this month in downtown Pittsburgh – smart talk about stuff that matters

Later this month, downtown Pittsburgh will experience a new addition to its list of world class cultural offerings. The Pittsburgh Humanities Festival – billed as “smart talk about stuff that matters” – will debut and feature an incredibly impressive lineup.

The brainchild of David Shumway – a professor of English at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon university (CMU) – and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the festival is designed to offer opportunities for anyone interested in exploring the arts and their affect on culture. Modeled after Chicago’s festival, which started in 1989, Mr. Shumway and the Trust hope it becomes a staple of downtown life.
Some of the more prominent conversations that are scheduled include:

Azar Nafisi: the acclaimed author of Reading Lolita in Tehran (a New York Times #1 best seller and a book listed by Bustle as one House of Cards’ Claire Underwood would keep on her bookshelf) will be speaking at the Byham Theater in downtown

Azar Nafisi photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Azar Nafisi photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

John Sayles and Maggie Renzie: Mr. Sayles is often called the Godfather in Independent Film and will be speaking with his producing partner, Maggie Renzie. They will look to discuss the current state of independent film with Mr. Shumway at the Trust Arts Education Center at 805-807 Liberty Avenue downtown.

Anthoney DeCurtis: a contributing editor to Rolling Stone for more than 30 years, he is currently working on a Lou Reed biography. His conversation will also be at the Trust Arts Education Center.

George Takei: listed Mr. Takei as the #1 most influential person on Facebook. The website for the festival lists him as social media mega-power due to his work over the last fifty years with credits that include Star Trek, Lost Girl and Twilight Zone just to name a few.

George Takei photo courtsesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

George Takei photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

When asked why he chose downtown over holding the festival at CMU, Mr. Shumway said downtown “has become the culture and arts heart of the city.” The many different venues were also “already familiar to the public and offered different opportunities for engaging conversations.” When asked about his hope for the future of the festival, Mr. Shumway said he hopes the festival could start bringing speakers that would normally “pass the city by on a regular book tour.”

The festival will be held on March 26-29 throughout the Cultural District in downtown Pittsburgh. Attendees will have 25 events to choose from at venues ranging from the Andy Warhol Museum to the Trust Arts Education Center on Liberty Avenue in downtown. Here is the site to purchase tickets, see an electronic festival brochure and access information on a special hotel rate.


Pittsburgh hasn’t won an award for this recently…but should


The city has produced as many world renowned jazz musicians as any other city in the country.

Some of the world famous musicians that started the scene were:

Bill Eckstine – one of the country’s first true singing stars was from Pittsburgh
Billy Strayhorn – was an important member of Duke Ellington’s band

and currently carrying the torch are…

Roger Humphries – he grew up as one of ten children in a Pittsburgh family. He started playing drums at the age of four! He has played with the likes of Ray Charles. If this isn’t Pittsburgh awesomeness and greatness, I don’t know what is.

Tony Campbell – the saxophonist still has the same instrument he bought when he was 16, has been learning from Roger Humphries for the last 22 years and has played with Branford Marsalis. He has his own jam night in the West End of the city.

Dwayne Dolphin – bassist extraordinaire born and raised in the Hill District. He left Pittsburgh at 18 and was chosen to play with Wynton Marsalis.

along with many…many…more

To celebrate Pittsburgh jazz innovation both past and present, James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy in the North Side (a short walk or T Ride from downtown) has started hosting a Thursday night Roger Humphries Jam Session. So much talent shows up at these sessions that the musicians have started affectionately calling it “the church.”

Here is the website for James Street

Here is the website for Steeltown jazz Storytellers – You can see information for current and future events here

My wife and I attended one of the recent sessions at James Street (I LOVE jazz!!) and Steeltown Jazz gave me the opportunity to interview Mr. Humphries, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Dolphin.

steeltown jazz event information

roger humphries pittsburgh

sitting down with roger humphries

The only audio that came out well was Dwayne Dolphin. It’s great audio because you can hear him talk about Pittsburgh and the love he has for his music and colleagues:

The next big event at James street Gastropub is this Saturday! On the 21st, Pittsburgh Jazz Storytellers hosts:

Roger Humphries, Tony Campbell, Howie Alexander, Tim Stevens,
Joe Badaczewski, Ron Horton, Lou Stellute, Bobby Jones Jr. and Eva Lintz
The event also showcases the music of Billy Eckstine with musicians sharing their stories about
jazz in Pittsburgh. The event also includes an hour talk by the “Voice of Jazz in Pittsburgh” – Mr. Bob Studebaker!

