Jazz Philadelphia

Meet the 2020 Winners of the Jazz Residency Program of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

By Steve Bryant

The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts has announced its Jazz Residency winners for the 2020 season, and public workshops are coming up in March. Bassist Richard Hill, Jr., saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, and vocalist Ruth Naomi Floyd will all create new works through the Kimmel’s program, which is now in its 12th year. April previews of the works in progress are also forthcoming, and final performances are in June. All programs are free and open to the public, and all Philadelphia-based musicians are eligible to apply to the program each year.

Both Hill and Wilkins received training as young musicians at the historic Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts (where your author works) and have now moved on to burgeoning careers in music. Floyd is known as one of the most original vocalists in modern jazz to come out of Philadelphia. All three are Philadelphia natives.

After high school, Wilkins matriculated and graduated from the highly competitive jazz studies program at Julliard, where he studied with the likes of Joe Temperley, Steve Wilson, Ron Carter, and Kenny Washington. Wilkins will be collaborating with photographer Rog Walker and video artist David Dempewolf for the Kimmel project. Their work, “Identity,” serves as a multimedia love letter to Philadelphia and the rich diversity of communities and cultures that comprise Wilkins’s hometown. “Identity” will be an interactive work that combines Wilkins’s varied musical influences with field recordings as well as visual illustrations.

Bassist and composer Richard Hill, Jr., has created an interactive musical work that seeks to create a vision of what the city’s cultural landscape will look like in 2050. What makes this piece unique is that Hill will invite the audience to assist in creating the music over the duration of the performance. Assisting Hill on this work will be a plethora of jazz talents he’s worked with over the years. They include trumpeter Elliot Bild; Nasir Dickerson on saxophone and EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument); Kwame Gee on saxophone; Zoe Lynch, Mollie Ducoste, and Owen Valentine on violin; Jim Holton on cello; Sumi Tonooka on piano; and Cheryl Hill-Herder performing spoken-word. 

Lovett Hines, who is the artistic and educational director for the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, will present a workshop at the Kimmel Center with Hill on the historic relationship between jazz music and the dance idiom.

For Hill, the Kimmel Residency will be important in his career development. “For me, being selected as a Kimmel Jazz Resident Artist is not only an honor, but also is a great opportunity to develop and create music for large ensembles. Not only do I receive the opportunity to compose, but I will be presenting this music to a wide audience.” Hill added that “what  makes this project unique is that I am bringing in the audience as an active collaborator in the creative process.” He has already conducted a student workshop on February 11. 

In a career spanning 25 years, Floyd has performed with the likes of James Newton, Jay Hoggard. Terri Lyne Carrington, Ralph Peterson, Jr., Uri Caine, Charles Fambrough, J and Tyrone Brown. Floyd, a product of local Philadelphia schools was introduced to jazz when she was singing with the all-female band at her high dchool. A gifted composer, Floyd is collaborating with Philadelphia poet Charles “Chazz” Lattimore Howard to create a work that will utilize music and poetry to address the problem of homelessness in the city. 

The piece she’s creating, which is titled “Dissent Descent: Jazz From The Bottom,” seeks to bring the perspective of those affected by the homelessness crisis and its related problems. “We aren’t producing this for the privileged,” says Floyd, “but for those individuals who are relegated to the bottom of society.” For her piece, Floyd will be using her longtime ensemble, which includes saxophonist Nasir Dickerson, pianist Aaron Graves, bassist Lee Smith, drummer Khary Abdul-Shaheed, vocalist Dania Halleck, and rapper Aaron Mingo.

Jay Wahl, the Kimmel Center’s producing artistic director, devised the jazz residency program in 2012 because he saw a need for musicians to be able to create new work without financial concerns. “It is difficult for jazz musicians to compose and create new work because they have to work constantly to sustain themselves and build a career,” says Wahl. “I wanted to create an opportunity, a space, where musicians have the freedom to brainstorm and create new work.”  

Public Workshops:
March 5   Ruth Naomi Floyd 
March 6   Immanuel Wilkins
March 13 Richard Jr. 

Works In Progress
April 9   Ruth Naomi Floyd
April 11  Immanuel Wilkins
April 17 Richard Hill Jr.

