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School Days: Jazz All-Stars Remember CAPA

How a Philadelphia high school fostered one of jazz’s most gifted generations

Illustration for story on CAPA by Julia Chiplis
Illustration by Julia Chiplis

Philadelphia has a storied history of nurturing great jazz artists, but rarely has there been a more impressive concentration than could be found in the classrooms of the city’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts – known as CAPA – in the late 1980s. The student body during those years included three already-impressive musicians who would go on to be among the most influential jazz artists of their generation: bassist Christian McBride, organist Joey DeFrancesco and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. At roughly the same time, the founding members of the hit-making R&B group Boyz II Men were in the vocal department, and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and emcee Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter were brainstorming the group that would become the Roots. JazzTimes talked to several of those gifted alumni and their beloved mentors to convene a virtual class reunion.

Joey DeFrancesco (class of ’89): I was 14 when I started high school in 1985. I was already pretty established in the Philadelphia area as a musician. I started very young. I’d already played with Philly Joe Jones, Hank Mobley, Shirley Scott, Trudy Pitts.

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