Jazz Philadelphia

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.”

Hometown Hero: V Shayne Frederick

By Shaun Brady

The journey that brought V. Shayne Frederick to Philadelphia is the same one traveled by many jazz greats before him. Frederick’s paternal family had moved from North Carolina to Philly before he was born, following the path that had already brought such icons as Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and the Heath Brothers to the city during the Great Migration. As he split his childhood between his native North Carolina and Philly, Frederick was unaware of that history; as he discovered it later, he realized the legacy that was represented in his own music.

“When you start to learn about how music moves along that path,” he says, “you see how culture travels. When I found out that John Coltrane was from High Point, or Nina Simone was from Tryon, I thought that was dope; I came from a little nothing town, too.”

More than just shared origins, Frederick unearthed shared roots in the ways that his music echoed elements of his predecessors’. He traces those commonalities to the church, where much of his own musical voice was honed. His mother was a self-taught pianist and singer, and her influence was the strongest on him growing up. Raised on a sonic diet of gospel and contemporary R&B, he discovered jazz in his early teens. It wasn’t singers that captivated him at first, but instrumentalists – something that comes across vividly in his horn-like approach to a melody.

“I never endeavored to be someone who sounded like another vocalist,” he explains. “I was mostly listening to Charles Mingus, Miles, Monk, Herbie. That was my stuff.”

Frederick studied not music but Business Administration, first at Dartmouth and later at Peirce College, but began taking music classes at the Community College of Philadelphia, where he sang with ensembles led by the late organ master Trudy Pitts and crossed paths with tenor sax giant Larry McKenna. Both became key mentors and ushered Frederick into the Philly jazz scene, where he became a regular at the famed (and lamented) Ortliebs jam sessions. 

Frederick is enthusiastic about the group of gifted peers with whom he collaborates, praising a local scene that includes pianists Adam Faulk and Tim Brey, bassists Nimrod Speaks and Justin Sekelewski, and drummer Khary Abdul-Shaheed, all of whom appear on his 2019 debut album, Lovesome. A fluid reimagining of classic standards, the album was one of three projects released that year, along with the single “Gleaming” and the Christmas EP Evergreen, providing ample evidence of the vocalist’s supple versatility.

“I probably would not be able to develop and perform as much as I have been on the same level anywhere else,” Frederick says. “Philadelphia is a great incubator for talent. It has the venues, the culture, the people with musical knowhow, the musical history, and it all works together.”

Hometown Hero: Diane Monroe

By Suzanne Cloud

Violinist Arnold Steinhardt, founding member and 1st violin of the famed Guarneri String Quartet, called Philly musician Diane Monroe, “a brilliant violinist whose heart, wit, and intelligence give unforgettable meaning to every performance.” High praise for our hometown girl— a graduate of West Philly High who learned “Blue Monk” on the piano at her uncle’s knee at the age of 3 and started classical piano lessons at 4 at her pianist mother’s insistence. Both important early mentors who were crucial to her development: one who wanted her to have an improvisational ear and one who insisted on an ability to read music easily. Of course, her family was musical, with 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. Her original compositions and arrangements have garnered accolades from the classical and jazz worlds, so it wasn’t surprising that 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

She’s been featured at the prestigious “Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival” at 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 the recent Tom Hanks’ film about Fred Rogers and in the movie Music from the Heart with Meryl Streep?

This Curtis Institute and University of 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 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. 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.”

Hometown Hero: Arnetta Johnson

By Shaun Brady

Still only in her mid-20s, trumpeter Arnetta Johnson has already taken her horn from small clubs in Camden to the prestigious halls of Berklee and on to arena stages alongside Beyoncé – including the Halftime show at the Super Bowl. Along the way she developed her own unique approach to the tradition, one that she calls “disruptive jazz.” The music that Johnson plays with her band SUNNY is a thoroughly modern blend of fiery bop, contemporary R&B, hip-hop and trap music influences.

Johnson first picked up the trumpet as an 8th grader in Camden, learning under saxophonist Nasir Dickerson. From there she joined a group of young players called the Little Jazz Giants led by trumpeter Hassan Sabree, then attended Creative Arts High School, whose award-winning program was founded by Nasir’s older brother, trumpeter Jamal Dickerson. As her playing developed Johnson started crossing the bridge to Philly, where she would hang with students at the Clef Club, play jam sessions at Chris’ Jazz Café, or perform with pianist Kendrah Butler’s all-female band the Satin Dolls.

At Berklee Johnson was mentored by esteemed modern jazz players like drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and saxophonist Tia Fuller. It was the latter who encouraged the young trumpet player to begin composing her own music. “At the time I told everybody that I didn’t want to be a bandleader,” Johnson recalls. “After college I realized it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a bandleader; I just didn’t want to play the music that other people thought I should play.”