The Completed projects will be presented on the following dates:
June 4  Richard Hill
June 5 Ruth Naomi Floyd
June 6 Immanuel Wilkins

For information on the 2020 Kimmel Jazz Residency call (215) 893-1999

The “National Jazz Festival,” a new High School Jazz Competition, Debuts in Philadelphia

By Steven Bryant

The National Jazz Festival, an intensive musical competition that will be attended by schools from throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, will take place on Saturday, February 15, at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Center City. Over 1200 high school and middle school musicians from 43 schools in 11 states will perform and compete in this one-day event, which also includes music instruction and other classes for aspiring musicians. All events are free and open to the public.

The National Jazz Festival was created by a number of instrumental and vocal jazz ensemble directors who made it their mission to educate and inspire high school jazz musicians throughout the county. It is a rebirth of a movement that grew organically from the attendees of the Berklee High School Jazz Festival, which began in 1968. Berklee President Lee Eliot Burke created the jazz festival to offer an opportunity for high school music students and their band directors to perform in a top-rate setting as well as interact with Berklee faculty and students; it was shuttered unexpectedly last year. 

According to it’s official statement, Berklee discontinued the festival because it redirected its funding priorities to increase assistance to its students. NJF Executive Committee member Addie O’Beirne says, “We felt it was important that music students have that opportunity to perform in a high-profile setting as well as be exposed to professional musicians.”

In addition to the student performances at the new festival, a number of noted ensembles will participate and perform. The U.S. Army “Jazz Ambassadors,” who will be NJF “Artists-In Residence” will also perform. In addition, the festival will feature performances by the 78th Army Band Liberty Vibes Latin Jazz Combo, an ensemble from the University of the Arts, the Kutztown University Big Band, and the West Chester University Big Band. 

For NJF Executive Committee Head Joe Bongiovi, the National Jazz Festival will hopefully become an annual nationwide event. As a Philadelphia native, Biongovi felt that his hometown would be the natural location for this event. “Philadelphia has a historic role in the development of the music, and its location makes it easy for scholastic bands from all over the East Coast to attend. We are optimistic that the festival will become the premier scholastic event in the country.”

The National Jazz Festival takes place on Saturday, February 15, at the Philadelphia Convention center. For more information contact Amanda Kewley 609-933-6564 or Addie O’Beirne 404-861-114. The NJF email is nationaljazzfest@gmail.com 

Local Jazz Music Performances at WRTI Will Be Available Nationally

Live Sessions program will grow audiences for Philadelphia music

In the last few years, Philadelphia’s jazz and classical station, WRTI, has been making big investments in its studio and programming, including the ability to record and film live performances. Local artists are in the mix of already-recorded performances via their VuHaus platform. Now, they’re part of the newly launched microsite “Live Sessions from NPR Music Stations Across America.” The campaign launched officially on November 11, 2019, and will allow regional, national, and international audiences to be exposed to the jazz performed in our city. We talked with station stalwart J. Michael Harrison about what it means for our community.

What does this move mean for the jazz community in Philadelphia?

WRTI on NPR Music Live Sessions represents a unique opportunity to showcase the extraordinary talent base in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, as well as the global community at large. I can’t express how significant this opportunity is for us. The expansive reach that NPR Music offers is motivational from the perspective of how vast the exposure opportunities are.  It is also incredibly inspiring to participate knowing the commitment and standard of excellence associated with the brand. This is indeed a major event for us and for the musicians. As this initiative gains momentum and establishes a consistent workflow, the benefits will be plentiful for the jazz community.    

What is this new initiative in relation to other WRTI programming?

The new initiative essentially remains the same as our past efforts. For WRTI that means to continue to champion music as a vital cultural resource. What’s changing is that now we’re featuring music video content that’s available on NPR Music’s  “Live Sessions” (nprmusic.org/wrti). This is not only exciting, it is indeed monumental. We’ve been granted a special opportunity to significantly broaden the reach of the jazz video content that WRTI produces.”

Is there an upcoming performance that WRTI is particularly excited about?

We invite the WRTI audience to enjoy our current content that’s available on NPR Music Live Session via the link below.  We will be adding content weekly moving forward and encourage the WRTI family to keep and ear and eye glued to our media platforms to catch all the activity and stay updated on the new content.  A few highlights in the weeks to come include video performances featuring Ola Onabul’e, Bria Skonberg, Claudia Acuna, and Michelle Lordi. We’ll also be introducing signature video content from Charles Tolliver, Lucas Brown, Joe Magnarelli, Jonathan Scales and more. The future is bright! Stay tuned!

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