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Philadelphia’s OutBeat Festival Celebrates Jazz’s LGBT Legacy

Humble beginnings, full of heart

Pianist Fred Hersch performs with his trio at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Sept. 2014, as part of the OutBeat Jazz Festival. Photo courtesy of OutBeat Jazz Festival
Patricia Barber
Bill Stewart

Assessing the impact of an occasion as important as the OutBeat Jazz Festival is challenging. The four-day event, hosted in Philadelphia Sept. 18-21, was the first of its kind in the United States, because it celebrated the contributions of jazz’s LGBT musicians. But even if the intentions were pure and ambitious and the performances were excellent, attendance at certain events made OutBeat’s debut both historic and humble.

As a gay music journalist and-full disclosure-someone who moderated two panels at OutBeat, I had high hopes. The festival did have a promising start though. On Friday night I caught a mesmerizing performance by the Fred Hersch Trio at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as the Philadelphia Jazz Project’s touching tribute to Billy Strayhorn at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. Both of those performances sold out.

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