Jazz vocalist Lisa Ferraro performs today at museum

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For the past 16 years, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art has brought to Greensburg some of the greatest jazz musicians in the Pittsburgh region. Dwayne Dolphin, Harold Betters, Dave and Maureen Budway, Max Leake, Roger Humphries, Joe Negri and more have all filled the museum with their cool sounds and syncopated rhythms.

Concluding another successful season at 7:30 tonight, the museum will bring to town local favorite jazz vocalist, Lisa Ferraro, originally from Kennedy but now a resident of Berkeley, Calif.

"I've performed for the Westmoreland Jazz Society at least once a year since 2004 when I return home to see my family and friends," she said. "One of the joys of coming back home is getting a chance to play with so many great jazz musicians."

Performing with Miss Ferraro will be pianist Jeff Lashway, bass Paul Thompson and percussionist George Heid III, all of Pittsburgh. World renowned jazz guitarist Erika Luckett will join the ensemble for a couple of selections.

Miss Ferraro plans to sing "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face," a tune she's well known for in the area, her unique version of "California Dreamin' " and songs that were recorded on a new CD in New York in March that will be released in September.

"The Westmoreland Jazz Society is one of my favorite audiences, and my performances there are very close to my heart," she said.

Miss Ferraro has been singing in Pittsburgh since the early 1980s, but in 1998, when she sat in with jazz guitarist Ken Karsh at the James Street Tavern on Pittsburgh's North Side, she did so well with jazz the owner booked her once a month for five years. Ramping up her jazz repertoire, she then sang several nights a week in clubs with different bands and at corporate parties. In 2003, she cut a jazz CD, "Timeless," with Max Leake, Roger Humphries, Dwayne Dolphin, Ken Karsh and Joe Negri titles. At the release party, the CD sold out.

In 2009, she left the area for Northern California after singing in San Francisco.

"Something happened then that made me feel like I had to move there," she said. "It proved a good decision because the Bay Area jazz scene is influenced by so many cultures, and I met a lot of musicians doing different things I would have missed had I not moved. Fortunately, I had some contacts up and down the state, which made my transition easy."

The Westmoreland Jazz Society was founded in 1997 by Ed Martin, Sara Jane Lowry, then the Westmoreland Museum of American Art's director of development, and others who believed that jazz, the only musical art form to develop in America would be a perfect match for a museum specializing in American art. The first concert took place in January 1997 with jazz vocalist Kenya.

"It was a snowy evening, the lights were low, the snowflakes were gently falling, the jazz was hot and everything was mesmerizing," said Pat Erdelsky, a volunteer from Penn who works with the museum board members to select the season's performers.

Along with newcomers, the society likes to bring back crowd favorites such as Harold Betters, who performs every March. Last March, the society celebrated the jazz trombonist's 85th birthday with a concert that drew an audience of more than 300.

With close to 230 members, the society stages nine concerts a season at 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month, September through May.

"The concert venue has always been the museum, but this February we temporarily moved to the Seton Hill Performing Arts Center because of the museum's upcoming renovation and expansion," said Jessica Zamiska, member relations manager. "The center will be our temporary home until the museum reopens in two years with a new multipurpose auditorium."

The concerts are funded by grants from the Pennsylvania Rural Arts Alliance, by ticket sales and by membership fees. Annual dues are $15 for individuals, $20 for families and $10 for seniors, and members receive a discount on concert admissions, e-news updates and jazz newsletters.

"We're really excited about our partnership with Seton Hill University," Miss Zaminski said. "The university's jazz ensemble has been performing in the lobby before the concert and stays around for the concert. As a result, it's great to see many young faces in the crowd listening to jazz."

Lisa Ferraro will be at the Seton Hill Performing Arts Center, 100 Harrison Ave., Greensburg, at 7:30 tonight. Tickets are $10 for jazz society members, $15 for others and $3 for students 21 and under. Phone 724-837-1500 ext. 27.

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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