Jazz Philadelphia

Money for Artists

Don’t miss out on grants for jazz tours and musician residencies 

By Olivia Hughart

The COVID-19 pandemic has left an unprecedented amount of work for us to heal and recover as a jazz community. We are consistently looking for more ways to grow our networks, better ourselves as musicians, and seek opportunities to succeed. As we start to emerge from the perils of the pandemic, we can find the power within us to take risks, chances, and ventures beyond our wildest dreams. 

South Arts, an artist empowerment organization headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, serves arts communities financially to drive potential. They offer grants, fellowships, programs, conferences, and residencies specific to artists of all kinds, including unique offers for jazz musicians. 

South Arts has launched the initiative called “Jazz Road” which has the primary mission to serve musicians to further their careers in music. Their “Jazz Roads Tours” offers grants up to $15,000 to allow musicians to play an array of venues in rural communities or places where it is more challenging to let the music speak. Eligibility and guidelines for applications can be found here

A second program that is available is the “Jazz Road Creative Residencies.” Jazz artists can apply for grants ranging from $5,000-$40,000 to support a proposed residency, develop an artistic endeavor, or find new ways to connect with audiences. Eligibility and guidelines for applications can be found here

The opportunities lie ahead and we hope you take advantage of the great things that organizations like these are doing. Embark on the journey that awaits you! Deadlines are soon so make sure you take a look to see if they are a fit.

If you have questions or ideas that you’d like to talk through with Jazz Philadelphia staff, email Executive Director Heather Blakeslee.

Hometown Hero: Papo Vázquez

by Shaun Brady | Photo Courtesy of the Artist

In Puerto Rico, where trombonist/bandleader Papo Vázquez spent a significant portion of his childhood, there’s a Christmas tradition called the Parranda. A combination of Christmas caroling and Carnival parade, the festivities feature traditional songs and instruments along with spontaneous visits to friends, neighbors, or family.

In Vazquez’s family, the tradition carried over to his native Philadelphia, with a few small drawbacks. “I remember doing it in the snow,” Vazquez recalled, the chill still evident in his voice. “It was like a Christmas assault.”

The conjunction of heritage and adaptation that characterized Vazquez’s upbringing still marks his music to this day. As the leader of the Mighty Pirate Troubadours, Vazquez takes a swashbuckling approach to the melding of Puerto Rican and Latin rhythms and the boisterous swing and rollicking improvisation of modern jazz. The name was suggested by a former bandmate as a more appropriate replacement for his narrowly-focused first option, Papo Vázquez Bomba Jazz.

Vazquez claims to have liked the name more than he understood it at first, but soon came to embrace its meaning. “I have a definition for it now,” he explained. “A Pirate Troubadour is somebody who steals your musical allegiance.”

“A Pirate Troubadour is somebody who steals your musical allegiance.”

Vazquez has been doing just that for more than 45 years, garnering a Grammy nomination and an NEA Latino Masters Award in the process. The music of the Mighty Pirate Troubadours is a vigorous, window-rattling brand of Latin jazz, equally inspired by the explosive salsa bands that he experienced in his formative years and the progressive jazz of idols like John Coltrane and J.J. Johnson. He also credits the city of his birth.

“The city of Philadelphia has a lot of history,” he declared. “Once you’re born or raised there, there’s something that’s ingrained in your DNA — William Penn and Benjamin Franklin, the jazz and the Latino community that I grew up in.”

Vazquez was born near 21st and Green Streets in 1958, but his family moved back to Puerto Rico when he was five years old, where he grew up for the next five or six years. Back in Philadelphia by his teens, he got to hear many of the day’s great Latin and salsa bands in local clubs, and soon got his start playing those same stages.

“That was the era of bands like Willie Colón and Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow, and Bobby Valentín,” he recalled. “Young Papo was 14, 15 years old, hearing these bands at clubs like the Spanish American and the Exodus. The famous bands from New York would alternate with the Philly bands, and that’s how I started my career as a musician.”

Vazquez left Philly to more fully immerse himself in the New York scene, though he’s never forgotten his roots. As recently as his 2020 release Chapter 10: Breaking Cover, recorded at the first easing of pandemic-era restrictions, he recorded a piece called “Fairmount Park” in tribute to his memories of home.

“That theme came to me because a Will Smith song came on the radio and I really liked the groove,” he said. “I wanted to write something like that, but utilizing the rhythmical concept that we use with the Mighty Pirates. It sounds like you’re hanging out in the park and the guys are playing their drums. It’s a nice, happy kind of vibe.”

After moving to New York City, Vazquez became a founding member of trumpeter Jerry González’s pioneering Fort Apache Band and percussionist Manny Oquendo’s influential Conjunto Libre. Returning to Puerto Rico, he spent several years as a member of the popular Latin fusion band Batacumbele. Throughout these years he performed and recorded with a who’s who of his varied styles of music, including Barretto, Colón, Harlow, The Fania All-Stars, Eddie Palmieri, Hector La Voe, Tito Puente’s Latin Jazz Ensemble, and Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra.

In 1993, Vazquez released his debut as a leader, Breakout. By the end of the decade his concept had evolved to embrace the roguish, free-wheeling attitude that inspired the Might Pirate Troubadours name.

“As pirates, we can navigate and go anywhere we want,” he concluded. “Roam the high seas and play whatever music we want to play. And we have fun with it.”

