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11th annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival moves forward with a Star-Studded Lineup and COVID-related Protocols

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Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival
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Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival runs through September 19

The 11th annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival kicked off Friday, September 17, with a performance by Chaka Khan.

The festival has a different look this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn't prevented the organizer from putting together an amazing lineup of performers.

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Janis Burley Wilson chats via Zoom with WBGO's Doug Doyle

Janis Burley Wilson is the President & CEO and Artistic Director of the August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh. Speaking to WBGO's Doug Doyle, stressed presenting live performances was the key this year, but that also meant the format and venues needed to change.

"It's been a lot of work. We've basically changed the entire format for the festival. You've been to the festival in the past. It's typically in the middle of the street. We closed down the streets of downtown Pittsburgh. It's free, it's open and we just can't do that anymore for a number of reasons. The most important reason right now is security. We want to insure that the festival is safe and secure for our artists, the staff, for the audience. As a result, we've had to change venues (Benedum Center for the Performing Arts and Highmark Stadium).

COVID-protocols are a big part of the festival this weekend (through September 19).

"We working with a company called CrowdPass that will help us to screen and require proof of vaccination. Newport Jazz Festival did it first. We followed their lead. Newport is always first. We talked to their operations team to get some advice on what to avoid and what not to do and what they would do differently if they had to do again. They were really helpful. We're all in this together. We want to get the music on stage. We want people to be able to hear this music that they loved so much but we want to do it in the safest way possible. So we are requiring proof of vaccination, requiring that people wear masks indoors. The two days that have the majority of performances the venue is a stadium, but it's outside, it's outdoors so we're suggesting people wear masks even there."

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August Wilson African American Cultural Center
Janis Burley Wilson restarted the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival after the late George Wein created the first version of the fest back in the 1960's

The co-founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, the legendary George Wein, died on September 13 at the age of 95. Burley Wilson says she was thrilled to have had the opportunity to chat with Wein.

"I feel very fortunate that I had a chance to meet with him. I was just honored that he knew who I was and would reach out sometimes and acknowledge my work. When I first met him, thanks to friends who were affiliated with the Newport Jazz Festival, I told him I started the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival and he said no you didn't. I said what do you mean. He said I started it in 1960-something. I said yeah you're right because my parents got tickets to that festival as a wedding gift. So they attended that festival. He was just always very encouraging and inspiring. When we were thinking about how to do this festival, when I would question myself, I would say what would George do as he was completely changing formats. He did it so many times, Newport Jazz Festival, Folk Festival, Essence Festival, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, I mean he is just legendary. It (his death) hit me like wow we won't get to hear from his again but his legacy is in such good hands with Christian (McBride) and the whole team at Newport."

Christian McBride is part of the incredible lineup at this year's Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival. There will also be performances from Marcus Miller, Dianne Reeves, Kenny Garret, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Patrice Rushen, Eddie Palmieri, Gregory Porter, Lakecia Benjamin, Jazzmeia Horn, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and The Baylor Project.

For more information you can go to the Festival's website.

You can see the entire interview with Janis Burley Wilson at https://fb.watch/85BQjLsnZy/.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.