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Jazz Appreciation Month 2014 in Philadelphia: A Recap


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This April was a month of truly spectacular music on all fronts in Philadelphia. I know I missed a whole lot (see Philadelphia Jazz Project and Ars Nova Workshop) but here's my take.

I kicked off the month with my trio Mischa Machez at our monthly First Friday Happy Hour at the Dog and Bull, always a well-attended event, with keyboardist David Dzubinski and drummer Philip Horwitz. That night was also the opening of this year's performance of "Last Call at the Downbeat," a play that first ran as part if PIFA in 2013, written by Executive Director of Jazz Bridge Suzanne Cloud. It's the story of a young Dizzy Gillespie in Philadelphia as he began discovering the "new way" that would come to be called bebop. Great shows for the first two weekends in April, with a sellout crowd on the final Sunday matinee. Nice work Jazz Bridge (disclosure, I am a board member).

That week I finished up work color-correcting Don Glanden's soon-to-be-released documentary film on another legendary jazz trumpeter from the area, Clifford Brown. It is truly an honor to have contributed in a small way to this historically important work, the first film exposition of Brown's life, entitled Brownie Speaks. I also got the opportunity to videotape poet Pheralyn Dove at the Jazz Bridge Center City series, with a backing band for the ages consisting of Tyrone Brown, Alfie Pollit and Terrell Floyd. Did you know April is also poetry month?

The following week I filmed blues legend Frank Bey, also in Media at the Jazz Bridge series there. That truly inspiring show featured several originals and Frank belting out an original arrangement of John Lennon's "Imagine"—goosebumps. My son said it was his favorite neighborhood concert thus far, and he has seen several this season. The next night was another Jazz Bridge show with Victor North and the organ trio Three Blind Mice in Willingboro, NJ, featuring Lucas Brown and Wayne Smith Jr. (Thanks for the ride, Wayne!).

The morning of Ernest Stuart's Center City Jazz Fest found me with Tony Miceli, Paul Jost and Kevin MacConnell, filming a promo for the Jost Project Trio.

Walking over to the festival on what was perhaps the most beautiful day ever seen in Center City Philadelphia, I was presented with the twin dilemmas of who to hear and how to get in—the venues were packed to capacity, and the mayor himself had a hard time getting a seat. Congrats to Ernest Stuart for proving without a doubt that jazz has a genuinely vibrant and sizeable audience in Center City: male and female, many ethnicities, from very young to the elderly. I caught a bit of saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, enough to know I should probably check him out further, with his phenomenal drummer Kenneth Salters. Trotting over to Fergie's Pub, bumping into at least half a dozen scenesters on the sidewalks, I wrangled a front row SRO spot for guitarist Mary Halvorson and Thumbscrew featuring Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara. Whatever you want to call their music, it wasn't "free jazz"—they had elaborate scores with obvious moments of improv, with a wide variety of guitar timbres from Halvorson. It was some of the most inventive and inspirational music I have heard live in a while.

Until I scuttled over to Steve Coleman and his band the Five Elements. Kenneth Salters was standing there (another SRO show!) checking out Justin Faulkner, Mike Boone and John Swana as they finished up their set, and he was shaking his head with either awe or recognition. I have only heard recordings of Steve's band, this one featuring the great Anthony Tidd on bass, and "The Rick" Steve Rickman as J. Michael Harrison introduced him on drums. All I can say is wow, the hour went by like a moment, with each musician balancing technical and creative prowess while also listening intently to the others. Truly amazing music. If Jazz month had ended, it would have been a total coup. Except it was barely half over.

The next Friday Jazz Bridge presented our annual fundraiser at the New Leaf Club in Bryn Mawr with Pat Martino. Pat and his traditional organ trio brought the house down, with Pat Bianchi and Carmen Intorre. What a show: great turnout, fun silent auction and Pat was a gracious gentleman at the meet and greet as hostess Rhenda Fearrington ran things solidly.

A little birthday celebration for "jazz wife" Dawn Evans with several members of the Philadelphia jazz community at my neighbor Orrin Evans' house in Mt. Airy punctuated another fantastic musical weekend. A sip of good old-fashioned corn and I was on my way to the next gig...

Which was that Sunday night recording vocalist Jill Salkin at the aforementioned New Leaf Club, with her band including Frank Strauss and Chico Huff, among others—inspirational cats all. A wonderful feeling was in the air at her CD release, with singers in the crowd joining Jill on an original sing-along. Looking forward to next season's Jazz Bridge series at the New Leaf, with hostess Denise Montana at the helm.

As if all that wasn't enough, twin big bands capped this year's jazz month of April. Shooting another video at UArts with the Paul Jost Trio being joined by the UArts student "Z" Big band, most of whom were seniors, and all of whom have bright futures in the music industry.

We wrapped up jazz month with the inimitable Orrin Evans "Captaining" his big, bad band. I have been fortunate to see this band grow from its inception as a workshop at Chris' Jazz Cafe to where it is now as a full blown gale force to be reckoned with, a band of urgency, intense arranging and raw power.

With new release video projects for Joanna Pascale, Paul Jost and the Captain Black Big Band means that April showers should bear several beautiful May flowers. Those of us who take part in the Philly scene know that jazz, or whatever you care to call this many petaled creative improvised music, is here year round.

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Jazzahead! 2014



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