Jazz Joints & Castles
Jazz was busting out all over through Philadelphia’s jazz joints and several of its more regal sites during the last of June.
CHRIS' JAZZ CAFE had one of the finest tenor sax men in the country, Philadelphia's own, Larry McKenna with stand-out stars, Pete Smyser, guitar; Sid Simmons, piano. Larry and company once again demonstrated how superb standards can sound when played by artists. The next night, another torrid tenor saxophonist, Tim Armacost, with visiting Japanese pianist, Yutaka Shiina was holding forth. They were backed by two very fine local stars, bassist Lee Smith and drummer Dan Monaghan. Armacost has worked with various jazz groups and is touring with his new CD, Rightly Dark. He works regularly with Ms Yutaka in Japan and are on their only U.S. tour this year. Later in the month, they brought in the Tony Micelli group backing up the always arresting vocals of Meg Clifton. The group, Micelli, vibes; Jim Schade, drums; Kevin McConnell, bass; and Victor North on tenor sax reminded patrons just how much fun jazz can be. Schade took a drum solo that was awesome, Micelli was tasteful throughout and may be the first guy I have ever seen at this club who actually started right on time. Kevin is a very fine bassist and Victor North had some back up tenor for Ms Clifton that were pure poetry. Ms Clifton, always charming, sang a version of skylark that was hauntingly beautiful.
ZANZIBAR BLUE, still the most sophisticated jazz supper club in town (albeit the only one) brought in another Japanese star with acclaimed jazz piano virtuoso, Hiromi. She began at six in Japan, playing in public at 12, working with the Czech Philharmonic at 14 and coming under the jazz influences of Chic Corea when she was 17. Her latest CD was with noted pianist Ahmad Jamal, who said, “She is nothing short of amazing.” She goes from rock to classical and funk along with jazz and refuses to be bound by labels. The service at Zanzibar is always impeccable. They make you feel special for being there.
THE PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART showcased Ernie Andrews, a blues/ballad singer with New Orleans/L.A./Philadelphia roots who brings to mind everyone from Billy Eckstine to Lou Rawls. This is his first return to Philadelphia, his birthplace, which he left early on. He has recorded Benny Carter and was the Harry James band singer. He credits such influences as Al Hibbler, Jimmy Rushing and "Big Joe" Turner. His latest CD demonstrates these influences with support from Houston Person, tenor sax; Kenny Washington, drums; Aaron Graves, piano and John Webber on bass.
WARMDADDY'S, Philadelphia’s over-rated, but sadly only real mainstray blues club had John Lee Hooker Jr. at the end of June. The club amplification is deplorable, service about as good and the man at the desk collecting fees had all the charm of an executioner. Hooker is a first class showman who sings a lot more like Wynonie Harris than he does his father, but he tended to go on a bit too long proving you can have too much of a good thing. The mostly young (who else would tolerate the ambiance) crowd seemed to enjoy it, but began to thin out when it dragged on.
THE KIMMEL CENTER had something for everyone June 26 with its all night Third Annual Summer Solstice Celebration that includes jazz, blues and funk along with classical and dance music. The Kimmel Center Youth Jazz Ensemble performed. One of the jazz segments, Ella Gahnt, was also be at the Father’s Day Big Band Jam on June 20 at The Philadelphia. Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts.