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Guide to Jazz in Philadelphia

Roundup of the local jazz scene

Jim Miller
Suzanne Cloud
Orrin Evans
Joanna Pascale

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., Alphonso 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 Philly 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 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 hours’ 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.

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