Jazz Philadelphia

A Shot in the Arm for the Arts

Jazz Philadelphia President’s Letter from Gerald Veasley

The line of people snaked around the block looked like it wasn’t going to ever move. Yet there was very little grumbling from the participants in spite of the frigid morning air. Everyone wanted to be here. This wasn’t a queue for a Black Friday sale on televisions or to buy tickets to the first of the live shows we can’t wait to see.

These were folks who assembled at Deliverance Church in North Philadelphia to receive a shot in the arm. The Covid-19 vaccine was finally here and so were we, seeking an end to the isolation we had experienced for nearly a year.

I had resolved that whenever a vaccine became available I would take it:  I would shed a litany of concerns, including my suspicion of “Operation Warp Speed”, an aversion to needles, impatience for long lines, and the ignoble legacy of the Tuskegee Experiment. 

I would get a shot in the arm so I could live more freely, and protect my community.

It should be noted that the distrust of the medical establishment, especially among Black people, has been well earned. The Tuskegee Experiment is just the most well-known and egregious betrayal of trust. Black people have experienced a long documented history of sub-standard care and neglect by the medical profession. 

Taking that track record into account, vaccine hesitancy makes sense. However, Black people have also been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, the most likely to contract coronavirus and die from it. Given those brutal facts, for me, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Vaccine hesitancy makes sense. However, Black people have also been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, the most likely to contract coronavirus and die from it. Given those brutal facts, for me, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Meanwhile, though some folks are hesitant, there are others who want the vaccine and can’t get it. If that’s you and you live in the Philadelphia area, there are resources below to help. 

Finally, there’s another important reason I support getting vaccinated: I want our arts and culture sector to rebound. Those of us who work in concert halls, nightclubs, museums, and theaters rely on robust audience attendance to make the business of arts and culture work.

It’s hard to envision audiences coming back in sufficient numbers without reaching herd immunity. For that to happen, we need 240 million people to be vaccinated. As of this date, according to the CDC, 43 million people have been fully vaccinated and about 79.4 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. 

Are you ready to join the growing number of people who have overcome their hesitancy?

Think of your vaccination as a shot in the arm for the arts.

With Love and Respect,

Gerald Veasley

President, Jazz Philadelphia

Vaccination Resources

Black Doctors COVID Consortium

PhilaVax (Phila Dept. of Public Health)

There’s even a Facebook Group that will help you find locations for available vaccines:

PA CoVID Vaccine Match Maker

Coltrane Watch

The Opportunity

By Suzanne Cloud

There have been questions from some quarters about why there is such renewed interest in the Coltrane House, which can be roughly summarized with, “Where was the jazz community all the time the historic home was slowly deteriorating?”

We’ll report next week on the many efforts in the past to save the house, but for now, we’d like for you all to have a study that was done in concert with the community on what the possibilities are for the property, which, it’s important to note, can only be worked on with the consent of the owners. 

This is a 2013 feasibility study by the Preservation Alliance done in concert with many stakeholders in the community. 

A demolition permit for the house next door has been applied for, but not yet approved, by Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and inspections, and we’ll continue to monitor that situation.

Hometown Hero: Alonzo Demetrius

By Shaun Brady | Photo by Katya Krishnan

When trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius arrived at Berklee College of Music in the fall of 2014, he expected to have his musical world opened up to new pathways. What came as a surprise is the way the school broadened his political thinking as well.

The results of both these new awakenings can be heard on Demetrius’ ambitious 2020 debut, Live From the Prison Nation. Incorporating the sampled voices of prison reform activists Angela Davis and Mumia Abu-Jamal, the album simmers with the fierce hope and focused anger that drives political reform.

“When I got to college, it was the first time I was around other young, radical, politically minded people,” Demetrius says. “It was right after Michael Brown was shot and there were riots happening down in Ferguson [Missouri]. I started going to protests and rallies, and that really sparked the flame for me.”

“I started going to protests and rallies, and that really sparked the flame for me.”

The flame of passion for music had been sparked years earlier. Growing up in Plainsboro, New Jersey, Demetrius started out playing piano at the age of 8, but didn’t get serious until he first picked up the trumpet two years later. Opting for instrument tryouts as a way to get out of study hall, he’d almost given up and turned back, reluctantly, to his homework.

“I had tried six or seven instruments, but none of those were speaking to me,” he recalls. “I was walking out and saw some friends trying out trumpet mouthpieces, and everybody was having difficulty getting any sound out of the trumpet. I was like, ‘This can’t be that hard.’ And I got it on the first try, so I figured I’ll roll with this.”