“As pirates, we can navigate and go anywhere we want,” he concluded. “Roam the high seas and play whatever music we want to play. And we have fun with it.”

Hometown Hero: Tony Miceli

By A.D. Amorosi | Photo courtesy of the artist

Tony Miceli is one of those characters who, if they didn’t exist, he would have had to create: a musician as deeply into big rock as he is intimate jazz, a man who built a funky foundation upon the least likely of soulful instruments—vibraphone and marimba, and a serious leader and sideman with a rich sense of humor whose finicky focus has jumped from Monk and Mingus to Mozart and Bach in the past, leaving room for so much more in the future.

“I actually grew up playing classical guitar and drums,” said Miceli. “When it was time for college, I did not want to go. I wanted to play in rock bands and get high.”

Recalling how, “back then”—“then” being his introduction to the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts after having moved here from Cincinnati, then New Jersey—one didn’t go to school for the drums (“Percussion being something you studied in college”), his dad got Miceli percussion lessons. 

“As soon as I hit the marimba something switched on in my brain,” he exclaimed. “I decided at that moment that I would go to college and play mallets. And that was that. It’s a very hard life, however, but from that first lesson I immediately decided this is what I will do. I didn’t care where or how, but I wanted to spend my life around this instrument.”

“As soon as I hit the marimba something switched on in my brain. I decided at that moment that I would go to college and play mallets. And that was that. It’s a very hard life, however, but from that first lesson I immediately decided this is what I will do. I didn’t care where or how, but I wanted to spend my life around this instrument.”

Such single-minded dedication, skill and, frankly, the uniqueness of the man on the marimba, Miceli got gigs in Philly and beyond. It also made him something of an activist-expert-avatar in the field of vibraphonic display. 

“You have to develop your wrists and your fingers to manipulate the mallets in order to play,” said Miceli. “I hold two in each hand so there’s a physical side to this. I learned about myelin and how that works in the brain and I realize now it’s absolutely necessary to practice thousands and thousands of hours to even get near greatness.” 

Then there is Miceli’s creation and development of his Vibesworkshop.com.

Built on a Gary Burton interview from the 1970s, claiming the instrument would be obsolete in 50 years, an upset Miceli decided to do something about it. Learning HTML in the early days of the web, along with additional website designing tools,  built an online vibraphone school and discussion site with a $30,000 gift from his father, and the partnership of pit percussionist-programmer Stephen Hambright.

“I was glad I was doing my part to keep this instrument alive, a very fun and cool instrument, and the website has about 5000 members, all vibraphone players.”

“I was glad I was doing my part to keep this instrument alive, a very fun and cool instrument, and the website has about 5000 members, all vibraphone players.”

Moving from the WorldWideWeb to closer landscapes, Miceli is quick to call Philadelphia and Chris’ Jazz Cafe his home. “Philly is a very traditional area where I fell in love with straight-ahead playing. So many great bass players and drummers have come from Philly. This is truly a wonderful place to spend your life playing jazz.”

When you ask him about his local heroes, Miceli is quick to say ’Larry McKenna,’ his longtime mentor and earliest jazz teacher. That McKenna still teaches Miceli says a lot about both artists.

“For the past 15 years, up until COVID, I travelled around the world, all based on my online presence. I would tell people about Larry McKenna and they would say they have a Larry McKenna in their town… I would go hear their Larry McKenna and think, “Nope that’s not a Larry McKenna. My Larry McKenna is a Philadelphia treasure.” Miceli is also quick to add his group, The Philly 5, as his pack: John Swana, Chris Farr, Madison Rast and Byron Landham, musicians he treasures for their skill and life-lessons beyond music.

Miceli is fond of discussing how similarly minded local players (“like pianist Tom Lawton”) like himself forever wanted to play the mad, magical music of Thelonious Monk, and did so through Monkadelphia, and albums such as Crepescule (2010), to say nothing of his own leader effort, Thelonious 4 Meets Tony Miceli (2013).

“This was the learning experience of all learning experiences,” said Miceli of commencing Monkadelphia’s live experience at Silk City on 5th and Spring Garden. “I went in and asked if we could play here on Sunday nights for no money. Just let us play. We will start when we want, take breaks when we want, and end when we want.” Together with Lawton, Swana, Chris Farr, Micah Jones, and Jim Miller, Miceli memorized every Monk tune, and mesmerized crowds, just as he had playing rock with The Rock Band and its leap into becoming The (Paul) Jōst Project.

“These rock songs were my standards, the music I grew up with. I took “Inna Gadda Davida and just stripped it down to the baseline line and melody and it was like a jazz standard. I loved this music and wanted to play it like I play standards and that’s what I did with two other Philly musicians, Kevin MacConnell and Butch Reed—play Pink Floyd, Led Zep, Hendrix and more.”

Miceli could only have those sorts of adventures with Philly musicians, in his humble opinion, as Philly jazz is nothing but an adventure. Whether he is teaching (University of the Arts, Temple University, Settlement Music School), gigging, or releasing true solo albums (just Miceli and his vibes on, say, Invitation), he is an advocate for the Philly jazz community.

“Mainly, because I believe in it and believe in the music. To me, Philly is a no BS town. People are not fake in Philly, they are to the point. To play jazz you can’t be fake, you have to play honestly and work hard at the music.”

