Jazz Philadelphia

V-JAM Philly Session Leader: The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Maud Lyon, president of The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, sees the dire situation of the Philadelphia jazz community and is working to do something about it. “Jazz suffers from both the loss of work at nonprofit venues and the closing of restaurants, bars, and clubs,” Lyons explains. “The majority of musicians are freelancers, making this situation especially difficult and uncertain. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is doing all we can to bring you resources, and to amplify your voice to leaders!”

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (GPCA) has been amplifying the voices of 460 member organizations since 1972. GPCA reports on the health and growth of the arts sector; awards grants in partnership with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; performs marketing and audience development through Phillyfunguide.com and Funsavers; and offers professional development, policy, and community engagement.

In 1991, they helped establish the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF) and worked to re-establish the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy (OACCE) in 2008. In response to COVID-19, these three entities recently launched the COVID-19 Arts Aid PHL to support artists as well as small and mid-sized arts organizations, and has raised $3.6 million so far. 

Additionally, GPCA is gathering data from member organizations to document the impact of the novel coronavirus and providing timely information on their philaculture.org/coronavirus page, as well as hosting webinars on how to apply for Paycheck Protection Program and making the case to individual donors. “We’re transforming the Phillyfunguide.com into a central place for over 130 virtual experiences to keep arts and culture in the public eye and to send traffic to the organizations that are streaming and posting content,” Lyon says.

Lyon says she has been impressed by the range and creativity of arts organizations continuing to serve the public: “There’s music lessons by Facetime, lots of entertainment, educational materials for kids to support beleaguered parents.”

“Music is the best virtual experience,” says Lyon. “From original hand-washing songs to Zoom choir performances to pre-recorded performances, music is helping all of us get through these troubled and frightening times.”

Hometown Hero: Ruth Naomi Floyd

By Bobbi Booker | Photo by R. Carter

Jazz vocalist-composer and photographer Ruth Naomi Floyd has been at the forefront of creating sacred jazz vocal settings for over 20 years. Born and raised in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Floyd honed her musical talents as a young child by singing in church choirs and studying piano, flute, and bassoon. Currently, she leads her own multi-faceted ensemble and has created a five-recording discography explicitly dedicated to a sacred jazz expression.

Floyd says her Philly hometown and its influential jazz players made a lasting impression upon her art. “We are gritty. We are fighters. We don’t give up. We’re not intimidated,” explained Floyd. “When I think of what that means musically, classically it speaks for itself. The jazz—the long, beautiful, stunning legacy of jazz musicians—it affected me in a way that was very sobering. I knew from the beginning if I was going to do this, I was not going to enter into it lightly because there were those that came before me that fought for the music; that protected this music and sacrificed their lives for the music, and so to honor them would be to learn it and to do it at a high level. I’m grateful to come from a place known around the world as a jazz city.”

Although it was a challenge to not name the many area-based artists who have contributed to her growth, Floyd credits the late bassist Chares Fambrough for her early career validation.

“He was the first one that made me understand that the bandstand is the greatest lesson: when you make a mistake on the bandstand you’ll never make that mistake again,” she recalled. Her mezzo-soprano voice and distinctive progressive jazz improvisation has now been featured on several highly acclaimed recordings and performances.

Floyd has been a presence and worker in areas of the arts and justice throughout her career, and recently debuted an improvisational jazz composition, “Frederick Douglass Jazz Works,” which explores the abolitionist’s fiery anti-slavery speeches and writings. She wants to give that spark to others.

“I’m an educator teaching jazz vocals, and so my hope is that students would learn the craft and then be able to make it their own, and that they would just continue to push this music forward,” Floyd shared.

V-JAM Philly Session Leader: Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts

“What if there was one activity that could benefit every student in every school across the nation? An activity that could improve grades and scores on standardized testing? An activity that would allow students to form lasting friendships? An activity that would help students become more disciplined and confident?” asks Lovett Hines, Artistic Director for the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts.

Fortunately, he says, there is such an activity. “This activity is something that everyone is aware of, but not everyone has a chance to participate in. At the Philadelphia Clef Club, we believe this activity is music,” Hines explains. “We are creators, improvisers, innovators. We can’t control the nature of the covonavirus, but we respond to it with imagination and determination.”

Even though the Clef Club made the difficult decision to postpone concerts and the Music Education Program for the safety of students, faculty, staff, and patrons, they are in the process of transitioning all ensemble instruction online. Using an interactive online learning tool in partnership with Berklee College of Music, Berklee City Music Network, and dedicated faculty, the Clef Club will be able to bring students together with their peers and faculty each week on Saturdays.