When she initially formed her own band, she started out like most jazz musicians do – playing jazz and Songbook standards. But soon the influences of the hip-hop, R&B and rock that she’d grown up on began to creep in, and the sound evolved to what became SUNNY. While the group was named after a childhood nickname, Johnson retroactively transformed it into an acronym that serves as the band’s mission statement: Sounds Uplifting Nobility through Notes and Youth. The band became the outlet for Johnson’s notion of “disruptive jazz,” which she debuted on her 2019 album If You Hear a Trumpet It’s Me.

“We’re coming into what people consider jazz and saying, ‘Boom, Arnetta’s here.’,” she says with a laugh. “ I always wanted to do things my own way. In order to break the rules, you’ve got to learn the rules. Ok, I learned the rules. Now it’s my turn to do what I want with them.”

A large part of that is in her stage presentation, which fights against the sometimes staid portrayal of virtuoso musicians dressed in their finest suits. Johnson says that touring with Beyoncé taught her how to shake things up onstage. “I’ve learned that people come for a show. They love the music, but they love the entertainment aspect just as much. And that’s just a visualization of how much you enjoy what you’re doing.”

V-JAM Philly Session Leader: WRTI

We’re excited to announce that we’re launching the Jazz Philadelphia Hometown Heroes series today in partnership with WRTI. For the rest of April, Tuesday through Saturday, we’ll publish profiles of artists who have called Philadelphia home, while WRTI celebrates their music on the air.

WRTI jazz hosts will be spinning our highlighted artists as well as other local jazz warriors, past and present, as we wait out this storm and look forward to supporting live performances in the future.

“We at WRTI are thrilled to partner with Jazz Philadelphia to celebrate some of the best jazz artists in the world during this Jazz Appreciation Month,” says Maureen Malloy, WRTI Jazz Music Director. “We are so lucky to have such talent in our local communities. Right now, they need us, we need them, and we all need some great jazz to lift our spirits and heal our souls.”

WRTI was founded in 1948 as a campus-limited AM radio station at Temple University. The station was originally intended to be a student laboratory, and its call letters – RTI – stand for “Radio Technical Institute.” The station later adopted an all-jazz format from 1969 to 1997 when it split its programming format to include classical music during the day and jazz at night after Philadelphia’s classical music radio station, WFLN, was sold. Today over 300,000 listeners tune to WRTI each week on the radio with additional options to listen online through 24-hour web streams, Internet radio, or a WRTI Mobile App.

For 72 years, WRTI’s mission has been to champion music as a vital cultural resource and we feel lucky to call them partners in V-JAM. Tune in on the radio, or at wrti.org.

Hometown Hero: Pat Martino

By Suzanne Cloud | Photo©2020 Mark Sheldon

Born in 1944 in South Philadelphia, guitarist Pat Martino was playing professionally in New York City clubs by the time he was 15 years old. His lessons in Philly with Dennis Sandole sometimes would give him the opportunity to sip hot chocolate with John Coltrane while both discussed the intricacies of improvisational music. New York City’s historic Smalls Paradise club was a favorite early gig where he hung out in the late 1950s with guitarist Wes Montgomery through the early morning hours after the gig, while during the summer, Martino was a mainstay in Atlantic City at the Club Harlem on the famous Kentucky Avenue entertainment strip. This 22-year old guitarist’s first album, El Hombre, for Prestige in 1967 with Philly organist Trudy Pitts, showed the music world he was on his way. Martino continued to mine the musicians of Philadelphia jazz for his album East!, which featured compositions and performances by pianist Eddie Green and bassist Tyrone Brown. His 1976 album Exit for Muse would be his last until 1987 because Martino found himself battling for his life with a brain aneurysm that ultimately left him without the ability to play the instrument that had made him famous worldwide. His hard work coming back was documented in the film Martino Unstrung, and come back he did with a vengeance heard on his next album set live at Fat Tuesdays called The Return. Through the 1990s and up until 2017 with his album Formidable, Martino collaborated with many blue-chip musicians, turning out stellar efforts again and again. But recently, he has been sidelined by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and muscular issues in his left hand that have left him unable to tour or play at all. Recently, his friends and fans created a GoFundMe effort to raise money to help Martino with medical and monthly expenses. Over the decades, Martino has toured and recorded with Philadelphia organ stars such as Charles EarlandRichard “Groove” HolmesTrudy PittsJimmy Smith, and Joey DeFrancesco; piano greats Jim Ridl and Eddie Green, bassists Tyrone Brown and Steve Beskrone, always looking homeward for his inspiration. Now his hometown stands by him, raising over $130,000 for the Pat Martino Fund

True music, like all true art, is an experience to be shared, not judged, for praise cannot make it better, as blame cannot make it worse.” – Pat Martino

V-JAM Philly Session Leader: OACCE

The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) is turning its attention to relief and recovering efforts, including collecting data on the economic impact of the shutdown directly from artists and organization/business leaders. We urge everyone in the community to fill out this critical survey as soon as possible. The survey will allow the OACCE to better understand and advocate for what the cultural community needs to recover.