“Mainly, because I believe in it and believe in the music. To me, Philly is a no BS town. People are not fake in Philly, they are to the point. To play jazz you can’t be fake, you have to play honestly and work hard at the music.”

This self-proclaimed “mover and shaker,” comes with a solid-state credo and life-lessons to work by. “My personal motto is GIVE AND TAKE,” exclaimed Tony Miceli. “That’s what each of us should be doing. It’s not cool if you’re giving and not taking and it’s especially not cool if you’re taking and not giving.”

Coltrane Watch: Demolition Update, Community Planning

by Suzanne Cloud

The Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation (SMCDC) issued a press release on the status of the Coltrane House on May 3, 2021, and I called Tonnetta Graham, President of the SMCDC, the next day to get some clarity on a few things.

First, some takeaways from the press release:

  • Announced the completion of the John Coltrane Museum and Cultural Arts Center Site Feasibility Study for the historic Coltrane House located at 1511 North 33rd Street.
  • The SMCDC aims to expand the footprint of Coltrane’s jazz legacy beyond his former home, by also preserving the adjacent houses (6 properties) along the residential row.
  • This plan is in partnership with the current owners of the Coltrane House.
  • The SMCDC plans to restore the house as a museum and preserve the architectural character of the housing row to create a gateway to Strawberry Mansion. 
  • These plans include the development of a world class venue where jazz can be heard, studied, and appreciated.
  • Future activity will include engagement with community stakeholders and a robust fundraising and capital campaign.
  • The SMCDC asks that volunteer offers of planning and professional services be directed to coltranemcac@strawberrymansioncdc.org.

Tonnetta Graham told me that the house next door to the Coltrane House (1509) that was sold by the Gadson Estate to another party will NOT be demolished but will be preserved for the row with the façade intact. She also said that “making a plan will be centered on the most sensible option” and encourages stakeholders (members of the jazz community) to get in touch to help strategize the future of the block. Graham also said that there might be some funding from the city and both state and federal funding. Importantly, the SMCDC has a signed agreement from the Gadson family that asserts that, after restoration, the Coltrane House will be reserved for community use.Read the entire press release HERE

Hometown Hero: Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon

by Matt Silver | photo courtesy of the artist

There’s a lot you can do with a sense of rhythm, a way with words, and a knack for telling a good story, but you have to be willing to persevere. 

Allow Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon’s story to illustrate. 

A Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, the award-winning poet and playwright — an associate professor of urban theater in Temple University’s theater department — has published a pair of anthropology texts, eight volumes of poetry, two spoken word albums, and has had about two-dozen plays produced, including 2010’s Shot! (Requiem for a Bullet), the first Temple Theater production invited to be presented at the Kennedy Center.

The Philadelphia native and Philadelphia High School for Girls alum started out as a journalist.

“I didn’t know that I could have a career as a [creative] writer,” said Williams-Witherspoon, who went on to major in journalism at Howard University, where she was also on the debate and forensics team and active in the performance poetry scene. “That wasn’t something that was widely taught, particularly as a Black writer. We ran across Lorraine Hansberry; we’d run across Jimmy Baldwin; I knew about James Weldon Johnson and Paul Laurence Dunbar and Claude McKay. But I didn’t know how they got to be that. So in my head, writing meant journalism, meant newspapers.”

After graduating from Howard, Williams-Witherspoon, just married, moved to Houston. She marshaled clips from her time as a reporter for The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper, and arranged for interviews with Houston’s prominent daily papers.

“The guy looked at my clips and peeled through my portfolio,” she recalled. “And then he looked up at me and said, ‘Howard University, that’s a negro school, right?’”

Williams-Witherspoon still laughs incredulously about that moment in 1980.

“When he called me a ‘negro,’ I was like ‘uh-oh, that’s not gonna workout.’”

But soon after, still in Houston, Williams-Witherspoon almost literally took a flyer on a longshot, answering an advertisement in a community paper looking for a director—for a play.

“I needed the job, so I applied— and I got it,” Williams-Witherspoon recalls. “I directed a cast of 17 in a musical called Where Were You in ’65 by Thomas Meloncon, and got bitten by the bug.

“So then, I had to somehow connect the love for writing, the love for poetry, the love for literature—and now drama. The rest is history; I started writing plays and acting and directing, and that’s where I am now.”

“So then, I had to somehow connect the love for writing, the love for poetry, the love for literature—and now drama. The rest is history; I started writing plays and acting and directing, and that’s where I am now.”

In a world of hyper-specialization, Williams-Witherspoon is a modern Renaissance woman; the accolades she’s received for work in multiple mediums—from a Pew Charitable Trust fellowship in script writing to the National Poetry Competition’s “Spirit of the World” award—only affirm this. But while the awards bring prestige and name recognition, they’re just a small part of a much larger footprint Williams-Witherspoon has left on the Temple University community over nearly 25 years.

Though anecdotal evidence would suggest her courses can be challenging, both academically and emotionally—it’s theater after all—she’s beloved by her students because she challenges them to cultivate the tools they already have within to become legit storytellers.

“Those moments that stick in your spirit and your heart and your soul, those are usually tied to a good story,” Williams-Witherspoon says. “So I ask [students] to think about their most memorable moments in life—whether it’s the happiest memory or the scariest memory or the saddest. If you can recreate that story; if you can capture that moment so that it no longer just has resonance for one individual, but now has resonance for a whole bunch of people, then I feel like I’ve succeeded.”

