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Arts & Culture

Trudy Pitts and 'Mr. C,' Partners in Music

Trudy Pitts and Bill Carney have been partners in music, and in life, for half a century. Pitts plays piano and the Hammond B-3 electric organ. Carney, known as Mr. C, backs her up on drums.

Like many married couples who've been together for a long time, they often finish each other's thoughts. When Pitts and Carney play together, they say, words become unnecessary because they speak the private language of music.

"It's about knowing each other and feeding each other air and spirit," Pitts says. "He might do something on snare, or he might do a cymbal thing. If I'm working out something on the keys, he's into the point where he can lead me in a direction that I'm trying to go."

The two musicians met in Philadelphia in the 1950s. Carney had a group at the time called the Hi-Tones. It included a young saxophone player named John Coltrane, but Carney wanted to add an organist.

"I called the union," Carney says. "They said, 'Well, we have a young lady down here that plays everything — funerals, cocktail lounges. She coaches classical musicians.' I said, 'Well, I have to meet her.'"

Over the years, they've played with a who's who of jazz, including Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Grover Washington, Jr., and Nancy Wilson.

Pitts describes what it's like to create music with her lifelong partner:

"When the two of us are playing, it's being husband and wife; it's being mother and father; it's being up and down; and it's everything rolled into one in your life when you come together to play music," she says.

Carney says they feel that they are "missionaries of the Almighty's private language — and that's music."

"My biggest love is my partner, who is my queen," he says. "And sometimes she's so spiritual and plays so much, I say, 'Well, [God] sent me an angel.... Amen.'"

Features in this series are produced by David Schulman and NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.