Though Demetrius’ earliest experiences playing trumpet in middle school jazz band involved what he describes as “corny arrangements of rock tunes like ‘Born to Be Wild,’” he soon discovered jazz through encouraging teachers.

“My band teacher, Mr. Woodward, gave me a CD that had this incredible arrangement of ‘Caravan’ by Freddie Hubbard. I’d never heard anything like that before. I listened to that CD over and over and over again.”

Hubbard became a crucial influence, but Demetrius soon found himself drawn to trumpet icons with a somewhat more irreverent approach to the music. “I loved the character Dizzy Gillespie brought to the music,” he explains. 

“Freddie is a very intense personality, but Dizzy was always more playful. I remember being 11 years old and hearing a grown man saying ‘Salt Peanuts’ in kind of a funny way – it catches your ear. Then [you realize] the trumpet playing is out of this world. My favorite trumpet player of all time is Lee Morgan, for [a similar] reason. His character is more sassy and soulful, but it’s the character of their playing that draws me in.”

In his junior year of high school, Demetrius met Philadelphia saxophonist Yesseh Furaha-Ali, who invited him to join a group of peers at the Clef Club on Saturdays. Demetrius soon became a regular at the Broad Street institution, joining a cohort of young players who are now all rising stars: Furaha-Ali, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, drummer Nazir Ebo, and pianist Michael Wooten.

Demetrius, Furaha-Ali and Wooten all made the move to Boston and Berklee together in 2014. While the pianist now tours with the Jonas Brothers, the saxophonist remained in Boston and is a member of Demetrius’ quintet The Ego, which recorded Live From the Prison Nation

The music that Demetrius creates with The Ego reflects both the classic hard bop that first ignited his passion for jazz along with the R&B, gospel and hip-hop that he was raised on. These connect via more contemporary influences like Terence Blanchard, who influenced Demetrius’ use of a variety of pedals and electronic processing to conjure adventurous, otherworldly sounds from his horn.

“I never want to change the sound of the trumpet,” he describes. “I just use effects to add to that sound, that make it bigger, make it travel more, or make it seem like I’m ten trumpets at once.”

The impassioned album was created as Demetrius’ master’s thesis for the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, which he describes as “examining the [crossroads] of being a socially aware citizen and being a musician. What can you do with that platform? What impact can you make?”

“What can you do with that platform? What impact can you make?”

Live From the Prison Nation is also significant as the first release on Ralph Peterson’s Onyx Productions label, especially meaningful given the influential drummer’s passing six months after its release. Peterson, who taught at Berklee, was “one of the most terrifying teachers I’ve ever had,” says Demetrius.

“I’d never had a teacher that was so willing to let you fail. He was super giving and would always help you pick yourself up, but he was never one to shield you from failure. And for me, that was really important. He really shaped my work ethic and helped me understand the role of a mentor.”

The album became Demetrius’ final project before he moved to New York City in the fall of 2019. That new start was cut short by the pandemic, forcing him to move back to New Jersey and take up a sideline in real estate to weather the trying year. While he’d already begun to make some exciting connections in the city, including collaborations with Dezron Douglas and Terri Lyne Carrington, the trumpeter continues to feel a strong tie with Philadelphia.

“I always felt like the people in Philly look at each other as family and really take care of each other.”

“Once I went to the Clef Club, that cemented Philly as my musical home,” he insists. “I like New York, but Philly always has and, to me, always will have a much tighter-knit vibe. New York always seemed intimidating, but I always felt like the people in Philly look at each other as family and really take care of each other.”

Coltrane Watch: Demolition Permits and the Coltrane House

By Suzanne Cloud

Questions surrounding how any person or business gets a demolition permit for a building are rampant in the jazz community, especially when it concerns the John Coltrane House at 1511 North 33rd Street, or in this case, the house at 1509 North 33rd Street, which is attached to the historic home site. The owners of 1509 have applied for, but not yet received, a demolition permit.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) is the only entity in the City of Philadelphia that issues demolition and building permits, and only a few people may request them: the building owner, an attorney for the owner, a licensed contractor, and a licensed expediter (a person licensed with the city to file permits and licenses applications on behalf of another individual).

Additionally, the permit application must be signed by the owner or include an authorization from the owner; the site safety manager and demolition supervisor must be named; all permits must be applied for under the legal address; and if the property was recently sold, a copy of the settlement sheet or deed must be submitted with application.