What’s important about this is the carrying of the music tradition in Pittsburgh. The events – and everyone involved – work to keep music in the city through arts support and education. I was also introduced to local drummer – and one time student of Roger Humphries – Thomas Wendt. He is working on an event later this month – hosted by voice of the Steelers ( and HUGE jazz fan) Bill Hillgrove! – with Lighthouse Arts, Inc. According to their website, the group:

“Lighthouse Arts, Inc. was established to improve the quality of jazz education by making accessible the opportunities for students and the community at large to learn and experience the many dimensions of jazz music and the creative artists who play it. We shall incorporate partnerships with the community, schools and arts organizations that will recapture, teach and preserve the music’s history and culture, in an accessible environment that promotes awareness and appreciation.”

You can buy tickets for a fund raiser they are holding on March 28th here. This is the official flyer information too:

joe Negri fund raising event hosted by Bill Hillgrove!


enjoy unique local art? get to know Kurt Shaw’s downtown Pittsburgh gallery

Living downtown, Jess and I have gotten to know Kurt Shaw – owner of Liberty Avenue’s Shaw Galleries. His shop is one of my favorite places in downtown for Pittsburgh history and local cool art. I’ve recently purchased an old Pittsburgh deed from 1869 and a panoramic painting that Mr. Shaw found in 84, PA.
You can occasionally see him on KDKA’s Pittsburgh’s Hidden Treasures as an antique appraiser.
He was kind enough to do a brief email interview with me.
Shaw Galleries Pittsburgh
In a recent article, you state your gallery is “another way to create.” What are your thoughts on the current “creator’s culture” in the city?
Pittsburgh has changed tremendously for creatives since I started my career here in 1989. There is a lot more opportunity and exhibition space available to visual artists. And the public is much more receptive to seeing and experiencing art. And there are still pockets in communities and places where you can develop and grow an idea or project economically, whether it is related to the arts, business or both.What did you think when your photos of the city became so popular? Did it seem you tapped into the Pittsburgh pride that is so evident now?I honestly didn’t expect them to become as popular as they did. It was just something I did for fun, reaching out to a larger audience through social networking. Of course, it helped that I had 5,000 Facebook friends. When the number of “likes” started to grow into the hundreds, I realized I was on to something.What kind of feedback do you hear from non-Pittsburghers that visit your gallery?Most are happy to find a store unlike anything else in Downtown Pittsburgh. Especially Europeans and the well-traveled, because our shop is a lot like the antique print and map shops that can be found throughout England and Scotland.

What’s the most unique piece you’ve found locally?

Probably Middleton’s map of Braddock’s Road from 1847, which details General Edward Braddock’s (1695-1755) military route from Cumberland, MD, to Braddock, PA, where he died and was first buried. We sold it within three weeks of procuring it.

What would be your first piece of advice to a young Pittsburgh artist?

Work as many angles of your talents and abilities as you possibly can. When I started, Pittsburgh was a much more difficult place to make a living as an artist. So, I drew cartoons for ad agencies and design firms, did illustrations for newspapers and magazines, and even drew caricature portraits at kid’s Birthday parties. Being diversified was the key to making sure I could make a living as an artist.What is the biggest change in the city you’ve witnessed over the last 25 years?
It’s been amazing to see how much attention Pittsburgh has garnered recently on not only a national, but international scale. This can only bode well for the future. Having been in business since 2007, I for one have seen an uptick in people from other countries traveling here for various reasons. We have to pay attention to this trend, as those numbers will likely grow. And we want to make sure Pittsburgh is an interesting and fun place to visit for those people. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy having my unique business located Downtown. I feel in my own way I am adding texture to the experience of our Downtown. I think every Pittsburgher should have an interest in making our city a compelling, fun and interesting place.
Here is the gallery’s website.
Here is the Facebook page.

“We need to see the entire city out” when the team takes the playoffs in Pittsburgh in March

People always ask why a sports town like ours doesn’t have a professional basketball team. They don’t always know that Pittsburgh has experimented with semi-professional basketball in the past.

The Pittsburgh Pipers played in the original American Basketball Association and eventually morphed into the Condors…
The Pittsburgh Piranhas played in the Continental Basketball Association…
The Pittsburgh Xplosion also played in the Continental Basketball Association…

We now have the Steel City Yellow Jackets of the current American Basketball Association. The Yellow Jackets’ owner – local hip hop mogul Tjuan Benefactor –  was kind enough to do a brief interview with me. I wanted to talk with him since since they play at the Community College of Allegheny County Campus in Pittsburgh’s North Side and are getting ready for the playoffs the weekend of March 13,14 and 15.

courtesy of

courtesy of

How did you become part owner of the Yellow Jackets?

