A gifted organist, pianist and vocalist, Dr. Trudy Pitts played with some of the finest jazz musicians around (including Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Pat Martino). We spoke with her daughter Anysha Jacobs on the eve of her late mother’s birthday about her mother’s musical legacy and her own memories of growing up under the magical keys of one of Jazz’s foremost masters of the Hammond organ.
Remembering Dr. Trudy Pitts: August 10, 1932 – December 19, 2010.
I understand there’s a wonderful story surrounding the moment you decided to make your appearance in the world… could you tell us about that?
Yes, the story of my entrance into this world is one filled with excitement, just like the title of my mother’s 3rd album on the Prestige Recording Label, The Excitement of Trudy Pitts! March 12, 1971, my mother was performing at a small but popular Jazz nightclub in the Olney section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On that swinging night her accompaniment included the Jazz stylings of Philadelphia’s own Legend Jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. My mother worked through her entire pregnancy and on that night her third trimester was about to come to an unexpected end. As she set the Hammond B3 organ keys on fire and brought her audience to their knees during the conclusion of their second set, her water broke on stage! My mother was jamming so hard and the club was so lit that night that I guess I wanted out of her belly and into the music. My mother was always a general when it came to multitasking. While handling the tune, her audience, and the B3 organ, she was able to obtain the attention of her drummer so that she could signal him as to what was happening and that they had to end the tune immediately. And thus the tune was concluded right then with grace. Due to my mother’s handling of the situation her audience had no clue as to what was going on. Grover Washington Jr. then began assisting my mother off stage while the drummer frantically ran out of the back door of the nightclub to retrieve their vehicle which was parked across the street. Uncle Grover gently brought my mother to the back door while they viewed their transportation making a wild U-turn in the middle of the street to pick them up. They jumped in the vehicle and rode about four blocks down the street to Albert Einstein Hospital where my mother labored for approximately 6 hours until I was born a little after 8 a.m. on Saturday March 13, 1971. My Dad assigned me my name and my mother, fluent in three languages English, French, and MUSIC) created the signature spelling of my name which was far ahead of it’s time in 1971. Thus I became Anysha T. Carney, now Mrs. Anysha T. Jacobs as of September 19, 2019 marrying Randall my Soulmate and Father of our two amazing sons Syncere T. Jacobs and Cyndall K. Jacobs. I made sure to continue the use of my mother’s signature name spelling method by using the letter Y ingeniously in both of my son’s names. They will carry on that same tradition.
In a digital biography produced by Slife Productions, Pitts recalled the difficulties of being a parent and a working musician simultaneously. “I was an old-fashioned mother and an artist, and that presented me with quite a few problems,” she said. “But it was good because it helped me to be able to be multi-faceted. … I think I’ve been an extraordinary mother.” What do you remember of your mother’s navigation of motherhood and music?
Yes, that’s one of my favorite interviews with her because she speaks of her motherhood. As a woman, daughter, wife, and mother, I am still in awe of my mother’s tenacity in executing her multitasking abilities. As her only daughter I can confirm her statement from the interview. She was indeed an extraordinary mother and beyond. In 1976 my mother took a traveling gig touring for eight months as the orchestra’s co-conductor and lead pianist/organist for the landmark Broadway show Raisin in the Sun. The show traveled across the United States after its long run on Broadway in New York, New York. My mother was asked to join the orchestra for the tour around the country. She made the decision to take the opportunity under one mandatory stipulation. She said she wouldn’t go unless she could take me along for the tour. Because they wanted her and only her for the job, they humbly and graciously obliged her stipulation. So, she and I were off! During every show my mother would make a bed like comfort station for me under the organ in the pit where the Orchestra played. I would remain there for the duration of the show. She would take me for bathroom breaks during intermission. As my mother played the organ during the performances, periodically she would have a minute break from using the foot pedals under the organ. In that quick moment she would use her foot to tap around and feel for my location. When I saw her foot come in my direction I would rub it to let her know that I was there and safe. A full time musician mother’s multitasking system of safety, protection, communication, comfort and love for her baby, all while getting the job done.
In 1980 I was a competitive swimmer training under Coach Malachi Cunningham from Philadelphia’s legendary Tigersharks swim team. During that year my parents went on tour in Europe for 3 months. Just as before, she wouldn’t take the gig unless I could go. So I’m off once again. Basel, Zurich, Neuchâtel, Paris and Burn. Before we left the states to go on that tour, my mother prepared for me by collecting a series of laminated swim workouts from my coach in order for me to be able to stay on task with training while out of the country on tour. While in each city with a hectic schedule, my mother took the time out to find a 25-yard or longer lap swimming pool to provide me a way to maintain my training routine. This was quite a remarkable challenge to accomplish being African-American in Europe in 1980, but she was successful every time. I would take my laminated work out assignments, wet them, and stick them on the pool wall in the lane that I would practice in so that I could easily access my assignments. My mother would be simultaneously sitting up in the bleacher stands watching over me in awe of how I quickly raced up and down the pool, all while going over her music which she carried everywhere we went in a beautiful briefcase with her initials engraved on it. She made sure that she kept us both able to practice, groom, and harness our skills of what we love. So, she was indeed an old fashioned mother, and as she said herself, she felt like she was an extraordinary mother. As her baby, I can confirm her feelings as true.