“If you can recreate that story; if you can capture that moment so that it no longer just has resonance for one individual, but now has resonance for a whole bunch of people, then I feel like I’ve succeeded.”

Where she’s unquestionably succeeded is liberating poetry from the one-dimensionality of the page. Like Whitman and the Beats and the founders of the Black Arts Movement, Williams-Witherspoon believes that poetry begs to be put to music, to be sung, recited, and chanted. 

In those contexts, the poem’s best friend becomes a beat. And few classes of people know how to provide an accompanying, amplifying beat better than jazz musicians.

So it’s only natural, Williams-Witherspoon says, that there’s been so much overlap over the years between Philly’s performance poetry scene and its jazz scene.

“Coming up, when you would go into the various bars, there was always a musician—somebody playing the sax or a horn or a drum,” Williams-Witherspoon said of the so-called Po-Jazz Connection of the late ’80s and early ’90s, a vibrant cross-fertilization of poetry and jazz that routinely played out at places like Warmdaddy’s (Old City), Bacchanal (13th and South), Zanzibar Blue (basement of the Bellevue), and upstairs at Fairmount’s London Grille.

Jazz and poetry just clicked.

“I think it’s because both the poet as well as the musician are working with rhythm and beat. So there’s musicality in both the poem as well as the composition that’s being played. Once you find each other’s rhythm, it becomes this wonderful interplay of voices, and it’s a movement; it’s a symphony.”

“I think it’s because both the poet as well as the musician are working with rhythm and beat. So there’s musicality in both the poem as well as the composition that’s being played. Once you find each other’s rhythm, it becomes this wonderful interplay of voices, and it’s a movement; it’s a symphony.”

During the Po-Jazz Connection’s heyday, recalls Williams-Witherspoon, you could walk into one of the aforementioned bars and find giants of the Black Arts Movement like Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka sharing a stage with local jazzers like Warren Oree’s Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble.

It was the creative process in the raw, with a high degree of improvisation and a low degree of curation.

“There was never any need for rehearsal; you just kind of went out there and did your thing,” says Williams-Witherspoon, who speaks nostalgically about once collaborating in this very manner with legendary jazz vibraphonist Roy Ayers. “It’s almost reminiscent of what it would’ve been like in jazz clubs back in [Billie Holiday’s] day, when folks, extemporaneously, would come up and sing a riff or try a moment. And the poets did the same thing with the musicians. It was just wonderful— absolutely wonderful.”

The scene has changed somewhat, suspects Williams. “I don’t think we have the regular poetry scene like we used to have.” 

Though, she concedes with a laugh, “I’m an O.G., an old-head; I don’t get out as much.”

Still, she’s committed to teaching the new generation the various elements of her craft(s); she hopes they become keepers of the flame.

“Performance poets have to be fluid. They have to be malleable. They have to be able to alter their performance to fit any venue and any audience,” Williams-Witherspoon says in her naturally rhythmic manner of speaking. “The music has to be there, the blocking—all of it combines to make this unique theatrical event.

“As a teacher, my hope is that I’m communicating this to a whole new generation who will be carrying it on even when I’m not here.”

Hometown Hero: Suzanne Cloud

by A.D. Amorosi | photo by Anthony Dean

Philadelphia’s Suzanne Cloud has maintained a life of making dynamic jazz and creating opportunities to benefit jazz, further jazz, and document jazz. So much so, on both sides of the ledger, that it’s hard to know where to start.

Should we begin with smoky vocal-filled albums such as 1986’s I Like It with the late, legendary Eddie Green? That she was a founding executive director of Jazz Bridge, which helps local jazz and blues musicians in times of medical and financial crisis? That Cloud is director of the Philadelphia Jazz Legacy Project, dedicated to finding and archiving elements of local jazz history? That she is the curator-editor of The Real Philadelphia Book’s second edition, which hosts compositions from 300+ jazz and blues writers? That she is one of the journalists in town who still covers arts and culture for the few publications that still care about arts and culture?

“Start with the fact that I didn’t even start with jazz, but, rather show tunes and disco,” Cloud said with a laugh. “My first love was musical theater from the time I was a kid,” she added, pointing out productions of The Pajama Game, The Fantastiks, Carousel, and South Pacific, for which she toured. “Rock and pop wasn’t my thing, though I did listen to WIBG. And when I really started singing professionally, it was either middle-of-the-road material or downtown disco stuff with a band called Autumn.”

What turned Cloud’s head around to jazz was the “vocal gymnastics” of Sarah Vaughn singing “I’ll Remember April,” as witnessed on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, circa 1978. “I’ll never forget it. When I first started singing in front of people I was doing show tunes, very planned out material. I’d sung that canon since age 8. Same with disco—you had to sing it like the record. Seeing Vaughn set me off in a whole different trajectory. Do you want to do things exactly the same way every night, or do you want to scat-sing, have fun and experiment. There was no choice.” 

With the change of music came a change of scene, with Cloud finding her tribe immediately in Philly’s jazz milieu and its masters; cats such as Catalyst keyboardist Eddie Green (“with whom I worked until he died”), bassist Tyrone Brown, pianist Uri Caine and saxophonist Denis DiBlasio. “I worked with giants,” she said, enthusiastically. “And I remember every bit of it.” And she does: ask her about getting arrested in Collingswood, New Jersey in what she believes was a racially charged incident with Green, or how the City of Philly gave its first so-called ‘jazz’ related award to an outsider, or the details of any giving recording session—recent sessions, included. She has answers.