Pre-Covid-19, the Clef Club celebrated the legacy of jazz through accessible education for the Greater Philadelphia region, and supported the evolving art form through talent development, programming, and public performances. The club served more than 1,200 students through in-school programs and out-of-school activities.

The Clef Club was founded in 1935 by James Adams and members of Local No. 274, Philadelphia’s Black Musicians Union, to be the Local’s social club. It was not unusual to see Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Blakely, Dinah Washington, Max Roach and others in the hallways of the club. The Clef Club continued to function as a social club until 1978, when it expanded its activities to include jazz performance, jazz instruction, and the jazz history preservation. In 1982, a new facility was constructed at 738 South Broad Street as part of the development of the Avenue of the Arts. In 1995, the club established a new facility on the corner of Broad and Fitzwater Streets that houses classrooms, a performance space, recording facilities, and executive offices.

Hines says the Clef Club is looking forward to presenting both renowned and emerging artists on a monthly basis year-round. “Just like this music, Hines says, “it swings harder when played together, and it is together—as a community—that we will get through this very challenging time.”

Hometown Hero: Bootsie Barnes

By Shaun Brady | Photo by Anthony Dean

Tenor giant Bootsie Barnes has been the epitome of a “Hometown Hero” for most of his 82 years. He’s never left the city, instead becoming a cornerstone of the Philadelphia jazz scene, remaining constant even as styles and generations changed around him. With a husky, soulful sound honed in smoky organ clubs, corner bars, and the stage of the legendary Uptown Theatre, Barnes exudes the grit and attitude of Philly in every note he plays.

“It takes guys like me in every city to keep the music alive,” Barnes told me in 2008. To prove his point, he listed the names of heavyweight “local legends” from scenes around the country: most notably Von Freeman in Chicago, who passed a few years later. “All the guys that I’ve taught are carrying the music on.”

Barnes’ protégés are numerous; curmudgeonly as he could be, his brusqueness was always tempered by a salty but genuine warmth. The eclectic pianist Uri Caine spent his formative years touring the chitlin’ circuit with Barnes, and many bandstand students graduated into lifelong collaborators, including trumpeter John Swana and keyboardists Lucas Brown. 

Born in 1937, Barnes grew up in North Philly’s Richard Allen Homes; his father was a trumpet player in the big band led by organist Bill Doggett and had played alongside Dizzy Gillespie in bandleader Frankie Fairfax’s orchestra. The Barnes’ neighbor, altoist Howard Cunningham, would host informal conclaves of local saxophonists. The young Barnes, then an aspiring drummer, would drop in and soak up the music and conversation, learning only later that he’d sat at the feet of John Coltrane and Benny Golson. Later, bassist Spanky DeBrest, trumpeter Lee Morgan, and drummers Lex Humphries and Tootie Heath could be counted among his contemporaries and friends.

Inspired by Jackie McLean, Barnes eventually switched to the alto, but he found his soulmate in the tenor. In his early years he spent much of his time playing rock and R&B gigs, backing groups like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Jackson 5 at the Uptown and touring the south with renowned organ masters like Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and Charles Earland. He occasionally flirted with the notion of leaving town for the increased opportunities in places like New York or Chicago but preferred to keep busy in Philly’s unique scene.

In its heyday, venues took myriad forms, most of them relatively makeshift, Barnes recalled in 2017. “Every little corner bar had a jazz band. A place becomes a jazz club when jazz musicians play in it.”

Though he’s remained aware of the music’s evolution, Barnes remains a hardcore bebopper at heart, which may have made him seem out of style for a few brief moments, but ultimately translates into a hard-earned timelessness. “I really enjoy everything I hear that’s kind of cutting edge,” he explained. “But there’s certain roads I just don’t see myself traveling. If everybody went down the same road, where would the music be? You always have to have a variety, so there’s something for everybody.”

That’s not to say the tenor titan has ever rested on his laurels. After decades of dogged playing, he insisted on practicing as much as humanly possible even as health issues intruded. “Every day is a learning experience,” he concluded. “You never learn it all. When my time comes to play, I just play what I play, my own natural self. It usually turns out good.” 

Hometown Hero: Terell Stafford

By Bobbi Booker

Acclaimed trumpeter Terell Stafford has been hailed as “one of the great players of our time, a fabulous trumpet player” by the late piano legend McCoy Tyner. The acclaimed bandleader and recording artist has appeared on dozens of albums, including five of his own, and is a soloist with the Grammy-winning Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Born in Miami, Florida, and raised in both Chicago, Illinois, and Silver Spring, Maryland, Stafford recalled being transfixed when at age nine he happened upon a trumpet while visiting his grandparents’ sharecropper’s farm.

