The jazz scene in Philadelphia in the first two weeks of 2005 covers everything from a soulful new singer to a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.. He was born Janurary 15, 1929 and January 17 is MLK Day.
ZANZIBAR BLUE this weekend is featuring the tribute to King. with a presentation by Philadelphia's top-rated pianist, composer, bandleader, teacher, Orrin Evans. He will be working with Gary Bartz, sax; Mike Boone, bass; Donald Edwards, drums; and Jaguar Wright, vocals. Poet Sonia Sanchez will join them Sunday.
Evans, reared in Philly, long a favorite at local clubs, emphasized the significance of relating King and the music when, "jazz is an African American art form." He said, the show would be for, "a listening type audience, like a dinner theater..."and that as far as he knew, " this has not been done in the past." The presentation, he added, would be "a bit like church, no way to talk about it without talking about church and the influence of God."
I interviewed him by phone when he was putting the show together and all the pieces were not in place . He said, "You're going to hear some old Negro spitiuals...bits of the 'We shall overcome' speech by King and the Herbie Hancock song with an arrangement of 'Lift Every Voice'." He noted the band came from various locales and generations and Wright with a Negro soul role right out of Philly." Evans added, "I'm just excited about doing this, paying tribute to this wonderful man with music and song...in a sense a tribute to all famous African Americans who who have done so much for us through the years."
Clearly, this is something of a daring presentation for a jazz club. The Kimmel Center also held a tribute to King this week, but for a club aimed at jazz fans, it is a clear departure from the standard fare.
CHRIS' JAZZ CAFE last weekend had the nationally praised 2004 Thelonious Monk Award singer, Gretchen Parlato, in her first Philly engagement. She was backed by the Rodney Green Trio with Luis Perdomo, piano and Massimo Biolcati, bass. Green was Diana Krall's drummer. Parlato worked with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
Hancock said she is "a singer with a deep, almost magical connection to the music." Shorter compared her with Sinatra and said, "There's no one out there like Gretchen." The New York Times raved over her performance. Her vocals were a mixed bag at Chris' containing many originals and newer selections with only one major standard in the first set. The crowd there demonstrated once again the willingness of too many people to pay to hear music and then talk all through it. Gretchen's mike seemed a bit off, with much of her remarks to the crowd hardly understandable. Green is a very exciting drummer and he seems to know it.
KIMMEL CENTER Jan. 16 showcases Bobby McFerrin in a variety of musical styles from jazz to classical aimed at everyone from 8 to 80. The 10-time Grammy Award winner, composer of, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and classical music conductor is backed by his famed vocal group, Voicetra. McFerrin is a vocal innovator without peer.
Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, Broad & Spruce Streets, 215-893-1999, 7:30 p.m., Jan. 16, $37-$68, Bobby McFerrin.