The Jazz Scene
The 23d Street Café Tuesday night jam sessions in Center City, founded by architect and one-time bassist Herman DeJong, have been running continuously since 1988. At 26 years and counting, this must be some kind of record. Unfortunately, the last several seasons have not been kind to the space or the sessions, despite the best efforts of drummer/session coordinator Jim Dofton and a core of enthusiastic regulars who come out to blow under any circumstances. With the death of house pianist John D’Amico, the subsequent departure of house bassist Kenny Davis, parking problems, maintenance and staffing issues and rumors of the jam session’s demise, moral and attendance “ain’t what they used to be.” However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. DeJong recently arranged two well-attended evenings honoring WRTI’s Bob Craig and Bob Perkins, and worked out a discounted parking program for customers. Further, in that it is no secret that the Café has been up for sale for some time, it seems there is finally some serious talk about buyers/investors who would rebuild the Café into a state-of-the-art performance space and upscale restaurant. The business plan is grandiose, but given the prime location--233 North 23rd Street—it’s entirely possible.
Whatever happens with the 23rd Street, there are a number of other open jams in the region worthy of attending. They include Sundays from 8 p.m. to midnight at Time Midtown, 1315 Sansom Street, often with pianist Tim Brey and bassist Madison Rast in residence. World Café Live, 3205 Walnut Street, continues its Monday night jazz confab from 5:30 to 7:00. Probably the best of these get-togethers, in terms of the level of musicianship and a scene where younger jazz students mix—on and off stage—with seasoned veterans is the Sunday session at LaRose Jazz Club, 5531 Germantown Avenue in Germantown. Led by drummer Rob Henderson, the blowing and good fellowship begins at around 6:00 p.m.
Philadelphia was once one of the recording and record label centers of the entertainment industry. Labels like Cameo-Parkway, Laurie, Jamie, Chancellor, Lost Nite and later on, Philadelphia International, issued hundreds of singles and albums and a lot of hits as well. Jazz-wise, probably the most famous of these imprints was the Laurie label, which issued several of the most important recordings of the legendary French jazz pianist, Bernard Peiffer. There was also a healthy underground scene over the years with private labels--recordings that were most often sold at gigs—proliferating. Most of these LPs received little if any national distribution and much good music was lost. Record producer/archivist David L. Brown, founder of Philly Jazz Time Records, hopes to help rectify that situation with the iTunes and eMusic release of product from the likes of legendary trumpeter Charlie Chisholm, guitarist George Freeman, organists Doc Bagby and Trudy Pitts, and other unsung giants. In addition to their digital release, Brown hopes to release these and many more titles on vinyl LPs, which is really the only way to dig these things. The Charlie Chisholm sides, recorded in 1960, are particularly welcome. The late trumpeter remains one of those shadowy legends that people talk about in reverential tones. Savannah-born but a Philadelphia resident for 54 years, he was an inventive and swinging play-er—who played with John Coltrane, among many others—
who also worked as a conductor, educator, promoter and historian. His privately recorded LPs, many with his own Boss-Tet, are valuable collector’s items. It’s great to see some of them back in circulation.
Philadelphia’s neighborhood jazz festivals continue to help fill the void created by the absence of a nationally-sponsored,
multi-day event. Perhaps that’s for the better in some respects, as the spotlight is on the players from this area who help make the Philadelphia jazz scene so vital. The 8th Annual Lancaster Avenue Jazz and Arts Festival will take place on July 19 at Saunders Park Green, which is at the corner of 39th and Powelton Avenue. The fest is sponsored by the People’s Emergency Center, with help from a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Performances run from noon until
Saxophonist Tim Warfield, Lancaster Avenue Jazz and Arts Festival 2013.
7:00 p.m., and performers do include one “national name headliner” in the form of saxophonist Azar Lawrence, who has performed with everyone from Miles Davis to Roberta Flack. Lawrence will also be hosting a master class for kids at the Philadelphia Clef Club the day before the festival. Also on hand on are fast-rising trumpet star Josh Lawrence, vocalists Shakera Jones and Charlene Holloway, pianist Glenn Byran, saxophonist Nasir Dickerson, the youngsters of the Play on Philly ensemble, and the always explosive West Powelton Steppers. The organizers emphasize that this is a family-friendly event. Details: lancasteravenuejazzfest.com. Joe Wilder, who recently passed away at the age of 92, was one of the most versatile trumpeters in jazz. Classically trained and as at home in the world of classical music as he was in jazz—he was a founding member of the Symphony of the New World—Wilder was also a pioneer in breaking down racial barriers. He was the first African-American to hold a principal chair in a Broadway show orchestra, and was one of the first African-Americans to join a network studio orchestra. Fortunately, Wilder lived to see the publication of his just-released biography, Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music: Softly, with Feeling, published by Philadelphia’s own Temple University Press and written by one-time Associate Director of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, Ed
ward Berger. This is a fine work in every respect, meticulously researched and a joy to read.
Due in October from Viking Books is Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, a memoir by the influential pianist, composer and educator. Co-written with author Lisa Dickey, the book details delves into Hancock’s long career as a musician, composer, professor, UNESCO goodwill ambassador, father, husband and innovator.
Another jazz bio, though this one is a documentary film rather than a book, is The Pleasures of Being Out of Step. This film details the life and work of Nat Hentoff, who has not only been one of the leading jazz journalists and jazz champions for more than six decades, but a crusader for free speech who helped found what we now know as “alternative journalism.” Among the film’s interviewees are Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch and Dan Morgenstern, and there’s plenty of archival footage of the jazz legends as well. This project has received rave reviews, and was the winner of last year’s Metropolis Grand Jury Prize for documentaries. For more details on the film and a list of playdates, visit firstrunfeatures.com/pleasuresofbeingoutofstep.
The music of pianist/composer/bandleader and jazz innovator Sun Ra, gone since 1993, lives on by way of the continuation of his Arkestra, and the brand new release of 21 classic Sun Ra albums on iTunes. These come courtesy of The Sun Ra Music Archive and the Enterplanetary Koncepts. Ra, who headquartered in Germantown from 1968 until his death, was and is a controversial figure, musically and otherwise. Until his dying day he maintained that he was not from earth, but from Saturn, and never, ever went out of character. Musically, he laid the groundwork for the use of electronic music in jazz, the avant garde and free jazz. Sun Ra was no charlatan—he could swing with the best of them when he felt like it—and who knows whether or not he came from Saturn? The new iTunes releases include a good deal of previously unreleased material and are beautifully re-mastered, exceeding the standard 16-bit sound quality of CDs. Long-time Ra saxophonist Marshall Allen continues to lead the Arkestra, which is as busy or busier now than it was during Ra’s lifetime. This month for example, the crew tours Japan, Slovakia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Austria, Poland, and Spain. Follow the band’s progress on sunraarkestra.com.
Congratulations are in order for allaboutjazz.com and its founder, Michael Ricci. The prestigious Jazz Journalists Association voted allaboutjazz the Web Site of the Year.
Don Glanden’s long-awaited documentary film on Wilmington’s favorite son, the legendary trumpeter Clifford Brown, is finally being released. It had a couple of screenings last month and it should be available to the general public shortly. This was not only a labor of love for Glanden, a world-class jazz pianist and educator, but a real labor as well. The work, time, sweat and research that went into Brownie Speaks were just remarkable. The Jazz Scene looks at Brownie Speaks in depth next month. ¦
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