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Live From Philadelphia

Singers and Swingers in Philly

By Published: December 6, 2004
A rich rendering of jazz styles, much of it home-grown, at various venues, kept Philadelphia fans hopping over the past two weeks.

CHRIS' JAZZ CAFE brought together three of the most distinctive jazz styles to be found anywhere. and they are all Philadelphia area born and bred. The inimitable piano of Uri Caine was backing up the torrid tenor sax of Bootsie Barnes and the distinctive trumpet of John Swana. Both Barnes and Swana recently demonstrated their unique talent to a cheering audience at the Kimmel Center's showcasing of Philly talent.

Caine can go from Beethoven to boogie and the blues on the keyboard and has demonstrated this at several classical and jazz sites. He won various awards for both his classical and jazz recordings and worked with such stars as J.J. Johnson and Philly Joe Jones. Despite his acclaim for classical work, Caine says simply, "I consider myself a jazz musician because that's what I grew up with. I use that sensitivity to different music, including classical, improvising theme and variations." Asked how he felt working Chris' with Bootsie and Swana, he said enthusiastically, "They're old friends of mine...Bootsie was my teacher, playing a lot all over Philly, a very good experience." Bootsie told Metro that he had prepared himself early on to play with the best of them. Swana said he stayed in Philly because it was "more laid back than New York" and that he "likes the town." Caine was working at Chris' the next night with his trio—Drew Grass on bass and Ben Perowky on drums. The session with Bootsie and Swana was a torcher with touches of jazz from the proverbial good old days.

Chris Jazz Cafe, 1421 Sansom Street, 215.568.3131, 9 p.m.—1.a.m., Friday—$12, Saturday—$15.

ZANZIBAR BLUE was serving the reputed jazz funk founding father, Roy Ayers, a jazz vibes player with some 60 recordings and who has written music soundtracks for films. He worked with such diverse talents as Herbie Mann, Stevie Wonder and DeeDee Bridgewater. Top flight jazz critics such as Leonard Feather have praised his work.

On Thursday, Dec. 2, pop-jazz singer Rondi Charleston was featured. The New York Times said, she "is in tune with herself...and a joy to hear." The Chicago Tribune called her Love Letters, the most romantic album in recent memory." A graduate of Juliard, native of Chicago, she sang with the Chicago Opera Theater and Philadelphia Opera Theater. She played to a sold out Birdland and her most recent recording, "Love is the Thing," has been extensively played at local radio station WRTI. In fact, she paid tribute to Bob Perkins for his understanding interview with her at that station. Her performance was close to perfect, shifting from one mood to another with consumate ease. She is young, pretty, and remarkably poised in projecting the drama and fun of the lyrics. She sang some 20 songs going from standards to original works with ease. Her back-up band was first rate with one pianist, Peter Eldridge, doing his own composition, "I'm just too busy being blue," that had music and lyrics the Gershwins would have been proud to do. His lyrics were on a par with Johnny Mercer's reflecting a happy growth of focus on the Great American Song Book, taking place these days.

Zanzibar Blue, Broad and Walnut Streets, 215.732.4500, Nov. 26-27, 8&10 p.m., $35, Ayers; Dec. 2, 8-9:30-11 p.m., $5, Charleston.

THE PRINCE MUSIC THEATER has Max Morath with his "Ragtime and Again" show, the pianist-singer-story teller wrote and performs to trace what many consider the earliest of jazz styles, ragtime. He is a charming entertainer. Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, 215. 569.9700, Nov. 17-28, call or visit box office for prices and times.


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