I was contact by the owner of one of the California teams to go out there and perform at halftime. At that point I didn’t even know the ABA was around any longer but I did remember the stock footage from the 70s. I asked the owner of that team what he had to do to own a team. At that point he connected me with the league co-founder and then CEO Joe Newman and here we are.

What did you feel like being part owner of the town’s only basketball team?

I love my city, I love basketball and I love helping others pursue their dreams.

How did you recruit?

We recruited through a series of preseason tryouts, We also recruited a couple players like Lamar Castille and Antonio Reddic. It’s been really important for us to recruit local talent.

Has the ABA treated you well?

Yes very much so, they have given us a solid set of tools to work with, they gave us a couple ESPN3 games this year, we actually had the most ESPN3 games of first year expansion teams and solid refs to call the games. The ABA have also booked me to perform in Vegas at the Orleans Hotel & Casino which I did May 31st 2014, they also booked me to perform on ESPN3 halftime shows and varies other ABA halftime shows.

What kind of reaction did you get at the start?

The reaction has been mixed from the start. There’s a good bit of people who have given a chance from day one and there’s been a good bit of people who are right with the stigma previous ABA teams in Pittsburgh have created. The season opener was packed, the fans where live, the national anthem singer Angee Gonzalez was amazing, the halftime performer Yung Bru rocked the crowd, the game was great and we won.

Even though the news reports say the crowd isn’t there, how proud does it make you feel to have this kind of quality team?

It feels great to know our staff has a great eye for talent and that Pittsburgh truly has some of the best basketball players in the country.

If you could tell one thing to the city, what would it be?

You’ve been missing out, the talent levels crazy and every game is exciting if you see us play you will be proud of your city’s basketball team. #CatchTheBuzz

Congratulations on hosting the playoffs! What kind of response do you need for them to be financially successful?

Thank you!! We need to see the entire city out when our Steel City Yellow Jackets take the court for the most part, other than when we are on the court we need about 100 in attendance per game. There will be 2-3 games a day so we will have all day passes, all weekend playoff passes & tickets for individual games available.

NOTE: the playoffs will be March 13, 14 and 15

Make sure to follow them on:

the web



make sure to follow their owner – Tjuan Benafactor on Twitter here.

the Carlyle – world class luxury from the former Wall Street of Pittsburgh

Jess and I were recently treated to a tour of the building that sparked Pittsburgh’s downtown living boom.

The Carlyle was bought by the EV Bishoff Company in 1992 while it was accumulating properties in other cities like Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Mr. David Bishoff’s company – which has local roots dating back to the 1800s – understood the potential of the formerly high flying financial district.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Carlyle – formerly the Union National Bank Building – at the corner of 4th Ave and Wood Street houses 61 upscale condominiums in a setting that one would normally find in Manhattan.The district used to be the “Wall Street of Pittsburgh” which makes it absolutely fascinating for me. According to this PDF of a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation downtown walking tour:

“One of 17 National Register Districts in the city, Fourth Avenue showcases

buildings designed by more than a dozen distinguished architects in styles

ranging from Greek Revival to Post Modern, constructed between 1836 and 1984.”

What makes it truly unique is that downtown Pittsburgh is currently the destination of choice for many young professionals – I count at least 11 luxury apartment buildings in the urban core. This has, in turn, made downtown the center of a burgeoning restaurant scene that accompanies the famous Cultural District. In what other major American city can someone purchase luxury like this, walk out their front door and be at a trendy restaurant and/or a show within a ten minute walk? Nowhere. As the developer of the building – Mr. David Bishoff –  told me in an interview, “The downtown core is the best example of a downtown neighborhood I’ve ever seen.”

Our tour began by meeting the building’s RE/MAX agent Lauren Klein in the lobby of the building. Even though it was a chilly, rainy Sunday she greeted us enthusiastically and mentioned she was going to take us up to the 6,000 square foot penthouse for a tour. First, though, we’d have to stop in the sales office on the 20th floor.

This is the doorway to the Carlyle's lobby. photo courtesy of the Director of Sales, MaryKay Zombeck.

This is the doorway to the Carlyle’s lobby. Photo courtesy of the Director of Sales, MaryKay Zombeck.

