ROANOKE, Va.—The music of jazz great Don Pullen thrilled audiences around the world. This weekend, his sounds are taking center stage here in his hometown.
A jazz quintet honored Pullen's musical legacy during a performance at Lucy Addison Middle School Friday afternoon. Students at the school Pullen once attended enjoyed a preview of the tribute concert that will bring Pullen's family, friends and admirers to the Jefferson Center on Saturday night.
"If he was a baseball player, there would be a museum built after him already in the city of Roanoke," said Jefferson Center Executive Director Cyrus Pace, "but what he did in the jazz world, the people he played with, Charlie Mingus and George Adams some of the heavyweights, true heavyweights of the jazz world, deserves to be celebrated and we're really excited to be doing it."
Don Pullen was one of a kind. "A brilliant composer," said his friend Bill Warrell during a news conference last month, "a lyrical piano player with the power and energy that you've never seen."
He started early. As a young man, Pullen played the piano at Sweet Union Baptist Church, and in the Roanoke schools he attended.
His childhood friend Byron Morris remembers the first time they met at the Hunton Branch YMCA.
"I was very aware that Don was different, but different in a good, positive way," Morris said in an interview. "He looked like a little professor, you know, the way he comported himself."
And Morris wasn't surprised when Pullen rose to international prominence as a jazz musician, recording artist and composer.
Efforts to name a New York park for Pullen stalled after 9/11, but Jefferson Center Artistic Director Dylan Locke hopes Roanoke will honor a native son. "It's my goal to get a memorial site here in Roanoke to honor the life and music of Don Pullen," Locke told News7.
With an exhibit of photographs and memorabilia, and the tribute concert Saturday night, The Harrison Museum of African American Culture and the Jefferson Center hope to raise Pullen's profile in his hometown.
Family and friends say they also believe the jazz world is ready to take a fresh look at a pioneering musician.
"Oh, I think he would love it, man," said his youngest son Keith Gabriel Pullen. "I wish he was here. I know he's here in spirit, but I think he would really be grateful and appreciative of the fact he's getting recognition, especially in his hometown."
The concert celebrating the life and music of Don Pullen begins at 8 PM Saturday night at the Jefferson Center.