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If you've seen today's PG, it's filled, as it should be, with election news.  The Magazine section features my profile of Steeler and Pitt Panther broadcast Bill Hillgrove focusing on his deep passion for jazz, as well as his ten all-time favorite jazz albums. Many have no idea that he grew up a jazz fan and after graduating from Duquesne in 1962, spent several years as a music DJ locally before he ever got into sports broadcasting in the late 60's at WTAE radio then TV.  

Throughout Bill's 16 years as TAE's sports director up till earlier this year, his love of jazz was rarely seen, unless one saw him at a club or occasionally emceeing a local show.

That changed in July, when he returned to his radio roots by hosting a "Weekend Jazz With Bill Hillgrove" on the Pittsburgh Jazz Channel, the online creation of former WDUQ staffers intent on maintaining a local jazz presence.  And for those unfamiliar with this side of the man, his expertise is, well, stunning.  You can hear some of it in Nate Guidry's video, and see how far back his jazz roots really go.  This is a guy who as a member of Duquesne's chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the Journalism fraternity, traveled to New York for a convention and saw iconic drummer Gene Krupa performing at the famed Metropole Cafe, and cherishes the memory.

This weekend, I heard him begin an hour of his pre-recorded show with an impressionistic description of New York's famous 52nd Street, so filled with jazz clubs it was known as "Swing Street" from the 40's to the late 60's. Bill saw some of that himself when he visited NYC in the 60's, and many photos exist of the street in its prime (the clubs are long gone today).  He created a marvelous little audio impression of "The Street" in its day, one that clearly involved combining research and his own memories.

Honestly, you never hear this sort of thing on radio in any musical genre nowadays.  It was very old-school, classy and insightful, revealing a love of the music as impressive as his command of local sports.

If you only know Bill for the Steelers, Panthers football and basketball and his years at TAE, this side of him is worth knowing as well.

Comments (3)Add Comment
written by Bingram, November 07, 2012 - 02:50 PM
I was at the first Pitt football game Bill worked as "The Voice of the Panthers" back in 1974. It was against Southern California and there was a moment of silence for Bill's predecessor, Ed Conway, who had died of cancer in the off season. Bill had previously been color analyst.

I do remember Bill doing a DJ shift on WTAE too, and he often speaks on the radio about the great jazz clubs he gets to visit when Pitt plays in New York. I'm glad he is getting to indulge his jazz interest on the Pittsburgh Jazz Channel.
written by csf, November 07, 2012 - 06:36 PM
Any truth that Dick Groat is into Megadeth?
written by Rich Kienzle, November 07, 2012 - 07:43 PM

No, but Dick is very deep into big bands. Bill told me stories about going to see the Woody Herman Orchestra with Dick, meeting drummer Jake Hanna, who soon brought Woody, a hardcore baseball fan, over to meet them.

Bill added that Dick encountered the late trumpeter Harry James, another baseball-mad bandleader who had his team playing games on tours. He later sent Dick a package with every record he'd made.

Megadeth? Nah, but "Woody's Winners" and the James albums "Jazz Session" and "Juke Box Jamboree" wouldn't surprise me a bit.

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