“To just hold this instrument in my hand because I was always fascinated by how all this music came from, like, three valves; what’s the secret behind it? In sixth grade I was able to play the trumpet—and it hasn’t left my hand since.”

Originally a classical trumpet player, Stafford soon branched out to jazz with the University of Maryland jazz band and spent five years touring and recording with Bobby Watson’s quintet, Horizon, along with co-leader Victor Lewis and Shirley Scott. Eventually, Scott invited Stafford to join her quintet, play alongside Tim Warfield and begin their ongoing musical collaborations.

Stafford says the knowledge he gained while working with Scott enhanced his education beyond the bandstand. “It taught me about community. The music lifted us: we listened to the music, we learned the music, and we came up with things to complement the music as a team.”

Currently the Director of Jazz Studies at the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University, Stafford has high hopes for the ever-evolving Philadelphia jazz music scene.

“Teaching at a college has been incredibly inspiring because I’ve been at Temple University for 24 years and, more or less, came to the Philadelphia area a couple of years before that,” said Stafford. “I was speaking to a student yesterday who was interested, and the mother of the student said, ‘Why Philly?’ and I said, ‘Well, why not?’ What is there to doubt if you look at the history, and you look at the great musicians that have come from here and the great musicians who continue to come here, and the institutions and the music scene that we have—there’s no other music scene like this.”

V-JAM Philly Session Leader: WXPN

Philadelphia has a unique, rich musical history, and WXPN has made it its mission to build a community focused on discovering that music and connecting artists with new audiences.

The nationally recognized leader in Triple A radio and the premier guide for discovering rock, blues, roots and folk, WXPN is the non-commercial, member-supported, public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania. The radio station produces World Cafe, XPoNential Music Festival, and The Key, a blog that covers local music, including jazz artists and jazz events.

In this time of social distancing, public music services are more vital than ever. “It’s clear that our listeners are valuing the healing balm of music and the sense of community on-air that they can’t get in person right now,” says General Manager Roger LaMay. “We are getting a great response to our ‘Checking In with’ series that checks in with local and national artists at home. It’s on-air 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and online anytime at thekey.xpn.org.

Beyond building a sense of community on-air, the station also created the Music Community Relief Fund aimed at supporting local and regional artists, venues, and related workers. WXPN launched the fund through a new partnership with the Philly Music Fest, which is raising funds and distributing micro-grants for local artists and employees of local independent music venues whose work and income have been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. WXPN is committing $25,000 for the continuation of the micro-grant program, and the donation will allow another 100 recipients to receive funds to help them pay for food, rent, utilities, or any other expenses that they may be challenged to pay at this time due to lack of employment. 

“We encourage local jazz artists to take advantage of the micro-grants WXPN is providing through Philly Music Fest,” LaMay said, noting that the new fund is part of the WXPN Music Community Relief Initiative, which includes efforts such as creating a virtual concert calendar; providing five local artists with free, one-year memberships to the state-of-the-art creative facility REC Philly; and curating Spotify “Quarantunes” playlists by WXPN DJs designed to get the community through this difficult time together.

Hometown Hero: Olivia Hughart

By A.D. Amorosi | Photo by Manasa Gudavalli

Jazz is many things to many people.

To 19-year-old, Lower Merion, PA native saxophonist-composer Olivia Hughart—renowned for starting the female-focused Key of She organization and conference— jazz means pancakes. Jazz means family.

Jazz means something loved and in close proximity.

“My parents weren’t professional players—dad’s a drummer in a trio, mom plays piano and is taking lessons—but they were always jazz lovers,” said Hughart, quick to include her saxophone-playing brother in the mix. “Ever since we were little kids, my parents would wake us every morning, loudly playing jazz through the house. Then they immediately started making pancakes and stuff. That’s a great vibe to start your day.”

The Yellowjackets was a regular part of the Hughart’s breakfast soundtrack. So was Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Larry McKenna, Tony Miceli, Chris Oatts, and Bob Mintzer—all influences on Olivia’s bourgeoning aesthetic. Vibraphonist Miceli and saxophonist Oatts taught her the art of improvisation, strictly by ear. Mintzer was the tenor man that inspired Olivia to pick up the sax. “First Mintzer, then my brother—sax was awesome.”

Breakfast turned to dinner, then to after-dinner dates at Philadelphia venues such as Chris’ Jazz Café where Olivia was introduced to the environment of jazz as well as its home players. The Philly jazz scene, intergenerational and close-knit as it is, furthered family values for Olivia.