The OACCE has been a convener and cultural resource in Philadelphia since Mayor Nutter created the office in 2008. The OACCE partners with for-profit and nonprofit organizations to revitalize communities, improve education, and promote economic development. Beyond advising the administration on arts policy, the office also manages and promotes a variety of initiatives aimed at free neighborhood-level arts access and capacity building for artists and organizations, including: Performances in Public Spaces, Arts Education Fair, Creative Workforce and Get Creative PHL.

To encourage Philadelphians to connect with their communities and public spaces, the OACCE launched Philly Celebrates Jazz in April 2010. The office celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month by presenting jazz-inspired events and promoting jazz happenings across the city. This dynamic celebration includes live music performances, art exhibitions, film screenings, dance lessons, discussion panels and more presented by local cultural organizations and artists. In 2019, Philly Celebrates Jazz featured more than 200 jazz-related events, as well as a city-sponsored Jazz Listening Lounge and Reflections artist showcase.

However, in light of the impact of COVID-19 on public gatherings, the OACCE has cancelled its Neighborhood Jazz Series planned for the 10th Anniversary of Philly Celebrates Jazz and will be rescheduling these events for a later date. Cancelled events include: Philly Celebrates Jazz 10th Anniversary Kick-off & Reception, recreation center programming, and neighborhood library Jazz Day celebrations.

Even though public jazz events are postponed, we hope that a Virtual Jazz Appreciation Month (V-JAM) can be a way for us to come together as a community to show our strength, celebrate our talent, and give jazz lovers what they need right now: music.

30 Ways in 30 Days: Celebrate Jazz in Philadelphia

We want to hear from you! For the month of April, we will be posting prompts via our social media channels for opportunities to share the love for jazz in Philadelphia. See the full schedule below and follow along on social media:

  • April 1: You‘re going on a long trip and you only have room in your bag for one jazz CD. What is it?

  • April 2: A jazz fan remembers that one life-changing concert. Where was yours and who was the artist?

  • April 3: Shout out Philly talent deserving wider recognition

  • April 4: Fave food at a Philly jazz club

  • April 5: What’s the first jazz song you remember hearing?

  • April 6: What’s the classic jazz artist you wish you could have seen perform live?

  • April 7: Who’s on your Best-Dressed Artist list?

  • April 8: Name your fave jazzy cocktail, beer, or other beverage

  • April 9: Shout out to Philly jazz venues that are “off the beaten path”

  • April 10: You’re in a jazz group, what instrument are you playing?

  • April 11: Name your fave up-and-coming Philly artist

  • April 12: Where do you like your jazz? Outdoor Festival, Restaurant, Theater, Intimate Club…elsewhere?

  • April 13: What’s the greatest jazz tune of all time? No pressure.

  • April 14: Jazz artist that people tell you that you look like

  • April 15: Favorite all-time Philly jazz venue (any era)

  • April 16: Poll: how do you like your recorded jazz: on CD, vinyl or streamed?

  • April 17: Name a non-jazz artist who has a jazzy vibe

  • April 18: You’re opening up a new jazz club in Philly – what are you going to name it?

  • April 19: “The one jazz song I could put on repeat is ____”

  • April 20: Pick the members of your fantasy jazz group

  • April 21: Name a Philly jazz artist you’d like to have as a neighbor

  • April 22: Shout out to the person who first helped you appreciate jazz

  • April 23: Share your top five Philly jazz playlist

  • April 24: Poll: How do you use jazz in your life? Studying? Working? Chilling? Moving? Romancing?

  • April 25: Finish this thought, “If I could sing jazz, I’d like to sing like __

  • April 26: What’s the best room in the house for jazz? (This is not a personality test)

  • April 27: In the Hollywood movie about your life as a jazz artist, which actor portrays you?

  • April 28: Tag the person you want to invite out to your next jazz show

  • April 29: Let’s write a bluesy jazz tune. First line: “I woke up in Philly…’” Your turn.

  • April 30: Finish this sentence, “I wish _____ would perform a living room concert – in MY living room”.

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

By Steve Bryant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Steven Bryant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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