For an historic building like the John Coltrane House, the Philadelphia Historical Commission must give permission for the permit, but again, it’s important to note that the demolition permit applied for was for the house next to the Coltrane House

To Paraphrase Shakespeare—Here’s the rub

There doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rules to address the situation if a planned demolition is abutting an historic site or if that demolition may be damaging to the structure next door. Reassurances by L&I have been common for demolitions close to other buildings, but there have been accidents. For example, in 2013, an “cut-rate” demolition contractor was held liable for causing the lethal collapse of a Salvation Army store that abutted the building being demolished that was right next door at 22nd and Market Streets. The demolition destroyed the Salvation Army store, killed six people, and injured others. This accident didn’t inspire confidence in the oversight process.

On March 9, 2021, the managing director’s office and L&I issued a press release because of the rising anxiety from the jazz community about the proposed demolition of the house next door to the John Coltrane House.

Here are some of the main points in that press release that are of note:

“The owners of 1509 N. 33rd St., the home next door to the Coltrane House, have applied for permission to demolish the house. The application is under review.” Note: The press release states that L&I is reviewing the application NOT the Philadelphia Historic Commission.

Although, L&I states that they will be closely monitoring the demolition with inspectors “to make sure that they [the demolition contractors] understand their responsibilities and are equipped to put the necessary protections into effect,” the release also says that “although it is next to a historic property, the Historical Commission has no say over whether the owner takes down 1509. [Author’s Italics] The Historical Commission’s authority only applies to a designated property.”

The rest of the press release is full of assurances that L&I will be working closely with the Historic Commission about how the demolition is conducted, but it’s still difficult to see how anyone gets over the statement: “. . . the Historical Commission has no say over whether the owner takes down 1509.”

I contacted the author of the press release, Paul Chrystie at the Office of Planning and Development, and he told me that the Historic Commission “only weighs in if something affects 1511.” He then referred me to Karen Guss, the communications director at L&I, who said the permit is still under review, and she suggested people check the City’s Atlas app under the Licenses and Inspections tab for 1509 N. 33rd Street daily. “It is updated nightly, so a permit issued on a Monday should be listed on Atlas on Tuesday.”

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Hometown Hero: Kendrah Butler-Waters

by Bobbie Booker | Photo Courtesy of Artist’s Website

Kendrah Butler-Waters’ affinity for Philadelphia’s historic musical roots has served as the muse for her creative output as a skilled and imaginative pianist, composer, violinist, and vocalist.

“Philadelphia is one of the premier cities for jazz and a lot of other genres of music as well,” Butler-Waters observed.

Through her classical and jazz training at Settlement Music School and the Mount Airy Cultural Center to studying and touring with nationally and globally recognized performers, Butler-Waters has witnessed the region’s ebb-and-flow, lauded music scene. 

“It’s an insane hub for musicians,” she notes. “All of the musicians who are considered the greats have either lived here, traveled through here, or performed here. And when you think about that rich history, to be from Philly and be a performer from Philly, it’s a huge city of shoes to fill, if you will. Philadelphia, in my eyes, has that same weight as New York, Chicago, or New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.” 

While she is lauded for her performative works, education is at the forefront of Butler Water’s professional endeavors. The multi-instrumentalist earned a dual Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Sociology with a minor in Spanish from Temple University and her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Drexel University. Her students range from the primary grades to masterclasses at multiple universities where she conducts jazz history lessons that explore the popular genre’s influence and connection to today’s music forms.

“People need to see themselves in jazz and to understand that their representation does matter,” explained Butler-Waters. “And not only that, for them to understand how jazz was birthed out of an African American experience of folk songs, shanty tunes, Negro spirituals, plus European traditions of classical music. All of that was smashed and combined to give you what jazz is or what I call Black classical music. Jazz can’t die because of its history. History continues to live—and we just got to keep it going!” 

“People need to see themselves in jazz and to understand that their representation does matter”

Butler-Waters incorporates her worldview into the music she performs and expresses gratitude for others who are also paying the lessons of music advocacy forward. 

“There are so many young artists who are continuing the legacy of jazz and then going back and sharing their artistry,” she added. “The important and integral part is sharing what you’ve learned with the next generation. I think it’s our responsibility to share this amazing art form and its history with the next generation.” 

“Philly has all these amazing firsts that I don’t think a lot of people know about,” the artist said as she described Rev. Richard Allen’s founding of Mother Bethel, the nation’s premier African Methodist Episcopal Church. Butler-Waters also shared that she’s uplifted by the iconic LOVE sculpture, the City of Brotherly Love’s aptly titled and best-known piece of public art.

“Although people say Philly is such a tough city, there are pockets of people who share a lot of love, and the experience that I’ve had in the jazz community has been one that’s been full of love and camaraderie,” said Butler-Waters. ‘It’s been a kind of mountaintop experience, and when I think of that, and how important love is at the center of everything that we should do, and it’s a driving force to being in this city.”

“Although people say Philly is such a tough city, there are pockets of people who share a lot of love, and the experience that I’ve had in the jazz community has been one that’s been full of love and camaraderie”

“Faith Walk,” the musician and scholar’s recently released first solo album, showcases her artistic maneuverability by addressing the trauma, resilience, and beauty of the African American experience. She began the project several years ago, and was a 2015-2016 Jazz Resident with the Kimmel Center focused on “sacred jazz.” Butler-Waters presents spiritually steeped compositions and arrangements enhanced by musical contributors from longtime collaborators Nimrod Speaks, Jeff Scull, Justin Sekelewski, Darryl Jackson, Gusten Rudolph, and V. Shayne Frederick. Ultimately, she says the 14-song music collection was inspired by her family and community.

“I love being an artist here, and I don’t think I would want to live in a different place. Just the richness of history, the people here, the music: I don’t think there’s a better place to have experiences, be an artist, raise a family in this Philadelphia region. It’s so full of history that you can’t help but be inspired to write the music—and for that, I’m grateful.”

Hometown Hero: Nick Lombardelli

By A.D. Amorosi | Photo by Allis Chang

Whether arranging, composing, or sliding the trombone, Nick Lombardelli cuts quite the handsome figure.

That figure could be the roaring vibe of a big, brass-tipped band with a fluid trombone sound as its strong lead. Or that of an orchestra’s sweeping movement. Or a hard bop ensemble with a tense, staccato ‘bone fronting it. Lombardelli gets it, and cuts it, be it commissions for the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia or the Philly Pops Big Band, crafting charts for First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, or digging in for the University of the Arts. 

To start, the young Philadelphian got his initial cues from his family. “My mom taught piano from the house full time, and I started learning from watching her teach as a really little kid, like 3 years old,” says Lombardelli. His mother led a musical family, including an older sister-sax player, and a brother who played trumpet.

While his siblings eventually quit their instruments, Nick kept going on the ‘bone, studying and playing in ‘jazz’ bands in middle and high school, finding like-minded friends in fans of Pat Metheny and John Coltrane.

“When I decided to pursue music professionally, in my senior year, I started to dive into the real stuff: Clifford Brown was the gateway for me. That got the ball rolling.”

Local master percussionist Pablo Batista kept that ball in the air with his “wealth of knowledge regarding Philly music history,” and a collaboration with Lombardelli that has lasted for 6 years. Norman David and the Eleventet was crucial to the UArts student, as was playing with Keith DeStefano’s Puzzlebox, drummer-pianist Mike Boone, and trumpeter John Swana.

“’Bone players like Randy Kapralick, Aaron Goode, Chris Mele and Hailey Brinnel too—Philly is the place to be for creators,” adds Lombardelli. “I’m surrounded by creators, and we all want to support each other. I’ve been so fortunate to build relationships with so many amazing people here.”

“I’m surrounded by creators, and we all want to support each other. I’ve been so fortunate to build relationships with so many amazing people here.”

Advocating for Philly’s jazz community by seeing shows and giving money where and when he can is essential to the trombonist and his vision of the scene. To that end, he has proudly been part of “Mysterious Travelers” from Philadelphia Jazz Project (PJP), in collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia, a monthly series commissioning local musicians to create work based on resources at the Library. 

“When PJP’s Homer Jackson told me I’d be using the resources of the Maps department, I was elated,” says Lombardelli. “I’ve geeked-out over maps since childhood, and now, when I’m bored, I get sidetracked looking at stuff on Google Maps. Checking maps of Philly in different time periods, I noticed how area railroads were established before spaces in between filled with roads and houses. My research focused on how the railroad industry shaped development of the city geographically.”

That’s local love.

That’s local love.

Yet, Lombardelli is thinking outside the box, and beyond the width of his immediate circle when he muses, “We’d all be doing better, though, if we had more involvement outside our circle… to further contribute to the art form.”

That width has meant playing pop alongside Jamie Cullum, Ben Folds, and their events with The Philly POPS. “My pop roots keep me grounded in my writing. To me, it’s all about taste, and a lot of pop is tasteful. If you’ve heard my writing, I don’t like to take it too far out. I really, really like to see how far I can stretch that line, though. I usually know it’s too far if my Mom thinks it’s weird.”

