Top-tenor sax titan Larry McKenna was all over town for two weeks of jazz joy. On August 14, he was at Chris' Jazz Cafe, the next Friday night at Ortlieb's Jazz Haus and that Friday evening at Jazz at the Firehouse. McKenna worked with top stars Woody Herman, Clark Terry, Buddy DeFranco, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra. Rosemary Clooney was told to get McKenna for her Philly gig. He has several nationally praised CD's such as My Shinning Hour and It Might As Well Be Spring. Larry discounts any significance to multiple shows , saying, "They're just gigs...I can have three or four jobs in one week, but they're sometimes private...I'm normally all over the place." He has a new CD with John Swanna and Bootsie Barnes called Gumbo Two that will be released shortly.
Philadelphia born and bred, he's been making sax magic here for years. McKenna said, "if you want to make a big name nationally for yourself, you pretty much have to travel, go to N.Y. or L.A., but recognition was not that important to me." He said he has the advantage of "working with the best guys in town after building up a certain rep."
CHRIS' JAZZ CAFE had as noted, McKenna with a quartet featuring Tony Miceli on vibes and Meg Clifton on vocals. Tony said, "Larry is the real thing...I even named a website after him. He's an amazing musician." Clifton is an arresting singer with a haunting captivating style. The first set was an absolute delight with Clifton backed perfectly by McKenna, Miceli and Lee Smith on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums. All were in perfect form with Larry demonstrating once again how exciting just a few solos can be. The only problem was not with the music but once again with several loud mouths at the bar who did not seem to care that they were interfering with the listening pleasure of everyone else in the club. Next Friday, Josh Roseman, voted one of the top 10 trombonists by Down Beat, will be in with his powerhouse group.
TRITONE on August 15 had Philly native Skip Heller on guitar with Lucas Brown, organ and Jim Miller, drums. Heller was nationally praised for his CD Fakebook. He feels, "so much of today's jazz scene has a kind of follow the pack mentality" and prefers "choosing material that would set my band apart." He proudly proclaims, "I love Philadelphia." Aug. 24, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey comes in on a nationwide tour with a band Downbeat said is "out of a messianic devotion to the idea that jazz means improvisation."
THE PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART continued its Friday jazz sessions June 13 with the Craig Ebner Organ Trio with Ebner, guitar; Lucas Brown, organ and wayne Smith, drums. Dave Posmontier Duo with Dave on piano and Chico Huff, bass were there the following Friday. Both Ebner and Posmontier are long time Philly performers.
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.