“When I met Philly’s jazz community—one that was welcoming and supportive, no matter what—I met the community I would be a part of for the rest of my life. It was just a feeling of recognition.”

“When I met Philly’s jazz community—one that was welcoming and supportive, no matter what—I met the community I would be a part of for the rest of my life. It was just a feeling of recognition.”

Being welcoming and supportive “no matter what,” figures into all elements of Cloud’s life, most philanthropically, when you consider Jazz Bridge, the organization she co-founded with fellow vocalist Wendy Simon, and how an ailing Eddie Green inspired their charity. “I wanted to live within Philly’s jazz community any way I could,” she said. Jazz Bridge was and is but a part of all that.

Take into account, too, that Cloud was trained as a nurse, and had returned to college for a graduate degree in history, and you get a feel for where she was coming from with all of her extracurricular activities, the not-for-profit Jazz Bridge included. 

“Having played so many jazz clubs for so many years, I witnessed the greatest-of-the-greatest musicians just die like dogs, with no health insurance, no money to support them, and no one there to help. When Eddie got sick, that was his position. That couldn’t stand. And without Wendy, Jazz Bridge would not have happened. We would not have been able to deal with, and aid, musicians in crisis.” Jazz Bridge is still in operation (Cloud left in 2018), and its history of aid merits its own Hometown Heroes page.

Her work with the Jazz Legacy Project and her editing of The Real Philadelphia Book stems—as much of her life does—from this city’s “take” on that music, its soulful vibe and vibrant version of the jazz aesthetic, its hard, beloved compositions and its often secret history. 

“I was always sad that people didn’t realize that their favorite song was written by a local jazz composer,” says Cloud, “or that so many of these personal or professional jazz stories were lost to time, that these talented people I loved and cared about would go without recognition. The City certainly wasn’t doing anything about this.” 

Like everything else, Cloud took it upon herself and made things happen. 

“They mark the fact that Philly jazz and its musicians are important, and that we must be counted. Listen to what we do. Listen to what we’re about. It’s my mission, my calling, to make sure that we are accounted for.”

“They mark the fact that Philly jazz and its musicians are important, and that we must be counted. Listen to what we do. Listen to what we’re about. It’s my mission, my calling, to make sure that we are accounted for.”  

In the account, Cloud’s own contributions to the Philadelphia jazz scene—her fierce protection of the musicians, her love and respect for the music, of her enchantment with our city’s history and her attempts to document it—are duly noted on both the ledger lines and staff lines, and will be for years to come.

Hometown Hero: Trapeta Mayson

By Bobbi Booker | Photo courtesy of the artist

As Philadelphia’s fifth Poet Laureate, Trapeta Mayson merges her love of art with her love of community through words often accompanied by jazz music. Her poems often reflect her life story: born in West Africa, raised in North Philly, and now a licensed clinical social worker residing in Germantown. 

“Philadelphia is home,” shares Mayson. “I immigrated to this city with my family and my siblings when I was just a young person in elementary school in the 70s. Philadelphia is where I grew up. This is the place that embraced me, and this is where I still live and thrive. So my relationship with the city is complicated, but it is one of those loving, complicated relationships. I would say it’s a dual home because I still consider myself very much a daughter of this place as much as I consider myself a daughter in Liberia.” 

Mayson has long been committed to the power of poetry to engage and inspire people throughout Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. Her words honor the immigrant experience while upholding the day-to-day struggles of everyday people.

“I came into my own in Philadelphia, as a woman, as an artist, and as a person who’s wrestling with injustices on all different levels,” Mayson reflects. “Philadelphia has really shaped me in my growth and, I would say, the biggest thing is this voice. I grew into a confident and poetic voice, a voice that is really interested in social change in a positive way in our communities. Philly provided the blueprint and the foundation stories. It is a great city that made me an artist with a strong voice who wants to really be a part of and advocate for the community.”

“I came into my own in Philadelphia, as a woman, as an artist, and as a person who’s wrestling with injustices on all different levels. Philadelphia has really shaped me in my growth and, I would say, the biggest thing is this voice. I grew into a confident and poetic voice, a voice that is really interested in social change in a positive way in our communities.”

In addition to her long career as a poet, author and educator, she has released two music and poetry projects—SCAT and This Is How We Get Through—in collaboration with internationally acclaimed jazz guitarist Monnette Sudler.

“There’s such mutual appreciation and respect. Many jazz artists are writers themselves, and the sensibilities are there, the imagery, all these things,” Mayson explained. “When I collaborate with Monnette, I’m very much conscious of the desire to match that level of excellence, and I want to make sure that I’m up on my game. And I think that’s what interacting and engaging with jazz musicians will do. They almost invite you to be flexible and to be creative and will be very open, so there’s a lot of give and take. And that’s what I enjoy the most, but you have got to come correct.”

Last year, the poet pondered ways to combine performance with Covid-safe dissemination. The final product resulted in the recent launch of the Healing Verse Philly Poetry Line (1-855-763-6792), a toll-free telephone line that offers callers a 90-second poem by a Philadelphia-connected poet.

