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Sax Stars Shine in Philly Skies

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Two time-tested, top, tenor sax men, along with a few blues belters are in Philadelphia's jazz scene these April nights.

CHRIS’ JAZZ CAFE April 23 brought in multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan for his first Philadelphia gig in decades. He plays sax, trumpet, flute and worked with such jazz greats as Art Blakey and Red Rodney. He was backed by such established local stars as Sid Simmons, piano; John Swana, trumpet; Lee Smith, bass and Dan Monaghan on drums. They don’t get any better than that. Sullivan is a titan on trumpet and flugelhorn as as well as sax. He blew some masterful exchanges with Swana, a horn man I am beginning to think of as a Bop Bix. He is impossible to really categorize as was the famed Beiderbecke who may have sat in with largely dixie groups, but whose horn playing was beyond definition. On one number, Everything Happens to Me, appropriately selected when the rain outside was coming down in proverbial buckets it gave everyone a chance to shine. The next night the tenor titan, Bootsie Barnes was backing the very fine vocalist Mary Ellen Desmond. Bootsie had patrons dancing in the aisles on a recent Ortlieb’s gig. Rounding out the week, May 1 will be a CD release debut for pianist-composer,-leader-teacher, Tom Lawton. He has recorded with various artists and worked with jazz vocalist Miss Justine and Norman David’s avant-garde Group Four. He teaches at Temple University. His CD, an arresting, artful piece with classical overtones, is Retrospective/Debut featuring Swana, Smith and saxophonist Ben Schachter and drummer Jim Miller, all at Chris’.

ORTLIEB’S JAZZ HAUS, the Northern Liberties jazz capital, April 23, welcomed back local tenor icon, Larry McKenna, who was working with the exciting Sid Simmons Quartet. McKenna can blow up a storm or a soothing ballad that has captivated jazz fans for decades. He has several CDs out, but nothing compares to hearing him in person.

WARMDADDY’S April 23-24 had E. C. Scott, a lady of ample proportions and voice to match, who was a W. C. Handy award nominee this year. She started singing as a child in church and brings a gospel ring to her songs (many self written) along with a some ribald, foot stomping lyrics.

ZANZIBAR BLUE Had acclaimed, versatile, alto/soprano sax star, Kenny Garrett on April 23-24. He has worked with the New Jersey Symphony, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Sting, Peter Gabriel and even hip-hop legend, GURU. He also worked with the Duke Ellington and Mel Lewis Orchestras. His 8th Warner Brothers LP is In Your Face.

PAINTED BRIDE ART CENTER features bop piano star, Orrin Evans with his electric quintet, LUVPARK plus singers and additional sidemen on May 1. The singers are Bilal, J.D. Walter and Dawn Warren. Evans group includes Mike Boone, bass; Donald Edwards, drums; Ron Jennings, guitar and Ralph Bowen on sax.

23RD STREET CAFE continues its Tuesday night jam sessions, now in its 15th year, with both established jazz artists such as the esteemed piano man, “Father John” D’Amico and various visiting firemen who like to sit in and try their wings. Founded by Dutch architect, bassist, Herman De Yong and still starring one of the original players, “Big Jim" Dofton on drums, it’s a place where dreams can come true for jazz fans and weekend musicians.


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