That width has also meant that Lombardelli has been able to fashion solo passion project-compositions such as “Secret Suite,” the embodiment and furthering of many of his influences; from the early inspirations of Metheny and Brown, to Seamus Blake, Freddie Hubbard, Gil Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Hiromi Uehara, Shostakovich, and Mahler.

“I love leaving clues for people,” he says, referring to “Secret Suite”’s cleverly suspenseful gamesmanship. “I love foreshadowing. I love bebop as a language. I love Shostakovich string quartets. I love Birth of the Cool.”

That width and breadth finds Lombardelli spreading his wings, writing charts for Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia (JOP) and the First Presbyterian Church, as well as teaching brass and jazz at Cardinal O’Hara High.

“When I think about writing for JOP,” says Lombardelli, “I think about writing for their Planets concert, a reimagining of Holst’s The Planets for big band, a similar vibe to the Ellington Nutcracker. It was a unique experience reformatting a straight classical piece for big band.”

“Writing my piece for First Pres was a totally different experience. This is my 5th year in the chancel choir there, the only regular singing opportunity that I get, and I have to put in work to hang. There I had to write a setting on Thomas Tallis’ Spem In Alium, a Renaissance piece written for 40 unique voice parts—8 choirs of 5 voices, with no doubling, singing together—a serious masterpiece. I had the words and subject matter, but a blank canvas musically. In the past, I had written vocal parts and sang in choirs, but I had never actually written a choral piece. This was a little more of a process, but the process was really rewarding. 

And teaching? “Any experience leading an ensemble is so valuable,—knowing how to rehearse. I think it’s helped me a lot as a bandleader prepping music for my own projects,” Lombardelli explains. “I can’t stand when someone doesn’t know how to rehearse or lead a band. I think I was way hard on my bands in the past, though.”

Rather than getting bigger while growing, Lombardelli sees his next moves as more intimate and tight. “I’m kind of heading in the opposite direction with my next project and thinking smaller, chordless. I’ve written a bunch of stuff for piano trio, as well as a bunch of big band stuff, and 6-horn stuff. I’ve also written some singer-songwriter stuff. In an ideal world, I’ll get to play and record all of it.”

It’s like his personal motto says, “Do what you dig.”

It’s like his personal motto says, “Do what you dig.” And Nick Lombardelli is digging all that’s jazz and beyond.

Hometown Hero: Jimmy Bruno

By Matt Silver | Photo by Mike Oria

Listen to any of Jimmy Bruno’s records and the lyricism, the feel, that full, round tone guitarists kill for, and that articulation—those notes live rich, sustained lives. It all presents as something that comes so easy. But it’s taken Bruno lots of years, and several stops, for it to sound that easy.  

A pro at 16, by 20 he’d toured with Buddy Rich. And yet, from that point, it’d be nearly 20 more years before the man honored as one of DownBeat’s 75 greatest guitarists ever would release his first jazz album as a leader. 

Raised on Hollywood Street in South Philadelphia, the son of two musical parents, a neighborhood wisecracker might say Bruno was destined for stardom. 

“My mother was the chick singer in the band, and my father was the guitar player,” Bruno said. “And that’s how they met.” 

As an adolescent, Bruno thought he might become a doctor. His father, hip to the hardships of the music business, encouraged the idea. “Have music be something you do for fun,” his father advised, “you know, on the weekends.” 

So it was settled; Jimmy Bruno became a professional musician. 

He began working with local bandleader Bobby Block and soon proved himself so valuable that Block bought him a car so that he could get to and from gigs, mostly weddings and bar mitzvahs.

“There was one caveat, though,” Bruno recalled. “Bobby said, ‘you have to pick up the saxophone player.’”

The saxophone player was Buddy Savitt, a legendary Philly session player who’d played alongside Gene Ammons and Jimmy Giuffre in Woody Herman’s “Second Herd.”

“I was 16, and all these guys were seasoned musicians. I learned so much from guys like Buddy Savitt, Larry McKenna, Bootsie Barnes. That’s really how you learn this music, from older people.”

“I was 16, and all these guys were seasoned musicians. I learned so much from guys like Buddy Savitt, Larry McKenna, Bootsie Barnes. That’s really how you learn this music, from older people.”

Bruno’s education would continue in earnest when, at 19, he auditioned for Buddy Rich’s big band and dodged enough flying drumsticks to make the cut. The learning curve was steep; Rich’s charts were notoriously complex, his tolerance for anything less than perfection notoriously low. And, according to Bruno, his reputation for being a bully wasn’t unwarranted; nor was his reputation for being a genius.

“He would see how far he could push you, especially the new guys,” Bruno remembered. 

