Jazz Philadelphia

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.”

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: 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.