“Since its inception, we’ve gotten hundreds of calls, so it’s pretty popular,” notes Mayson. “Although it’s intended to support the Philadelphia region, a lot of people are calling from other places in the nearby tri-state area and beyond, with calls from Atlanta and a number of places. So it’s been quite interesting.”

Although she works full time, she is compelled to use poetry to promote healing with hundreds of youth and adults in schools, cultural institutions, correctional facilities, shelters, and numerous other community venues across Philly.

“It’s how you choose to get involved in the community that determines what it will produce for you.”

 “It’s how you choose to get involved in the community that determines what it will produce for you,” says Mayson. “Give the city some love, and the city does love you back. So there are many ways to do that—and I like to tell these stories that highlight and amplify the folks that I come into contact with every day.”

Hometown Hero: Tyrone Brown

by Suzanne Cloud | Photo ©sg koezle- info@jazzfoto.net

Bassist and composer Tyrone Brown has been an all-around musical maestro in town for a long time. Leafing through the jazz listings of the last four decades in Philadelphia, it’s easy to see that Brown has played everywhere with almost everybody in the city. 

One night, he’d be with pianist Bob Cohen and singer Donna Jean at the Borgia Café. Another night, Brown would be alongside trombonist Slide Hampton, drummer Philly Joe Jones, pianist Eddie Green, and Johnny Coles at Barber’s Hall at Broad and Oxford. There’s an ad for the Painted Bride where Brown would be holding down the root with pianist Sumi Tonooka, percussionist Akira Tana, and singer Michelle Beckham. And then there’s the bassist at the Philly Mellon Festival with drummer and bebop pioneer Max Roach’s Double Quartet with saxophonist Odean Pope, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, and the Uptown String Quartet. You can hear this instrumental configuration on the bebop classic “Confirmation,” and if you look closely, you’ll see violinist Diane Monroe in the mix!

Even with Brown’s ubiquitous presence in Philly clubs and venues, it wasn’t a given that he’d end up as a professional musician. His brother-in-law, Rashid Ali, had a huge record collection that included Charles Mingus’ album The Clown.

“It inspired me. I had a solid career as a furniture upholster and had no interest in becoming a professional musician, but I knew I had to have a bass in my life at least as a hobby so I purchased one.” 

And within six months, Brown said goodbye to textiles and hello to life as a full-time musician.

“I got a call from a band leader to audition for his band. It was magic and I never returned to upholstering again. I was driven and compelled to live up to the great history of Philadelphia bassists.”

“I got a call from a band leader to audition for his band. It was magic and I never returned to upholstering again. I was driven and compelled to live up to the great history of Philadelphia bassists.”

Since that time, Tyrone Brown has been ever present—but not just in Philly. He toured and recorded with Max Roach for 19 years all over the world, creating some astounding music. In fact, Brown has recorded 130 albums, including two Gold records (Live at the Bijou and Reed Seed) with Grover Washington, Jr. as part of his legendary band Locksmith. Brown holds forth on two albums with Philly singer Rachelle Ferrell, four with guitarist Pat Martino, and scads of other recordings with Philly notables. 

Harpist Gloria Galante, who co-produced an album with Brown called Kusangala, was quoted in a 1994 Philadelphia Inquirer interview that summed up this bassist’s charm in what could be a cutthroat music biz.

“I call him the silent angel to so many careers in music…you just don’t get to meet genuine people like him every day,” Galante said.

“I call him the silent angel to so many careers in music…you just don’t get to meet genuine people like him every day” — Harpist Gloria Galante

But there is no doubt that Tyrone Brown always had his eye on his own experimentations as a leader and composer. And it seems to have all started when he was booked for a solo bass concert at the Moers Jazz Festival in Germany in 1996. He so entranced the thousands of people there that he was immediately offered a record contract by the festival director, Burkhard Hennen. Of course, Hennen felt Americans weren’t sophisticated enough to dig an entire album of just bass, so he asked Brown if he had any other ideas. He did, and The Tyrone Brown String Septet – Emerald Valley, was born. His work with strings would extend to other recordings, stretching the boundaries of presentation. 

Most of these would include a collaboration with master violinist John Blake Jr. One recording received special acclaim: A Sky With More Stars: A Suite for Frederick Douglass. Brown’s album was an 11-part suite set to 13 speeches by the great abolitionist. Philadelphia Inquirer jazz critic Karl Stark wrote in 2010, “Brown and Blake, both lions of the Philly jazz scene, compose music that wraps around the words, or plays between the speeches, all in service to a quaint 19th century vibe.”

Growing up in North Philadelphia, the heart of black culture and music in the 1940s through the early 1960s, Brown had a very fateful opportunity that would change his life when he was hired in 1970 to teach underprivileged children in the Model Cities Cultural Arts Program back in his old neighborhood. It was there that Brown would collaborate with pianist Eddie Green and saxophonist Odean Pope. That partnership would result in the musicians recording as part of the ground-breaking funk-fusion band Catalyst that would later be re-issued in 1999 as a boxed set titled The Funkiest Band You Never Heard

The city had an enormous impact on Tyrone Brown, and it’s clear the local jazz audience has shaped his aesthetic. 

“Philadelphia fans are also known to be extremely supportive of local musicians, as they regard us as being their own! That also served as a motivating factor to keep my musical standards high, as they are also known to let you know when you’re not living up to the Philly tradition of staying progressive!” 

