Clip: Jam with chocolate at Gullifty's
- If Kenny Blake had played at Gullifty's back when I still lived in
Pittsburgh, I would be over 400 pounds from overconsumption of the
chocolate chambord parfait. (That overconsumption might be more
healthful than the extremely generous -- and potent -- Long Island Ice
Teas the Crawford Grill used to serve during the jam sessions.)
Gullifty's treats diners with a new dessert -- jazz
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Gullifty's is a family style restaurant known for its 10-pound apple
pies, chocolate cakes, cheesecakes and other desserts.
Lately though, the popular Squirrel Hill eatery has become known for
something else -- a hot spot for jazz in the city.
Few things are better than great food and great jazz. And Gullifty's
provides the perfect mix. Now, if they could only mask those fruit
paintings that tower above the bandstand, the ambience would be just
There was a time when more than 50 local clubs, restaurants and
theaters spotlighted jazz nightly.
And few nightspots offered more thrills than the old Crawford Grill.
In its heyday, the former Hill District nightclub featured groups
ranging from Miles Davis and John Coltrane to the volatile Charles
Most of those venues are gone. But the music is still alive in the area.
Venues such as Dowe's on Ninth, Downtown; Martini's Restaurant in
Jefferson Hills; the Rhythm House in Bridgeville; and other spots
regularly present some of the areas more accomplished professionals.
On June 7, the phenomenal seven-string guitarist Charlie Hunter will
be in town with his trio for a performance at Club Cafe on the South
Side, and in the coming days and weeks, fans can look forward to jazz
at Katz Plaza in the Cultural District, the Omni William Penn,
Pittsburgh Citiparks' summer jazz series, Mellon-sponsored events and
other concerts around the region.
But the buzz today is coming from Gullifty's at 1922 Murray Ave.
Inside, young music fans are mingling with old jazz regulars in seats
along the balcony. Others stand on a walkway overlooking the bandstand
or are seated in the center of the room, absorbing the music between
light patter and fork-sized portions of chocolate chip cheesecake.
On this night, like every Wednesday night, saxophonist Kenny Blake is
holding court. His weekly jam sessions have lured young and old
musicians to the bandstand, not to mention a few old-timers who
haven't been present on the scene in years.
The vitality of a venue can be determined in a number of ways, but one
of the best tests is when you find musicians hanging out when they are
"I think it's wonderful what they are doing here," said bassist Dwayne
Dolphin, who is seated with his wife having dinner.
"Any time there's a new opportunity to play and a new venue to hear
music, it's great for musicians and vitality of the scene."
Management has yet to bring in the kind of national talent that will
complete the transformation, but there's enough local talent and
excitement here to suggest it's only a matter of time.
Last October, Dave Papale was hired as the restaurant's manager and
Papale, a Pittsburgh native, returned home after living more than a
decade on Long Island, where he had successfully owned and operated a
"My responsibility is to expand the sales of the business," said
Papale. "People can still come in, have dinner and dessert, but at 9
o'clock this transformation occurs."
It can take different forms -- from trumpet blasts and saxophone
wails, to the greasy licks of guitarist Jimmy Ponder, who inexplicably
remains one of jazz's best-kept secrets.
Ponder is always a musical treat, but on this night he's in
particularly good form because he is celebrating his 60th birthday.
Also invited to the bandstand is trumpeter Sean Jones and Hammond B3
titan Gene Ludwig.
Where else but Pittsburgh can you hear that much talent in one room for free?
Every Monday (8 p.m.) Wednesday and Thursday (9 p.m.) -- and now,
Friday (9:30 p.m.) -- the restaurant has live music.
Beginning this week, Heineken will sponsor a Friday night jazz series,
but the last Friday of each month will be sponsored by the Manchester
Craftsmen's Guild. This Friday, Sean Jones and Mission Statement will
Marty Ashby, executive producer of the MCG, said the monthly Friday
night concerts will feature local as well as regional artists.
"We're taking our aesthetic into the community as part of our audience
outreach and development," said Ashby. "I think Dave is doing a good
job. He enjoys the music, but most of all he provides quality,
Papale knows the importance of consistency.
"Customers are looking for you to be consistent even when they are
not," said Papale.
"Jazz is how we are going to be defined. We are never going to leave
the genre and start programming other styles of music to draw in a
larger crowd. Once you do that, you start to lose your regular
customers. To be a successful restaurant, you have to be consistent."