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Book Review

Philadelphia Jazz


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Philadelphia Jazz
Suzanne Cloud and Diane Turner
127 pages
ISBN 978-1-4671-0784-6
Images of America
Arcadia Publishing

Philadelphia longs to be known as a jazz town, a city distinguished by its major contribution to the jazz legacy. There is a good reason for this. A large number of members of the jazz pantheon came up and/or made their home in Philadelphia. They include, just for starters, Billie Holiday, who was raised in Baltimore but born in Philadelphia and returned here often, saxophonists and close friends John Coltrane and Benny Golson; organists Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland, Shirley Scott and Trudy Pitts; guitarists Eddie Lang, Pat Martino and Jimmy Bruno; pianists McCoy Tyner and Bobby Timmons; violinists Joe Venuti, John Blake and Diane Monroe; trumpeters Lee Morganand John Swana; bassists Jymie Merritt and Christian McBride, drummers Stan Levey and Mickey Roker.

From its suburbs came the likes of Michael Brecker and Randy Brecker. Then there were the many who spent time coming up in Philly developing their craft such as Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Nina Simone and Clifford Brown. And there were those remarkable musicians and singers who settled in Philadelphia as stellar members of its jazz community, like Monette Sudler, Larry McKenna, Bootsie Barnes, Miss Justine, Denise King, Joanna Pascale, Evelyn Simms, Tony Miceli, Tom Lawton and Dan Monaghan. The list of outstanding musicians from Philadelphia is almost endless.

However, despite its massive musical contribution, Philadelphia has remained in the shadows as a jazz hub. For example, it has yet to have a major jazz festival despite being in an ideal position to do so. It has no historical center or museum with a jazz focus. There are no extensive recording and writing archives, and even the Strawberry Mansion home of the immortal John Coltrane where he composed "Giant Steps" languishes in disrepair and has struggled for decades over its ownership. Perhaps it's through benign neglect and maybe a touch of subtle racism that Philadelphia hasn't become a jazz mecca.

This modest new book, Philadelphia Jazz is a candle in the darkness. Through a collection of iconic photographs annotated by Suzanne Cloud and Diane Turner, it is the first book that unapologetically presents the sweeping panorama of the music in Philadelphia from the marching and dance bands before the Civil War to the ragtime of the turn of the century, through the swing bands of the 1920s-1940s through the emergence of small-group bebop and hard bop beginning with the 1940s, and on into the new millennium. Although the book inevitably misses a lot due to space considerations and archival gaps in photography, it gives a lively and intriguing sense of a city burning to be known for its contribution to the American-born music called jazz.

The book's cover, with a photo of a young Jimmy Smith wielding a big condenser microphone and standing at the organ in a Philadelphia radio station, sets the stage for a multiplicity of photos that bring together musicians, locations, and events in Philadelphia, starting with the marching bands led by Francis "Frank" Johnson after the American Revolution and before the Civil War. Johnson's sound was loved and honored by Queen Victoria among others, edged over into dance music, and may have acquired a syncopation that presaged 20th-century jazz. The inset photo opposite the title page—and taken a century later—is a stunning image of Billy Eckstine and Billie Holiday at the Earle Theater towards the end of World War II. During that time, theaters like the Earle brought in jazz acts from everywhere who inspired the local musicians, as an itinerant Johnny Hartman did Miss Justine. The Eckstine/Holiday and many other photos were taken by John W. Mosley, a pioneering African American photographer who had a way of artfully posing his subjects while making them appear fresh and spontaneous. Most of the photos in the book are from the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection of the Temple University Libraries, of which one of the authors, Diane Turner, is the curator. Both she and Suzanne Cloud have long been in and around the Philadelphia jazz scene and are also historians and scholars, so their commentaries on the photographs are rich with information and lore that give a feeling of the incredible intensity of activity in the Philly jazz scene during all the various eras.

Photos of musicians range from household names like Illinois Jacquet, Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey, Dizzy Gillespie, and a young Gerry Mulligan to lesser-known figures like singers Nina Bunden and Juanita Holiday, the latter beginning to achieve more recognition among the cognoscenti. There is a portrait photograph of Dennis Sandole, who taught the likes of John Coltrane, James Moody, Pat Martino, Chuck Anderson, and Bobby Zankel how to invent and use modern chord progressions. South Philadelphia's pioneering guitarist Eddie Lang and violinist Joe Venuti are also there. There is a series of photos and stories about the ups and downs of the musicians' union in Philadelphia and the origins of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz. All this suggests the richness of the subject matter covered in the photos. As you look and read, the music itself presses into your mind and you begin to realize how much the people and the settings of the streets, the clubs, and the theaters were part of the music, something that is often recognized about New Orleans and Harlem but deserves more attention regarding Philadelphia and elsewhere.

There are, however, some important stories missing. Legendary trumpeter Clifford Brown came to Philadelphia from Wilmington in the 1950s and participated actively, inspired by Fats Navarro and in turn inspiring a young Lee Morgan. There was an incredible jazz scene here at the time on and near South Broad Street and around the Temple campus. Much more could have been said and shown about this, as there are musicians still alive who participated in it and have personal photos and memorabilia. Another important factor, briefly touched upon, was the music-making in homes and families, which helped the bebop and hard bop musicians to interact and develop new music. A whole book could be written about the musicians who came out of these at-home cauldrons of musical creativity, like the Heath Brothers, Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner, and John Coltrane. And the schools like Granoff, the Philadelphia High School for the Performing and Creative Arts, the Settlement Music School, and last but not least the Curtis Institute where a small band of "crossover" geniuses like Diane Monroe and Tony Miceli finally brought jazz into a blue blood classical music monarchy which years before that had excluded Nina Simone as a piano student because she was black.

Despite the gaps, which are unavoidable in such a project, this book is a groundbreaking photographic journey through the history of Philadelphia jazz. If you love Philadelphia and jazz or if you are a newcomer to either or both, you should get a copy, look, read, reminisce, and be turned on to the magic. Hopefully, this wonderful compendium will help inspire a renewed awareness of the incredible heritage of Philadelphia jazz and give it the respect and attraction it deserves in the New Millennium.

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