It was as if Hughart would learn and live jazz by osmosis, and portray it through sheer instinct and intuition.

“Jazz always had a positive connotation for me… it’s a language, a way to convey information without speaking words,” she said, not just of jazz’s unique sound, jargon, and muscle memory in regard to improvisation, but of its principles; principles which pushed her to continue her valued musical education (Lower Merion High, Settlement Music School, and NYU, where she currently resides) and those that shaped her theories of organization and community into something dynamic and inclusive, such as Key of She. (Hughart postponed Spring 2020’s Key of She Conference due to the spring’s Covid-19 pandemic.)

“I was 12, starting in jazz big band and noticed I was one of few girls, so I decided to put together the girls in the school district as a community, an ensemble where we could play without boundaries,” said Hughart. That ensemble moved through high school, eventually involved girls and not within her immediate community, and blossomed into a 200-attendee conference—when Hughart was 17—that supported jazz and shattered gender barriers. “Girls need to see other girls learning jazz and playing jazz,” she said. “We need to hear about women in jazz history so that girls know they can be as awesome as Melba Liston and Mary Lou Williams.”

Hughart’s future includes forming a big band and writing new compositions for her first album. “I hope to include some up-and-coming ladies on that record, too,” said Hughart. “I have a lot of aspirations.”

Hometown Hero: McCoy Tyner

By Suzanne Cloud

Alfred McCoy Tyner was born in Philadelphia in 1938 to parents who had come to Philly from North Carolina for a better life. His father sang in the church choir and his mother had a beauty shop that would become internationally famous after she bought a piano for her eldest son. According to Tyner, “My mother said I could either study singing or piano, and I didn’t have much of a voice, so I chose piano.” 

By 15 years of age, McCoy Tyner (McCoy, as he would always be affectionately called) was the pianist for a local dancing school, which exposed him to European music, and at the same time, he was inspired rhythmically by Ghanaian drummer Saka Acquaye, who was then at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The 1950s were a fertile and dynamic time in jazz with a plethora of talent blossoming in the city—trumpeter Lee Morgan, organist Jimmy Smith, pianists Ray Bryant and Richie Powell, brother of famed bebopper Bud Powell, an idol of Tyner’s along with Thelonious Monk. These influences so shaped Tyner’s powerful and percussive lyricism. In an NPR Jazz Profile, pianist Mulgrew Miller said, “His music was so intense it took over you… He makes those notes dance.” 

By age 17, Tyner was playing with Philly trumpeter and composer Cal Massey when he met John Coltrane, who was staying at his mother’s house in Strawberry Mansion with his cousin Mary Alexander. Even though Coltrane was 12 years older than Tyner, the two struck up a special spiritual bond. Tyner said, “John told me he wanted me to be in his band whenever he left Miles, but whenever he wanted to leave, Miles would offer him more money… I was getting impatient.” So, Tyner joined Philly saxophonist Benny Golson and trumpeter Art Farmer to form the famed JazzTet. He didn’t stay with the group long, as Golson remembered, “John Coltrane stole him away from me. But that’s where he should have been anyway.” 

So, at age 21, McCoy Tyner joined the John Coltrane Quartet with bassist Steve Davis and drummer Elvin Jones. Interviewed for his 60th birthday, he said, “Between John and Elvin I was in school.” His first full album with Coltrane was My Favorite Things, which became a huge hit for Atlantic Records in 1961—and once bassist Jimmy Garrison joined the band—the Classic Quartet was born. It’s a musical ensemble whose social fusion exceeded its own intentions, with each musician prepared to bleed for the next measure.

Until late 1965, when Tyner left the group, this quartet transformed jazz in the 1960s stretching modal playing within their highly charged, emotional bubble of collective improvisation. The intensity and interplay of the quartet was astonishing, and Tyner’s piano work was crucial to the band’s sound. Coltrane said, “McCoy Tyner, holds down the harmonies, and that allows me to forget them. He’s sort of the one who gives me wings and lets me take off from the ground from time to time.”

After leaving John Coltrane, Tyner had a difficult time establishing himself as a leader. He said, “I was kind of struggling a bit, but it increased my faith in life.” But building on his two earlier albums as a leader—Inception (1962) and The Real McCoy (1965)—Tyner came roaring back in 1972 with his Grammy-nominated album Sahara with saxophonist Sonny Fortune on the Milestone label.

In 1979, jazz critic Gary Giddens called McCoy Tyner the most influential pianist of the decade, and he was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2002. The pianist told writer Nat Hentoff, “To me, living and music are all the same thing. And I keep finding out more about music as I learn more about myself, my environment, about all kinds of different things in life…I play what I live.” 

