, left, with son Don Bell. Don produced the Jazz Showcase. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

Cooper’s life after basketball was notable for his level of commitment to the community. Cooper worked for and eventually rose to the position of director in several neighborhood organizations. He was named head of the city’s parks and recreation department in 1970, becoming Pittsburgh’s first Black department director. Later he moved into an urban affairs post at Pittsburgh National Bank, where he spearheaded development and affirmative action programs.

The concert which was sponsored by PNC has always been committed in exposing the great community dedication of its long time employee, Cooper. Marsha Jones who is the Chief Diversity Officer at PNC opened the program with a few comments. On the PNC website she notes, “Diversity and inclusion produce an engaged workforce that more closely mirrors the markets PNC serves, better positioning us to anticipate and meet customer needs. By fostering an inclusive culture, our employees feel valued and empowered to focus on their strengths, honor their differences, and celebrate their contributions.” The concert producer, Donald Bell also acknowledged the Cooper family and all the wonderful artists who participated in the evening’s concert.

First up was a Soul and Jazz showcase from Brian Mills, group leader featuring “11.” His son, Gregory, did a fantastic job working with Brian Sanders, Bill Daulton and Howie Alexander on their two tunes. The name of the group was inspired by the jersey No. 11, which Cooper wore when he played for the Boston Celtics. Next was the “Synthesis Band” which consisted of; Poogie Bell—drums, Dwayne Dolphin—bass, Rex Rideout—keyboard, Brett Williams—keyboard, Mark Lucas—guitar, Jeff Bush—trombone, James Moore—trumpet, Chris Hemmingway—alto saxophone and Tony Watson—tenor saxophone. A special treat was the dancer Gaibash who wowed the audience with his moves on “Shotgun” and “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”

The nine piece band took the energetic crowd on a contemporary Jazz excursion with tunes such as “Tutu” by Marcus Miller; “Compared To What,” a Soul-Jazz classic from Les McCann; “Time After Time;” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yesterday” featuring Sean Jones.

Ledesi took us on a vocal excursion with her musical talents on “Superstition,” “Them Changes” a Buddy Miles composition and “If You Want Me to Stay” from Sly and the Family Stone. When asked about playing with the Pittsburgh musicians she commented, “These guys don’t mess around, they play and I like that!”

The Synthesis Band put on a fantastic show with a tight horn section, great keyboard and guitar work and a smoking rhythm section. The performances were a wonderful tribute to the legacy of Chuck.

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