“But there will never be another drummer that good ever again. Never. I used to watch his left hand every night; it would blur.”

Fresh off touring with Rich, Bruno was ready to become a jazz sensation. The universe had other plans. 

After a few restless years back in Philly where he overcame any lingering romantic notions of starving artisthood, he and his wife moved to Vegas. For six years (’74-’80), he played for big-time bandleaders like Don Vincent, Doc Severinsen, and Jimmy Mulidore and backed stars like Sinatra, Anthony Newley, and Lena Horne, first at the Sands, later at the Hilton.

“There were only four of those jobs in all of Vegas; I had one at the Hilton. If it hadn’t been for that gig and [later] gigs in L.A., I’d have had no musicians’ pension, I’d have no social security.”

When the business of Vegas started to change—“Bean counters started running those hotels”— Bruno left Vegas to pursue studio work in L.A. Soon, he was working regularly with prominent film composers like Lalo Schifrin.

“They were good times, lots of money. More than Vegas. But that ends, too,” Bruno said, referring to film studios’ belt-tightening and growing penchant for synthesized music by the late ’80s.  “I was 35, and I said to myself ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m gonna go back to Philly.’” 

Back in Philly, organist Trudy Pitts and her husband, drummer Bill Carney (Mr. C), helped Bruno land gigs at neighborhood spots like Chris’ Jazz Café and Jack Prince’s JJ’s Grotto.

Prince couldn’t believe what he was hearing—and couldn’t believe that Bruno wasn’t a household name. He became Bruno’s greatest champion.

“Jack liked jazz, and he taped me every night,” Bruno recalled. “I said, ‘Jack, what are you gonna do with these things?’

“He said, ‘I’m gonna get you a record contract.’”

And he did, with Concord Records.

“[Prince] tortured [Concord founder] Carl Jefferson to death until he listened to this tape,” remembered Bruno, laughing. “Then [Jefferson] called back and said, ‘Do you have more of this?’”

Being a Concord artist would take Bruno around the world, and over the next decade he’d release nearly a dozen records on the label, playing with guitar heroes like Frank Vignola, Howard Alden, and Joe Beck; saxophone colossi like Bobby Watson and Scott Hamilton; and ascending stars like Joey DeFrancesco and Gerald Veasley.

After decades in the profitable-at-times but always grueling music business meat-grinder, Bruno, by 40, had arrived.

“I got to play music that I really liked to play,” Bruno said matter-of-factly. “Before that, I was just a carpenter; the guitar was like my hammer.” 

“I got to play music that I really liked to play,” Bruno said matter-of-factly. “Before that, I was just a carpenter; the guitar was like my hammer.” 

At 67, Bruno no longer needs to use the guitar as a hammer. But nearly four years ago, an accident threw a wrench into everything. He fell in his home recording studio, hit his head and was in a medically induced coma for eight weeks. 

“At one point, every organ failed…and I was on a ventilator. I couldn’t play at all, nothing.”

After a year of rehab, he was ready to play again. The only issue there was some had actually presumed him dead.

“There was this big thing in the Inquirer, and they made it sound like I’d died. I called my booking agent in New York and he said, ‘Jimmy, I’m so glad to hear from you; I thought you’d died last year!’”

Bruno not only returned to playing gigs at his favorite New York haunts— Birdland, Mezzrow, Smalls, the Blue Note— but right before the pandemic, he went abroad and played Blue Note locations in Italy, Beijing, and Shanghai. 

But to Bruno, the music he plays isn’t truly jazz without a live audience. 

When the pandemic hit, Bruno thought he’d retire from playing for audiences and just teach online, something he’s done since 2011. Maybe compose a little, listen to more classical music—he loves Stravinksy, Ravel, Debussy, and “of course, Bach,” whose music he calls “jazz written down.” 

Still, players play. So while we all quarantined, Bruno hosted well-patronized livestream concerts for 28 consecutive weeks with Philly jazzers Dylan Taylor (bass) and Mike DeMonte (drums).

But to Bruno, the music he plays isn’t truly jazz without a live audience. 

“That feedback, that vibe is really important for this music,” he said. “It can’t be art if you’re playing in your basement. You have to have an audience, otherwise you’re just practicing.”

Bruno should know; he’s been at this since 16, from the work-a-day world of musical “carpentry” to being considered one of the greatest jazz guitarists to ever plug into an amp.

“I’ve been so lucky to learn things you just can’t learn in school,” he said. “I think most of it is luck. I really do. You have to have talent and practice so many hours, but it takes luck.”

