The Philadelphia Jazz Scene

Roundup of the local jazz scene

Jim Miller
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By
Suzanne Cloud
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By
Orrin Evans
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By
Joanna Pascale
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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.

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.

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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.