12/07/11

The Philadelphia Jazz Scene

Roundup of the local jazz scene

Philadelphia has an historic yet somewhat complicated relationship with jazz. Many of the great bebop players came of age in the city, including John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, the Heath Brothers, McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson, Reggie Workman, Kenny Barron, Bobby Timmons, Shirley Scott, Philly Joe Jones and many more. The area also boasts an impressive list of more modernist jazz talents such as the Brecker Brothers, Stanley Clarke, Victor Bailey, Jaco Pastorius, Grover Washington, Jr., Alphonse Johnson, Christian McBride, Jamalaadeen Tacuma, Joey DeFrancesco, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Uri Caine and many more. And several seminal figures in avant garde jazz such as Sun Ra, Sunny Murray and Byard Lancaster had roots in the area music scene. Even two of the notable jazz producers, Joel Dorn and Michael Cuscuna, got their start in Philadelphia.

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However, nearly every one of the aforementioned musicians moved out of town to make their mark in the national scene and thereafter would only come back for gigs or to see family. Less than two hour drive from New York City, Philadelphia has always had a bit of an inferiority complex in large part because of that frequent migration of talent and in part because of the magnitude of the Big Apple jazz scene. After all, it can be awkward to boast about local heroes that are no longer local.

This is not to imply that there are not numerous gifted and talented jazz musicians who still perform regularly at area clubs and venues. A regular at Chris’s Café and other venues, pianist Orrin Evans is a great example of an accomplished and gifted jazz artist who remains committed to the area scene, even as his national presence grows. In recent years, Evans has organized several events and projects to recognize the legacy of previous generations of unsung Philly jazz players.

Vocalist Suzanne Cloud has worked hard through her Jazz Bridge organization to not only bolster the scene with a performance series, but also to provide economic support and relief to local musicians in need, in much the same way that the Jazz Foundation of America operates out of New York City. Since the early 80s, drummer Jim Miller has been overseeing the cooperative record label Dreambox Media, which releases albums exclusively from homegrown artists; their catalog now numbers well over 100 titles. And noted artists such as John Blake, Odean Pope and Gerald Veasley continue to call the area home. Philadelphia remains a good place to be from.

Clubs/Venues

Chris’s Café
1421 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 568-3131
With Ortlieb’s and other jazz clubs closing in Philadelphia, Chris’s has become the number one spot for jazz in the area. Performers include a mix of local and national talent. Like many of the Philadelphia jazz spots, Chris’s is as much a restaurant as a nightclub and so the good news is that it is a great place to eat, drink and enjoy jazz. The bad news is that sometimes the din of diners can overwhelm the listening of the serious fans. But the price is always reasonable and the talent strong. And located in the heart of Center City, Chris’s is very accessible by public transportation and just a quick subway trip north from the fabled Philly sports complex. Game, dinner and music. Check.

LaRose Jazz Club
5531 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
Sunday Sessions hosted by drummer Rob Henderson. Tony Williams runs a similar ongoing good old-fashioned "jam" series there on Monday nights as well.

World Café Live
3025 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 222-1400

Sole Food
Loews Hotel
1200 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA
Vocalist Joanna Pascale performs regular gigs with sidemen often including pianist Tom Lawton and saxophonist Tim Warfield.

Milkboy Philly
1100 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA
Open jam session with Tom Moon (tenor sax) and friends.

23rd Street Café
233 N. 23rd Street
Philadelphia, PA
Open jam session with Father John D'Amico (piano), Kenny Davis (bass) and Big Jim Dofton (drums).

Elena's Soul
4912 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
Open jam session w/ Lucky Thompson (drums), Rich Budesa (organ), & Rob Budesa (guitar)

Relish
7152 Ogontz Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
Open jam session with Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble: Warren Oree (bass), Umar Raheem (saxophone), Frank Butrey (guitar), Greg "Ju-Ju" Jones (drums), Doug "Pablow" Edwards (congas & percussion).

Mermaid Inn
7673 Winston Road
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 247-9797
Small rustic bar in Chestnut Hill features a wide range of live music on a regular basis, including some jazz artists such as Steve Giordano, the Hot Club Philly and Marty Grosz.

Rollers at Flying Fish
8142 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 247-0707
This gourmet yet casual restaurant in Chestnut Hill occasionally hosts jazz artists such as Larry Coryell and Mose Allison in the room above the dining area.

