Our organization originated when a young, disengaged African-American man met Pittsburgh Public High School art teacher Frank Ross in the 1960s. Ross mentored our Founder & Executive Chairman Bill Strickland throughout his teenage years. He impressed upon Strickland the powers of art, education and community and helped him obtain entrance to the University of Pittsburgh.
Wanting to give back to his struggling neighborhood the opportunities he received through Ross’ generosity, Strickland started a small ceramics program while he was still in college in Pittsburgh’s Manchester neighborhood in 1968.
Strickland christened the program the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) because he admired the European guild system in which masters passed on their skills and knowledge to young apprentices.
MCG Jazz was born when Marty Ashby joined Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in 1987. Marty's profile as a performing jazz guitarist also met the needs of MCG for an educator and business person. He taught music at Duquesne University, worked with agents to book festivals he curated, and had worked his way up the ranks to management at the Cleveland Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony. Guided by a mission to bring live performance to MCG featuring great performance artists, Marty curated shows not only for jazz, but also poetry, classical music, and film.
For over thirty years, MCG Jazz has served as one of the longest-running subscription jazz series in the country, enhancing the cultural life of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Through its work, the organization has strengthened and cast a spotlight on Pittsburgh’s integral role in the history of jazz, America’s own music. MCG Jazz has presented an acclaimed jazz concert series, leading to the documentation of unprecedented archives of audio and video recordings, photographs, and ephemera. Artists represented in the MCG Jazz Archives include 68 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters and legendary musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Billy Taylor, Betty Carter, and Ahmad Jamal. MCG Jazz produced a PBS documentary film, We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told, that explores the social conditions and historical events that conspired to make Pittsburgh one of the leading contributors to the legacy of jazz music in the world.