McCoy Tyner died March 6, 2020, at the age of 81. 

V-JAM Philly Session Leader: Settlement Music School

“We know that art and music lifts our souls and can unite us all,” says Karin Orenstein, Director of Education for Settlement Music School and a member of Jazz Philadelphia’s Education Working Group. “At Settlement, we believe that the act of doing, of practicing, of reaching goals, will be what gets us through this time with our spirits intact.”

The Settlement team is living out this belief. In addition to transitioning their lessons and classes to a distance learning platform, the school just launched two series of free classes for all ages and ability levels. The first is called Settlement Kids: Live, which airs on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week at 10:30 a.m. on Settlement’s Facebook page for the remainder of their closure. The second is called Settlement 101: Live, which airs on Thursdays at 6 p.m. on Settlement’s Facebook page, also for the remainder of the closure. Settlement is also waiving registration fees for their 4-week online individual instruction package.

Pre-Covid-19, Settlement offered 10,000 services every week in music, dance, and arts therapy at six branches and through dozens of community partnerships across the region. Regardless of age, background, ability, or economic circumstances, there is a place for all at Settlement, which offers financial aid to more than 60% of its student population, aged 6 months to 96 years. “We can’t wait to open our doors back up and welcome students for performance hours, recitals, and open houses,” says Orenstein.“Most importantly, we look forward to hearing the familiar sounds of music filling our studios again and the laughter and chatter in our hallways.”

Founded as the music program of the College Settlement in the Southwark section of Philadelphia in 1908, the school has a rich history. Settlement was incorporated as an independent community school of the arts in 1914 and developed a conservatory division that served as the nucleus of the Curtis Institute of Music in 1924. In the 1940s through ‘60s, Settlement expanded to satellite locations and established the Germantown and Northeast branches. In the 1970s into present day, Settlement undertook a program of education and therapy in music and dance for children and adults with disabilities, created three more branches, and formed relationships with the Camden School of Musical Art and the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy (CAMVA).

Even though this is an unprecedented time for educational institutions, Orenstein says she has been awestruck by how quickly Settlement’s staff, faculty, and community partners all came together. As she sums it up, “We have been receiving one overjoyed message after another from students of all ages that this is working and that their music lessons are a bright part of their week.”

Hometown Hero: Orrin Evans

By Shaun Brady

Pianist Orrin Evans likes to refer to his extended music family as “The Village.” It’s an inviting and inclusive term that encompasses not only his ever-growing list of collaborators but his mentors and protégés, fans and friends, inspirations and supporters. It’s that Village that has carried the Captain Black Big Band from its raucous origins at Chris’ Jazz Café nearly a decade ago to a Grammy nomination for its third album, Presence (2018). To follow up that success he reconvened the ensemble to record his latest, The Intangible Between, in a truly communal spirit: inviting a roster of longtime and newfound compatriots, laying out a buffet spread and essentially turning a recording session into a family reunion.

“It really matters when you know you have a tight-knit circle, and that you can rely on your circle for whatever you need,” Evans says. “The Village is a unit of people that you can trust and that love you. It’s an open door to the possibilities of knowing that you’re part of something for the greater good.”

It also explains why Evans has remained such an integral part of the Philly scene even as his profile has risen well beyond the city limits. Granted, it was more than two decades into a rich and prolific career when DownBeat awarded him top prize as “Rising Star” pianist in its 2018 critics’ poll, and the New York Times acclaimed him in a feature profile, but the Trenton-born pianist worked unflaggingly long before those accolades rolled in. 

Evans moved to Philadelphia in the mid-80s, at a particularly flourishing time for the city’s jazz scene. He was nurtured by the outstanding crew of regulars at Ortlieb’s, including Shirley Scott, Trudy Pitts, Mickey Roker, Eddie Green and others. At the same time his high school peers included such future greats as Christian McBride, Joey DeFrancesco, the Landham brothers and the Eubanks brothers. 

The string of albums that Evans has released since his 1995 debut have strived to engender meetings between legends and up-and-comers, Philadelphia cohorts and marquee names, always with the goal of igniting the unexpected. In addition to his own ensembles, he brings a similar spirit to the collective trio Tarbaby, which unites him with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits, and through his reinvigorating role in the long-running trio The Bad Plus, with whom he’s now released two acclaimed albums. 

As Evans sums it up, “My concept is allowing for the unknown to happen. I don’t go into a project shaping the music conceptually. I just get excited about the possibilities of what’s going to happen – and then see what happens.”