Here is the ground floor of the Carlyle. Just look at the beauty and the history in the building. Photo courtesy of MaryKay Zombeck.

Here is the ground floor of the Carlyle. Just look at the beauty and the history in the building. This is available for a retail lease. Photo courtesy of MaryKay Zombeck.

Lobby photo courtesy RE/MAX listing information

Lobby photo courtesy RE/MAX listing information

We saw the Park Avenue, Grand, Ambassador, Townhouse (!!) and Penthouse floor plans and absolutely loved each. The tons of space, quality furnishings and quiet floors made us feel like a visiting king and queen. There is a parking facility, cinema room, workout room, common room and a 4th floor rooftop terrace that also works as a pet walking area.

Here is an example of the space available with the floor plans. This is an Ambassador. Notice the curved wall and windows.

Here is an example of the spacial floor plans. This is an Ambassador. Notice the curved wall and windows at the far end.

As we walked from floor to floor, it quickly became apparent that Mr. Bishoff wanted to showcase the history in the building by transforming each floor into a work of art. Long before the tour ended, my wife was talking about our move in timeline.

You can see the floor plans and their availability at the Carlyle’s website. It’s even possible to invest in a condominium at the Carlyle and be a landlord in the building! Call the Director of Sales – MaryKay Zombeck – with any general questions at 412.235.6030.

Make sure to call Lauren Klein for specific interest in units 1701, 1902, 1603, 1403 & The Penthouse. Here is her personal website – the Pittsburgh Property Diva.

Now back to the fantastic views and interior photos:

How AWESOME would it be to see this every day

How AWESOME would it be to see this every day

I have always looked up at the Arrott the intricate work at the top levels!

I have always looked up at the Arrott Building…love the intricate work at the top levels!

One more view from the Carlyle of the beautiful Arrott Building...

One more view from the Carlyle of the beautiful Arrott Building…

This is one of my favorite picture from the tour...

This is one of my favorite picture from the tour…

Love this view of the new PNC Building!

Love this view of the new PNC Building!

I would never get tired of seeing this every day!

I would never get tired of seeing this every day!

The Penthouse was an experience all in itself. Here is a description of the floor directly from the Carlyle’s site:

“The PENTHOUSE of The Carlyle offers beautiful sweeping views of the City of Pittsburgh. Included in the 6,000 square foot Penthouse offering is the creation of a magnificent sun room located on the mezzanine level, perfect for your entertaining needs. Entertain in a truly one of a kind Pittsburgh penthouse while overlooking both rivers and the majestic Pittsburgh skyline. Included in the Penthouse offering is:

  • Two parking spaces
  • Electronic card key access from building lobby
  • Flooring allowance of $15,000
  • Sunroom Allowance of $20,000
  • Plumbing to accommodate one kitchen, four bathrooms and the laundry room
  • Plumbing fixture package for four bathrooms
  • Mezzanine and stairway
  • HVAC units and related ductwork
  • A second stairwell
  • Sprinkler system
  • Smoke alarm system
  • Kitchen package including granite countertops”
Photo courtesy of MaryKay Zombeck - Carlyle Director of Sales

Penthouse view photo courtesy of MaryKay Zombeck – Carlyle Director of Sales

Imagine having all this space available to you.

Here is the same area in the Penthouse from another angle. Photo courtesy MaryKay Zombeck

Here is the same area in the Penthouse from another angle. Photo courtesy MaryKay Zombeck

This view speaks for itself. This would be the ultimate in downtown Pittsburgh living

While Ms. Klein was giving us the tour of the building, her pride in the opportunity and the building was evident. Being able to showcase a space that like this – one that is unique in the country – would be a dream job.

With the expansion of Point Park University, the Carlyle (and Mr. Bishoff’s continued investment in his family’s hometown) and countless other residential investments going up downtown is ripe for a boom that it hasn’t seen in decades. It will lead to a continued expansion of the tax base, more civic services, an improved school district and ultimately a continued flight *to* Pittsburgh.

The Carlyle has been a sign of Pittsburgh’s renaissance and will be a benchmark of its success the further the 70s and 80s steel industry collapse moves into the rear view mirror.


A HUGE thank you to each person listed below for their time spent with me while I wrote this blog post:

Thank you to Mr. David Bishoff of E.V. Bishoff Company. Here is his company’s website.

Thank you to RE/MAX agent Lauren Klein. Make sure to stop by her website here.

Thank you to the Carlyle’s Director of Sales, MaryKay Zombeck. If you have any questions related to living in the building, call her at 412-350-8050.