If a big part of luck is being at the right place at the right time, much of Bruno’s good fortune might be chalked up to his being a Philadelphian. Philly legends helped him on his rise—Bootsie, Larry, and Buddy Savitt taught him how to be a pro; Mr. C and Trudy Pitts helped him re-establish himself on the Philly scene; and Jack Prince didn’t quit until Concord Records heard Bruno play.

Philly’s jazz community was also there for him when he fell.

“When I got sick, we ran out of insurance and things were bad,” Bruno said. “But Jazz Bridge and [vocalist and Jazz Bridge former Executive Director] Suzanne Cloud got a lot of money for my wife while I was still in the hospital. And that’s good stuff…. So I guess good stuff does happen here.” 

Hometown Hero: Diane Monroe

By Suzanne Cloud

Diane Monroe is a rare gem of a musician whose original compositions and arrangements have garnered accolades from both the classical and jazz worlds, and she continues to bridge the divide. Monroe was recognized in 2018 with both a coveted fellowship and a grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, which funded her personal 2019 exploration that joins every part of her musical self: Violin Woman, African Dreams.

Violinist Arnold Steinhardt, founding member and 1st violin of the famed Guarneri String Quartet, knew Monroe as a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, and called her, “a brilliant violinist whose heart, wit, and intelligence give unforgettable meaning to every performance.”

It’s deservedly high praise for our hometown hero, who, as a young girl, learned “Blue Monk” on the piano at her uncle’s knee at age three, and started classical piano lessons at age four at her pianist mother’s urging.

Both were important early mentors who were crucial to Monroe’s development; one wanted her to have an improvisational ear and one insisted on an ability to read music easily. Her entire family was musical, from a revered grandfather who played guitar at rent parties to her cousin Howard Carroll, lead guitarist for the famed gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds.

Monroe always knew she would be a musician and welcomed the challenge to play anywhere and almost any instrument.

In the early 1980s, she played the singer-songwriter circuit in town on guitar with bassist Steve Beskrone and recorder player (and biology professor) Joel Levine, then got her first paying jazz gig on violin with the Max Roach Double Quartet in 1985 when the legendary bebop drummer brought the ground-breaking, jazz/classical Uptown String Quartet (of which Diane Monroe was a founding member) under his wing. Both Max Roach and the Uptown String Quartet catapulted the violinist into major concert halls and key festivals around the world.

She’s been featured at the prestigious Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center and has won numerous awards for her virtuosity. But it would be a mistake to pin this musician down. How often does someone from Philly end up on the soundtrack to Tom Hanks’ film about Fred Rogers, and in the movie Music from the Heart with Meryl Streep?

This West Philly High, Curtis, and University of the Arts graduate is now a bona fide Philadelphia jazz treasure, performing and recording with ensembles led by jazz saxophonists Odean Pope and Bobby Zankel and in small groups with vibraphonist Tony Miceli, Reggie Workman, Monnette Sudler, Tom Lawton, Uri Caine, and Jim Ridl, including her own—the Diane Monroe Quartet.

And she is quick to acknowledge the community that nurtured her every chance she gets. “Philadelphia is unmatched,” said Monroe. “This community includes legends who have shaped the entire jazz culture. I am so grateful to not only be involved in many ways, but also to be surrounded by the incredible musicians (and audiences!) who remain in this city, and who continue to create and teach me how to trust, study, and honor our Philadelphia jazz legacy.”

Let Freedom Ring

// A meditation on the trickiness of Black History Month

By Gerald Veasley //

When my youngest daughter was in middle school, I discovered that Black History Month was a tricky proposition. Her sixth-grade teacher’s announcement of the February events was met by a chorus of mostly-white classmates who collectively groaned, “Do we have to talk about slavery again?” 

My daughter was confused more than dismayed. She didn’t ask for Black History Month and she certainly didn’t request an examination of chattel slavery in America. What do you say to a Black child, your child—any child—in that moment? You might say what I said, “Black History is not all about slavery.” You might explain that it is a season to take note of people who fought through difficult circumstances to accomplish their dreams. In that sense, anyone can learn from Black History Month.

This is a time to celebrate Black Americans for what they’ve accomplished with the measure of freedom they have had. By that barometer, jazz musicians deserve to be celebrated for the enormous contribution we’ve made with our freedom: The creators of jazz invented an entirely new art form.

These Black Americans introduced a new way to think about music, liberating the European brass instruments of the time, the cornet and trombone, from their martial role as accompaniment to battle cries. They married them with decidedly African instruments, the drum — the banjo, finding a sliver of space in this country to express themselves with sounds, rhythms, and melodies never heard before. 