“Philadelphia fans are also known to be extremely supportive of local musicians, as they regard us as being their own! That also served as a motivating factor to keep my musical standards high, as they are also known to let you know when you’re not living up to the Philly tradition of staying progressive!”   Yes, Tyrone Brown has won a plethora of awards, and in addition to a fellowship from The Pew Center of Arts & Culture, he has also received recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Performing Arts, The Independence Foundation, as well as composition and recording commissions from the University of Rochester. Brown was twice voted ‘Best Acoustic Jazz Bassist’ by Philadelphia Magazine, but it wasn’t because of all the institutional acclaim. His loyal fans would probably tell you it was the Friday nights at Slim Cooper’s on Stenton Avenue with pianist Eddie Green and drummer Jim Miller when that powerhouse trio would slam into Duke Pearson’s “Last Time I Saw Jeannine.” And the room would go wild.

Hometown Hero: Shirley Scott

by A.D. Amorosi

There are certainly unique and flavorful totems of what it means to be Philadelphian: soft pretzels, cheese-steaks and everything Tastykake. You can get them baked and doled out in other towns, but they’re never quite as delicious as when they are made and served from home. 

The same thing is true of Philadelphia’s deep baked-and-bred brand of jazz—and the soulful sound of the bluesy Hammond B-3 organ when heard in a trio setting. Think Jimmy Smith. Think Charles Earland. Think Bill Doggett, Richard “Groove” Holmes, and the entire DeFrancesco family. All were kings of Philly’s B-3 Hammond organ grind.

No pure purveyor or sonic chef, however, made work as tasty and truthful as Shirley Scott, “The Queen of the Organ.” With signatures such as a light touch, a love of luscious melody, and a drive toward accessibility, Scott changed the way jazz aficionados felt the B-3’s sound, as something less heavy, but more heavenly, without missing a beat. 

With signatures such as a light touch, a love of luscious melody, and a drive toward accessibility, Scott changed the way jazz aficionados felt the B-3’s sound, as something less heavy, but more heavenly, without missing a beat. 

To stick with the running concept of food for the moment, Scott even managed to give her first notable inroads onto the jazz charts a culinary theme: for saxophonist Eddie Davis, and with her contributions to his deeply grooving and deep fried funky classics, the ”Cookbook” albums and his 1958 hit song ”In the Kitchen.”

Born in Philadelphia in March of 1934, it was as if Shirely Scott was meant for jazz, built for jazz. Her father had his own speakeasy jazz club in the basement of the Scott family home. Her brother played saxophone, and Scott started playing brass when she got to Philadelphia Girls’ High school. Though the trumpeter was good enough to win a scholarship and play in All-City school programs, it is legend that at one point in her teens, she left home to play piano with a touring road band (it is also storied that Scott played in a trio with saxophonist John Coltrane in support of a vocal group, the Hi-Tones).

Restlessness such as that may have driven her to the Hammond B-3 organ in the first place, amazed and influenced by nights with organist Jackie Davis during his long residency at Club Harlem in Philadelphia, the rise of fellow Philadelphian, Jimmy Smith within jazz’s ranks, and the fullness and flexibility of the instrument. 

“Davis and Smith were truly the first two organists who inspired me to pick up the instrument,” said Scott during a video-taped 1998 interview during her time as a Professor at Cheyney University. “Milt Buckner, Wild Bill Davis, and Larry Young too.”

When tenor-saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis sought out replacements for his popular combo in 1955, Scott was hired, and made a sensation with “In The Kitchen,” as well as being highlighted on the saxophonist’s albums and spotlighted during his live shows. Davis was even rumored to have gone so far—with a hint of the misogynistic—to lighting her legs and feet so that they could show off her femininity and showcase the manner in which Scott played the bass lines on the foot pedals. 

Leaving Davis’ band in 1960, she continued the road dog life, here and abroad with her reputation and talents at its highest—a love of complex bebop harmony, mixed with a driving rhythmic heft, combined with the inspiration of gospel. All that made her the perfect complement to tenor jazz soul saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, with whom she collaborated, focusing on jazz’s pre-fusion, funkier depths. They married in 1961 and their work through the 60s and 70s came to redefine the Hammond B-3’s groove as something sensualist, emotional, and even more aggressively rhythmic than it had been in its illustrious past.

She continued the road dog life, here and abroad with her reputation and talents at its highest—a love of complex bebop harmony, mixed with a driving rhythmic heft, combined with the inspiration of gospel.

But eventually, her relationship with Turrentine, both personal and professional, splintered. So she moved on to work with the Al Grey-Jimmy Forrest combo as a pianist—even as the spotlight dimmed on bluesy organ-based jazz—but brought it all back home with a fusion-y tone, with the B-3-hammond in tow on albums for the Muse label in the 1980. Scott also amazed jazz audiences by showing off her piano skills on several albums, showing off a deep and reverent love for gospel and bop, here presented with the airs of classical music.

By that time, however, Scott moved into her other love—education, and teaching the ins-and-out of jazz history at Cheyney University, Pennsylvania, where she had originally picked up her own BA and MA degrees. Scott became part of Bill Cosby’s Philly-filmed game show. You Bet Your Life, in 1992 and 93, as well as serving as a church choir director. Much of her latter-day fame revolved around her lawsuit with the manufacturers of the diet drug, fen-phen, which gave her life-altering heart and lung problems. But, she won an $8m settlement and spent her remaining years at home, in Philly, with the quiet care of her family. 

