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Back to Nature

Duratz Plaza transforms UPT campus

Rays from the late-afternoon sun seem to bounce throughout Pitt’s Titusville campus one last time before dusk. Freshman psychology student Ernie Lint doesn’t notice. He is busy writing a psychology research paper in the Broadhurst Science Center computer lab. Lint, from Vanderbilt, Pennsylvania, has been at it for hours. The words aren’t coming easily.

He looks up from the monitor and out the window, hoping to be inspired. The view across campus—a brick wall of J. Curtis McKinney Student Union and Gymnasium—isn’t all that rousing. Neither is staring at Walnut Street, a thoroughfare that splits the campus.

This fall, Lint may have an easier time finding inspiration. The campus was transformed over the summer by the construction of the Helene Barco Duratz Plaza, made possible by James J. Duratz’s $250,000 donation. Duratz, from Meadville, Pennsylvania, is a member of the UPT advisory board. The plaza is named for his late wife. “Helene loved nature and the University of Pittsburgh,” he says.

Tree-lined green space has replaced Walnut Street’s obtrusive concrete and asphalt. And when students approach what used to be the intersection of Petroleum and Walnut streets, bright yellow, ever-blooming daylilies, the flapping of the American and University flags, and a stone entranceway with antiqued lighting welcome them.

In addition to the back-to-nature look of the UPT campus, Duratz is particularly excited about the plaza’s 18-foot, four-sided pedestal clock. He imagines it will become a student meeting place. The clock is modeled after the renowned Seth Thomas clocks designed by AS Hotchkiss from 1882 to 1924, which graced many public squares and railroad depots. In the UPT version, the white faces are three feet in diameter and the base of each face is adorned with a brass-accented lion’s head. The clock connects the plaza’s straight walkway to the elliptical portion that encloses the lawn and forms the Duratz Plaza green.

“We are unifying two parts of the campus,” says UPT President Michael A. Worman, who hopes the changes will encourage people to enjoy the outdoors. The University, about two hours north of Pittsburgh, will dedicate the plaza this fall.

For Lint, as he settles into his sophomore year, it could be a whole new world.

Hard at work on a research paper for his Ancient Worlds class, he spends the afternoon studying in the computer lab. At one point, he looks out the window while typing at the computer. He doesn’t see the pavement of Walnut Street. Instead, he gazes upon a robin that is building a nest in one of Duratz Plaza’s flowering pear trees.

After finishing work on the paper, he leaves the computer just in time for a game of ragball with his friends that will be starting any minute at the Clock. As he walks down the steps of the science center into Duratz Plaza, he hears a young woman call his name. “Ernie!” It’s one of his classmates, sitting on a park bench, reading. After chatting for a moment or two, he hurriedly resumes winding his way along the walkway, through the plaza, to meet his buddies. All the while, a cool breeze rustles the pages of his paper peeking through the top of his backpack, and the sweet scents of pink dogwoods and skyline honey locust trees fill the air.

—Karen Lynn Beck

Basement Tapes

Foundation has sound intentions

On the corner of Forbes and Bigelow in Oakland, there is a legendary underground jazz club. It’s the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archive, located in the basement of the Hillman Library. If you know the right people, the cover is free with a Pitt ID. Many of the biggest names in jazz music hang out there—Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, James Moody, Grover Washington Jr., just to name a few. They are forever available to perform on stage through the magic of audio tapes and video.

The archive is part of the International Academy of Jazz, led by the University of Pittsburgh’s own great jazz artist—Nathan Davis, who is music director of the jazz studies program. The tapes are a collection of music and appearances recorded during the annual fall Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar and Lecture Series, hosted by the academy. The academy also produces an annual journal, supports a student jazz ensemble, and operates a recording studio and a jazz hall of fame.

The International Academy of Jazz recently received a $550,000 three-part grant from the Ford Foundation, so the beat goes on.

Ken Prouty, a PhD candidate in music, has spent many hours cataloging and organizing the archive. Access to it is restricted, though there are plans to make copies of the materials readily available. “When other people are able to access this, it will be like finding Atlantis,” says Prouty. “Live recordings in jazz are such a treasure because it’s such a spontaneous dynamic of music.”

Anicet Mundundu, another PhD candidate in music, maintains the archive, which gives him plenty of chances to revisit some great performances. During one of his rounds, he picks up a plastic case housing a reel of music recorded during a recent jazz seminar. He blows the dust away, carefully opens the case, and removes a tape containing music from one of many historic appearances at the jazz seminar. He says that listening to the recordings helps “relive what happened during the concerts and talks.” The earliest recording in the archive dates back to the first jazz seminar, in 1970.

In addition to the tapes, there are many bits and pieces that make up the archive. There are framed posters from seminar concerts signed by the performing musicians. Awards, in the shape of glass records that acknowledge previous seminar performers and Hall of Fame inductees, are tightly wrapped and safely stored in cardboard packing boxes. Mundundu digs through one box and uncovers an award presented in memory of jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams. Embedded on the plaque are cream-colored keys that were once a part of Williams’ piano, weathered by years of practice and performances.

Eventually, Mundundu shuts off the lights and closes the door behind him. The gigs may be silenced for now, but it is only a matter of time before the jazz greats are summoned again for another encore performance.

—Janet Frank Atkinson

Building Blocks

To help ease the pains of California dreaming, the San Francisco Bay Area Pitt Club has pledged $50,000 to establish a scholarship for undergraduate, graduate, or professional students from Northern California who wish to attend the University.

It may be a case of macroeconomics. Or perhaps microeconomics? Whatever it is, it’s definitely generous. A gift of $100,000 from Bernard R. Siskin (CAS ’65) has established the Howard Ross Siskin Memorial Scholarship Fund for students in the economics department.

The men’s basketball team just scored big. Thomas Booth (CAS ’74, MED ’75) and his wife Edwina (NUR ’79) have donated $50,000 to establish a scholarship for an exceptional team member.

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