The history of jazz is storied and fascinating, and Philadelphia can lay claim to being an important part of it. At Jazz Philadelphia, we continue to lift up this history in the development of our new website, which will be launched in April. The resource-rich site will include a Philadelphia jazz history timeline to tell the stories of music makers who put our city on the map. 

Dizzy at the Downbeat 

One of the first stories we’ll share on the jazz history timeline is one told by Suzanne Cloud, an account of the iconic trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. It’s a story of how Dizzy, while on a return visit from New York to Philly, honed his craft at the long-gone Downbeat Club. It’s a spot where he was able to grow into the co-architect of the seminal style of jazz known as bebop. It’s important to note that while Dizzy breaking new ground as a musician by playing at the Downbeat, he was also breaking ground by performing in the city’s first integrated nightclub. 

We’ve brought together a group of jazz historians, journalists, and musicians to start assembling  information on the key players, styles, and places that have made Philadelphia a center for creating, teaching, and enjoying jazz. Following the launch of the website, we will collect stories and suggestions from the community.

Celebrating our talent, amplifying your voice

The website will also celebrate our current music makers, including those we call Hometown Heroes. These artists deserve recognition for their contribution to our vibrant music scene, and we thank WRTI for this rich partnership. 

At Jazz Philadelphia, we seek to amplify the voices of our community to foster conversation as we do at the Summit, where we hold space for conversations about race as well as sessions on the art and economics of jazz. We think of artists as whole people who not only have a passion for their work but who are also often concerned about issues of social justice and community wellness. They are thought leaders and they are advocates, and whether explicitly or implicitly, they have concerns—and fresh ideas—about the work and world in which they live.

Jazz is called “America’s original art form” because it was created here. But importantly, it’s also because it was born out of America’s unique struggle to live up to its promise. 

I think of the well-known inscription on the plaque that lies at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The line from Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus is lofty and inclusive: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Breathe. Free.

Jazz artists have taken America at its word and have seized the opportunity to breathe free through a revolutionary art form. In this way, they breathe freedom into America. They lead with new sounds, marching toward the future that was promised.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation announces grant award to WRTI

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDFC), the largest national funder of jazz, has announced grant awards to Philly’s own WRTI and Jazz Philadelphia.

WRTI will receive a grant of up to $275,000, spread over three years, to provide general operating support and funds for innovation, and promote investment in the future of public jazz radio in Philadelphia. This grant is part of a larger initiative by DDFC called the Jazz Media Lab, a newly launched public media collective comprising five nonprofit jazz radio stations. This cooperative venture seeks to strengthen jazz radio’s engagement with artists and diverse audiences, as well as to bolster local jazz ecosystems—a goal shared by Jazz Philadelphia.

“It’s gratifying to see that a major national funder is investing in jazz in Philadelphia. We’re working hard right now individually and collectively to innovate, create new business models, and build capacity for entrepreneurial thinking that will allow us to thrive in the future,” says Gerald Veasley, president of Jazz Philadelphia. 

Executive Director Heather Shayne Blakeslee adds that, “Making visible and amplifying the work of the community will go a long way toward our success. We’re grateful that both our grant from Doris Duke as well as one from the Independence Media Foundation is allowing us to bolster media coverage of jazz by co-developing our Hometown Heroes program with WRTI, and building a bench of jazz writers through our community news program. We’re excited to launch our new website during Jazz Appreciation Month, where these contemporary stories as well as our jazz history will be prominently featured.” 

WRTI will be joined by a myriad of other stations in this initiative to foster collaboration between public radio peers: KMHD in Portland, OR; KNKX in Tacoma/Seattle, WA; KUVO in Denver, CO, and WBGO in Newark, NJ. Additionally, in the Media Lab’s second year, WRTI will be eligible to receive a supplemental grant of $50,000 for a project exploring the program’s themes of engaging next-generation artists and audiences and maximizing the use of new media platforms. Beyond monetary support, the DDCF provides all members of the Jazz Media Lab with professional development and industry networking resources.

“In the short run this grant allows WRTI to pursue some immediate projects that showcase our power to tell compelling stories and produce new content from some of our community’s most compelling jazz artists,” said WRTI general manager Bill Johnson in an organizational press release. “In the long run, it allows us to engage in a sustained effort of improving, not just delivering, WRTI’s local service to our community.”

Johnson went on to say that he was excited to participate with WRTI’s colleagues around the country. “Now’s the time for WRTI to join our friends to address challenges, develop best practices, and create strategies to build a jazz media system that works for everyone.”