The Farmers' Cabinet
1113 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 923-1113

Painted Bride Art Center
230 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 925-9914

Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
260 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 790-2340

Penn’s Landing: Great Plaza
121 N. Columbus Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 928-8801

Bookstore Speakeasy
336 Adams Street
Bethlehem, PA
(610) 867-1100

The JazzBridge organization now runs a five-venue neighborhood concert series from October through May. Details below:

First Wednesdays -
Cheltenham Center for the Arts

439 Ashbourne Rd.
Cheltenham, PA 19012
(hosted by Dave Posmontier)

Kennett Flash
102 Sycamore Alley
Kennett Square, PA 19348
(hosted by Barbara Montgomery)

First Thursdays -
Collingswood Community Center

30 W. Collings Ave.
Coillingswood, NJ 08108
(hosted by Suzanne Cloud)

Third Wednesdays -
Unitarian Universalist Church

145 W. Rose Tree Road
Media, PA 19063

Third Thursdays -
Society Hill Playhouse

507 S. 8th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(hosted by Orrin Evans)

Festivals/Special Events

Main Line Jazz & Food Festival
Wayne, PA
Held in early June

West Oak Lane Jazz & Arts Festival
Ogontz Avenue in Philadelphia, PA
Held in mid-June

Radio Stations/Shows

WRTI FM
1501 Cecil B. Moore Avenue, 3rd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19122
(215) 204-8405
Public radio station associated with Temple University is the long-time home for jazz on the radio in the Philly area and now features jazz in the evenings. The station is also broadcast on various other signals to stations throughout the Southeastern Pennsylvania area.

WHYY FM
150 N. 6th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 351-1200
This anchor station for NPR features little jazz programming, but is host to popular syndicated shows such as “Fresh Air” and “Radio Times” both of which occasionally include jazz subjects.

Education Programs

University of the Arts
School of Music
250 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 717-6342
Jazz program directed by Marc Diccianni features a faculty including musicians such as Gerald Veasley, Chris Farr and John Fedchock.

Temple University
Boyer College of Music & Dance
2001 N. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Trumpeter Terell Stafford directs this jazz program with help from a faculty loaded with practitioners including Bruce Barth, Tom Lawton, Mike Boone, Ed Flanagan, Carla Cook, Joanna Pascale, Dick Oatts, Tim Warfield, Jr., Walt Weiskopf and John Swana.

*****

Let us know by a Comment below if we have omitted any important venues, programs or outlets for jazz in this region.

Information initially compiled by Lee Mergner in November 2011, with input from Jim Miller and Dawn Warren Evans.

6 Comments

  • Dec 08, 2011 at 10:42AM Laura Munich

    Compliments on a nicely comprehensive round-up of venues and events in Philadelphia. However, I would like to point out an omission: For the last eight years, The Main Line Jazz Festival has been held in early June just a few miles outside of Center City on Philadelphia's Main Line. Every summer, thousands of music lovers -- suburban folks and city dwellers alike -- turn out to hear some of this region's best players perform a diverse range of authentic jazz styles. Larry McKenna, The Lars Halle Jazz Orchestra, Jeff Bradshaw's Brass Heaven, the late Sid Simmons, John Swanna, Highbrid and Ellas y Amigos are just a few of the wonderful artists and ensembles who've graced the stage at past festivals. The 2012 Festival will be held June 1-3.

  • Dec 08, 2011 at 12:20PM Alastair Campbell

    Give Secret Architecture an airing. Young vibrant exciting. Come on promoters and venues.

  • Dec 08, 2011 at 06:56PM hotclubphilly

    Great piece. Thanks to WRTI's Jeff Duperon for mentioning it on FB. Happy to see Orrin Evans, Suzanne Cloud & Jazz Bridge mentioned. I would like to mention the growing early Jazz scene, which encompasses the 20s & 30s styles, Gypsy Jazz and Swing dancers etc. Really a revival of interest fuled in part by interest Prohibtion era, thru shows like 'BoardWalk Empire, and venues that feature early Jazz style live music. The Farmers' Cabinet 1113 Walnut Street; http://www.thefarmerscabinet.com/ and the Bookstore Speakeasy in Bethlehem PA. Then there's the Mermaid Inn, Chestnut Hill which has been featuring more Jazz, [Steve Giordano, the Hot Club Philly, Marty Grosz, http://www.themermaidinn.net/home.html and places like Rollers Flying fish also in C.H. Rollers has had artistslike Mose Allison and Larry Coryell. The reto-jazz scene has been essential in bringing jazz to a new generation, re-connecting with the dance aspect of Jazz, and making it less art music and frankly more just plain fun music, which is not a bad thing!

  • Dec 09, 2011 at 10:02AM Lee Mergner

    Thanks for the suggestions. We have added them all to the roundup here.

  • Dec 26, 2011 at 09:26AM Lee Silvan

    One of the most influential reasons WHY Philly never really achieved any true prominence as a jazz town was the powerful Pennsylvania "Blue Laws" instigated by Quakers and other religious groups as a way of forcing people to go to church —virtually EVERYTHING was closed on Sundays!

    Who in the world would risk opening a jazz club in a state that only had ONE day weekends?

  • Jan 13, 2012 at 01:19PM Jason Fifield

    Ars nova?

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