The jazz scene in Philadelphia in the first two weeks of 2005 covers everything from a soulful new singer to a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.. He was born Janurary 15, 1929 and January 17 is MLK Day.
ZANZIBAR BLUE this weekend is featuring the tribute to King. with a presentation by Philadelphia's top-rated pianist, composer, bandleader, teacher, Orrin Evans. He will be working with Gary Bartz, sax; Mike Boone, bass; Donald Edwards, drums; and Jaguar Wright, vocals. Poet Sonia Sanchez will join them Sunday.
Evans, reared in Philly, long a favorite at local clubs, emphasized the significance of relating King and the music when, "jazz is an African American art form." He said, the show would be for, "a listening type audience, like a dinner theater..."and that as far as he knew, " this has not been done in the past." The presentation, he added, would be "a bit like church, no way to talk about it without talking about church and the influence of God."
I interviewed him by phone when he was putting the show together and all the pieces were not in place . He said, "You're going to hear some old Negro spitiuals...bits of the 'We shall overcome' speech by King and the Herbie Hancock song with an arrangement of 'Lift Every Voice'." He noted the band came from various locales and generations and Wright with a Negro soul role right out of Philly." Evans added, "I'm just excited about doing this, paying tribute to this wonderful man with music and song...in a sense a tribute to all famous African Americans who who have done so much for us through the years."
Clearly, this is something of a daring presentation for a jazz club. The Kimmel Center also held a tribute to King this week, but for a club aimed at jazz fans, it is a clear departure from the standard fare.
CHRIS' JAZZ CAFE last weekend had the nationally praised 2004 Thelonious Monk Award singer, Gretchen Parlato, in her first Philly engagement. She was backed by the Rodney Green Trio with Luis Perdomo, piano and Massimo Biolcati, bass. Green was Diana Krall's drummer. Parlato worked with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
Hancock said she is "a singer with a deep, almost magical connection to the music." Shorter compared her with Sinatra and said, "There's no one out there like Gretchen." The New York Times raved over her performance. Her vocals were a mixed bag at Chris' containing many originals and newer selections with only one major standard in the first set. The crowd there demonstrated once again the willingness of too many people to pay to hear music and then talk all through it. Gretchen's mike seemed a bit off, with much of her remarks to the crowd hardly understandable. Green is a very exciting drummer and he seems to know it.
KIMMEL CENTER Jan. 16 showcases Bobby McFerrin in a variety of musical styles from jazz to classical aimed at everyone from 8 to 80. The 10-time Grammy Award winner, composer of, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and classical music conductor is backed by his famed vocal group, Voicetra. McFerrin is a vocal innovator without peer.
Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, Broad & Spruce Streets, 215-893-1999, 7:30 p.m., Jan. 16, $37-$68, Bobby McFerrin.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.