Shirely Scott, the Queen of the Organ, left us in March, 2002, but she will always be Philadelphia jazz royalty, and her music will always feed our souls.

Hometown Hero: Hasaan Ibn Ali

by Shaun Brady | Photo by Larry Fink

For more than half a century, pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali has been the dark matter of Philadelphia jazz —a mysterious force whose presence has been felt more through his influence on others than via his own work.

In large part, that’s due to the fact that there has been very little to actually hear. Hasaan’s debut album, the prophetically titled The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hassan, was released in 1965 and remained the only available document of the pianist’s work well into the next millennium. In lieu of further recordings, Hasaan’s legend continued to grow in the shadows, championed by such peers as saxophonist Odean Pope and leaving its imprint on the artistry of notable Philadelphians including John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and Reggie Workman.

That all changed in April 2021, when Omnivore Recordings unearthed Hasaan’s follow-up recording session from the fall of the same year and released it as Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album. Featuring Pope on tenor sax, Art Davis on bass and Kalil Madi on drums, the album brings a welcome set of new original compositions to light, reinforcing Hasaan’s reputation as an ingenious eccentric along the lines of Thelonious Monk and other singular musical imaginations.

“Hasaan was a powerful force that emerged from a generation of local musical explorers,” Pope says. “He was a person that wanted to enrich understanding and was a forerunner in the evolution of jazz music.”

“Hasaan was a powerful force that emerged from a generation of local musical explorers,” Pope says. “He was a person that wanted to enrich understanding and was a forerunner in the evolution of jazz music.”

Born William Henry Lankford, Jr. in 1931, Hasaan got his start playing boogie-woogie piano, but upon hearing the bebop pianist Elmo Hope quickly became enamored of the emerging modernist style in jazz. He applied himself to his instrument with vigorous focus, allegedly influencing Coltrane’s own storied practice regimen. 

Pope was drawn into that intense study simply by virtue of being a close neighbor of Hasaan’s in North Philly. “We all lived in a sort of maze,” the saxophonist recalls. “I was living three blocks away from Hassan—I was on the 2200 block of Colorado Street and he was on Gratz street in the 2300s. Benny Golson and Sonny Fortune were right around the corner. Lee Morgan was in a nice townhouse in the same neighborhood. And Trane was on 33rd Street. But I was in my parents’ basement practicing one day and somebody tapped on the window.”

Apparently lured by the sound of Pope’s tenor, Hasaan invited the saxophonist to his practice sessions beginning the following morning. “The next morning I was at Hasaan Ibn Ali’s house at ten minutes to nine,” Pope continues. 

“His father came to the door and let me in and at nine o’clock sharp, Hasaan came down from the second floor with nothing but a robe on. He went directly to the piano and started practicing. Ten minutes later, his father brought his breakfast to the piano. After he ate his breakfast I took my instrument out and we started practicing from 9:30 up until about noon. Then Hasaan’s father brought his lunch to the piano, he ate his lunch and we played a couple of games of chess. Then we practiced again from 1:00 until around 5:00 in the afternoon. Then his mother, who was a domestic worker, came in and gave him a couple of packs of Viceroy cigarettes and a couple of dollars.”

Following this uniquely regimented routine, the two would perform small private shows at local houses for, Pope describes, “a couple of dollars and some cake and tea.” But the challenging nature of Hasaan’s music, which Metaphysics co-producer Alan Sukoenig calls “a logical extension of Monk with technique like Bud Powell,” combined with his at times unpredictable behavior, resulted in a struggle to find gigs on the local club scene. 

“I was getting gigs until I started practicing with him,” Pope says. “After I started getting involved in the evolution of his music, I stopped getting gigs. When Hasaan would play, all the saxophone players would get off the bandstand because they couldn’t follow his very modern changes. So we’d play all day and then go to these houses each night. That was our job for the next few years.” 

Max Roach ultimately championed Hasaan to Atlantic Records, leading to the recording of his debut and the audience-courting decision to give the iconic drummer top billing. But shortly after recording what should have been his sophomore release, Hasaan was jailed on narcotics charges and the label shelved the album. It was presumed lost in a 1978 warehouse fire, until Porter persuaded Omnivore producer Patrick Milligan to delve into the Atlantic vaults, where a copy was discovered.

Hasaan’s fate was far more tragic. He continued to be plagued by personal demons, combined with the frustration of Atlantic’s refusal to release the quartet recordings, and he became a recluse in his parents’ home. A 1972 fire took the house, his mother’s life, and his stockpile of music, a disaster from which Hasaan never fully recovered. He suffered a stroke and passed away in relative obscurity in 1981.

“Hasaan was said to have influenced almost all the great musicians who came out of Philadelphia,” muses Sukoenig, who befriended Hasaan while a student at the University of Pennsylvania during the early 1960s. “On the other hand, he was sort of an outcast. It’s hard to reconcile those two ideas.”

“Hasaan was said to have influenced almost all the great musicians who came out of Philadelphia,” muses Sukoenig, who befriended Hasaan while a student at the University of Pennsylvania during the early 1960s. “On the other hand, he was sort of an outcast. It’s hard to reconcile those two ideas. But in my experience, Hasaan was a warm person, quite open and fun to be with, but he was an offbeat person who might have mystified other musicians.”

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