Obituary: Harold Young / Founded Homewood Jazz Workshop

July 5, 1933 - March 26, 2014

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Probably the majority of jazz musicians who grew up in Pittsburgh beginning in the 1970s spent at least a few Saturday afternoons in the basement of the Homewood branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

That's when and where the Homewood Jazz Workshop holds its weekly sessions, comprising free music lessons and big-band rehearsals under the tutelage of Harold Young.

Mr. Young of Wilkinsburg, the workshop's founder and executive director, died Wednesday after a bout with lung cancer. He was 80.

Mr. Young, originally a saxophonist, grew up in the Hill District, "and his father played saxophone as well," said his daughter, Jacqueline "Jaki" of Brighton, who also plays sax.

"That's what they did over on the Hill anyway. Stanley [Turrentine, an internationally acclaimed saxman,] used to go to my grandmother's house, they played in a band together."

Though he studied saxophone at Fillion Studios in Shadyside in the 1960s, Mr. Young never pursued a career in music.

After spending time in the Army he started working with the Veterans Administration -- eventually becoming a social worker -- "because he never wanted to be in the steel mills," Ms. Young said. At one point Mr. Young also served as activities director for the YMCA in Homewood.

The Homewood Jazz Workshop was born in 1973 and quickly became an institution. Its big band, which played a lot of music popularized by the Count Basie Orchestra, made TV appearances in the 1970s. And in its 41 years of existence, numerous name musicians have come through.

Just a few of the other musicians who attended include bassist Chris Sullivan; saxophonists Tony Campbell, Roby Edwards and Jay Willis; pianists and educators Geri Allen and James Johnson Jr.; trombonist Al Dowe; and trumpeters Sean Jones and the late Alphonso "Pete" Henderson and Chuck Austin.

Mr. Campbell, who teaches at the Urban Pathways charter school Downtown and who started coming to the workshop in 1982 upon graduation from the Berklee School of Music, not only has served as faculty there but also as the big band's artistic director.

"Harold started my teaching career -- he showed me how to teach, what to teach, how to set up a curriculum, how to apply for grants, everything," said Mr. Campbell of the North Side.

When it came to running the big band, Mr. Young told him, " 'Tony, you run the ensemble' and left the room" because Mr. Campbell had to learn how to lead a band and help people with parts.

"He was training me to be the artistic director and I didn't know that. He never let you know [his intent], but you find out later. It was Star Wars and the Jedi."

After his 1989 retirement from the VA, Mr. Young did some work for the Community College of Allegheny County's Center for Racial Equity, based in an office a few blocks from his home.

After the program folded, Mr. Young bought the building and moved workshop offices there, offering "Jazz Jam & Poetry" sessions on the last Saturday of every month.

Though his daughter ran those sessions, Mr. Young was always there, running the sound system and offering refreshments.

Ms. Young recalled her father as a warm, outgoing, humble personality.

"When we went to Aruba last year he was sick, but we didn't know that," she said. "He took us to the fanciest restaurants and asked the waiters and waitresses what their names were." On top of that, "he didn't hold a grudge. He taught me about forgiveness, about life, to be independent."

Mr. Young's legacy, however, will remain "passing the torch" for jazz.

"I will forever be a part of the Jazz Workshop and it will be forever a part of me," Mr. Campbell insisted.

Besides his daughter, Mr. Young is survived by his wife of 60 years, Marion; a son, Harold Jr., a drummer, of East Liberty; one grandson; and two brothers, Hosea Jr. "Zeke" of Cleveland and John Richard of Highland Park.

A viewing, to which musicians will be welcome to play, will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Coston Funeral Home, 427 Lincoln Ave., East Liberty. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1409 Montier St., Wilkinsburg.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Workshop in care of the library, 7101 Hamilton Ave., Pittsburgh 15208.


Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.


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