Trudy Pitts was a master of the Hammond B3 organ. How did she find her way to her sound and instrument?
Her ingenuous sound was founded in a compilation of her classical training on piano, studying and playing the organ for church as a little girl, and being a spiritually guided expert improvisationalist. The combination of these ingredients allowed her to create her own signature identity and trend-setting sound as she became a master of the B3 Hammond organ.
Who were the heroes your mother looked to as inspirations? Who did she enjoy playing with?
Amongst the numerous talented musicians that surrounded my mother and whom she highly regarded, she truly respected the musicianship of Jazz pianist Marian Mcpartland. She performed an original composition that she wrote in dedication to Marian Mcpartland at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Her beautifully written composition is entitled Still Here. Ms. Mcpartland was present at the Kennedy Center for my mother’s performance of that tune.
My mother loved and performed with countless greats throughout her career, but because she had aspired to be a concert pianist she treasured moments when she could perform as a solo artist. Her need to facilitate that part of herself inspired her CD entitled Me Myself and I which is her solo piano album. She re-recorded the composition Anysha once again and featured it as track number 5 on this CD.
Let’s talk about the background to your mother’s number one selling composition Anysha, which I assume was named after you, or perhaps you were named after it?
In 1969 my mother wrote a composition and tucked it away, unnamed, in her drawer filled with music like a lot of artists do. But shortly after I was born she went to her music drawer to revisit that unnamed composition. Toiled with it for a little while until an epiphany hit. She decided to dedicate that composition to me by naming it after me, Anysha. When her dear friend and musical comrade Rhasaan Roland Kirk heard the tune he wanted to record it. So, they were off to the studio. The composition Anysha was first recorded on Kirk’s album entitled Other Folks Music. My mother’s intro on that recording is absolute fire! She successfully delivered her feelings for me into the track. Absolutely outstanding! I am forever grateful beyond expression. She then later went on to record Anysha on her own album entitled Freedom Child in 1976 where my photo as a little girl is featured on the album cover. The tune was later re-recorded by Philadelphia Jazz pianist Orin Evans, and then again recorded on the album gone but not forgotten by Jazz drummer Jonathan Blake. I think this tune may have become her best selling and most re-recorded composition of her catalog because of how she was able to translate her love for me into the music. I think somehow that listeners are able to hear and feel that spiritual translation. I am humbled by her emotional expression and will love her “forever and a day.”
Your mother was born and raised in South Philadelphia. How did the city shape her as a person and a musician?
My mother’s father, John Pitts, was from Belize. He sailed into the states and landed in New Orleans, Louisiana where he meant my grandmother Ida. They married and started having children. My grandfather traveled North to Philadelphia to find work. Once he accomplished his goal he sent for my grandmother, her mother, and his new baby daughter EllaDee who was my mother’s eldest sister. My mother was the youngest of four children. The family settled in South Philadelphia where they made their home for the family. My mother grew up loving the indigenous foods from the city. Cheesesteaks, Hoagies, Scrapple, and Italian Water Ice being some of her favorites. The city of Philadelphia has always been a melting pot of beauty in the world of the Arts and my mother wanted in. She took everything that she learned and experienced in the music world of her big city and put it all to use in her travels playing music around the world.
How did your mother get her start in music?
My mother’s mother, Ida Pitts Dobbins, was a Pianist who introduced the instrument to my mother at the age of 4. She took to it like wildfire! With vigorous training and tutoring from her mother and teacher Ms. Blanche Burton she took on playing the organ for church and completed her first gig at the age of 7 years old. My grandmother provided my mother a way to find her passion at an extremely early age and thus my mother did the same for me with swimming.
You’re now responsible for your mother’s musical legacy, are there any plans to release any historic recordings?
I am currently working on several projects concerning my mother’s Legacy including one with Prestige Records in the efforts to launch a re-release of some of her familiar works. The ultimate goal is to release some of her musical hidden treasures, hopefully in the very near future.
And finally, what are some of your fondest memories of your mother?
My mother was a phenomenal cook when time permitted. I couldn’t wait for her to make any one of her signature dishes. Her amazing fried chicken, potato salad, meatloaf, and fresh herb spaghetti were amongst my favorites. Although I have endless fond memories of my mother, one of my fondest was hearing her practice on the piano and race against the metronome while I would be sleeping. I can still hear her. She would be super intense and in a zone while practicing. You could hear her intensity as she gained a momentum of vigorous speed across the keys which would consistently outrun the timing set on the metronome. She would stop, reset the metronome faster, and then begin her run. This would go on for numerous hours sometime. Comfort, security, and the feeling of love would drape over me as I would be laying in my bed in my room twilight sleeping listening to her practice. Her sound almost felt like she was tucking me in my bed as she did every night. Her sound became my peace.
My mother’s laugh was infectious. She would laugh easy and laugh hard. The beauty of her spirit would come out in her music, but also in her laughter. Her laugh still warms my heart and stains my brain with memories of fun and love. We laughed throughout so much of my life with one another. I think back to the many different bright moments that we shared, and sometimes burst out into laughter as if she and I are right there together laughing endlessly like we used to do.