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.

This is not to imply that there aren’t 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. For more than 30 years, drummer Jim Miller oversaw 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 St.
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 Ave.
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 St.
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 222-1400

Milkboy Philly
1100 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA

Open jam session with Tom Moon (tenor sax) and friends.

Relish
7152 Ogontz Ave.
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 Rd.
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.

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

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

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

Bookstore Speakeasy
336 Adams St.
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)

First Thursdays –
Collingswood Community Center

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

Third Wednesdays –
Ridge Avenue United Methodist Church 
7811 Ridge Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19128
(hosted by Jeff Duperton and Rhenda Fearrington

Radio Stations/Shows

WRTI FM
1501 Cecil B. Moore Ave., 3rd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19122
(215) 204-8405

Public radio station associated with Temple University is the longtime 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 St.
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 St.
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 St.
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.

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