Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live jazz around town in April

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Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra | photo courtesy of the artist

Jazz Appreciation Month got off to an early start on Monday, as Mayor Jim Kenney presented the inaugural Benny Golson Award to Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste under the gaze of portraits of his predecessors at City Hall. Overlapping with Women’s History Month, the morning event also paid tribute to local legends Trudy Pitts and Shirley Scott and living legend Monnette Sudler (whose name proved an unfortunate challenge to the administration’s speakers). The month that follows will be bookended with a buffet of festivals as it draws to a close.

The entire final week, from the 23rd to the 30th, will mark the inaugural Philadelphia Jazz Festival, spearheaded by South’s Bynum Brothers and the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy. The fest will sprawl across a number of venues, including the Bynums’ South, Warmdaddy’s and RELISH along with Chris’ Jazz Café, World Café Live and the Ardmore Music Hall, among others. The fest will bring home several favorite sons, including trumpeter Randy Brecker, organ great Joey DeFrancesco, and longtime South regulars Gerald Veasley and Orrin Evans. Other headliners include pianist ELEW, 93-year-old singer/pianist (and voice of Schoolhouse Rock) Bob Dorough, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and a tribute to the legendary jam sessions at Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus.

The schedule is doubly packed on the 29th when trombonist Ernest Stuart’s Center City Jazz Festival returns for its sixth incarnation. The fest, which allows audiences to dash back and forth between five Center City venues, once again features a host of local greats, including pianist Eric Wortham, on a break from touring with Adele; drummer George “Spanky” McCurdy, who can boast some impressive gigs of his own, including tours with Lady Gaga and Lauryn Hill; as well as local legends like Sudler, Odean Pope, and The Landham Brothers and rising stars including Josh Lawrence and saxophonist Adison Evans.

A week earlier, the biannual Exit Zero Jazz Festival takes over off-season Cape May for the weekend of April 21-23. The Ray Charles Orchestra headlines, with the Raelettes along to sing and saxophonist Maceo Parker – best known for his tenure with another soul icon, James Brown, in the spotlight. Other acts on the program include the Robert Glasper Experiment, bass great Charnett Mofett and pianist and Philly native Kenny Barron.

The festivities get officially underway this weekend with two fantastic ensembles, kicking off on Saturday, April 1st when pianist Arturo O’Farrill brings his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra to Montgomery County Community College. The big band, which began life under the auspices of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and has since broken out as its own entity, views the Latin Jazz tradition from a startlingly wide perspective, boldly colliding the traditional with the modern.

The following night, the SFJAZZ Collective performs at the Annenberg Center. Launched in 2004 by the Bay Area jazz institution SFJAZZ, the ever-changing all-star band pays homage to a different jazz legend annually, and they don’t come much more legendary than this year’s honoree, Miles Davis. The Collective currently includes Sean Jones in the vital trumpet chair, longtime collaborators Miguel Zenón and David Sánchez on saxes, Philly native Robin Eubanks on trombone, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire. They’ll tackle repertoire from throughout most of Miles’ notoriously diverse career along with their own original compositions.

Ars Nova Workshop’s sole Jazz Month offering will bring always-innovative trumpeter Dave Douglas to town with his new project Dada People. Coinciding with the PMA’s new exhibition “Marcel Duchamp and the Fountain Scandal,” Douglas’ collaboration with French pianist Frank Woeste was inspired by Dada artist Man Ray, a follower of Duchamp’s.

Later in the month, jazz mingles with other genres. On April 7, jazz-rock provocateurs Kneebody celebrate the release of their new album Anti-Hero, which also folds in the aftermath of recent electronica collaborations, at Johnny Brenda’s. Jazz and classical cross paths at World Café Live on Tuesday the 18th, when UPenn artists-in-residence the Daedalus Quartet presents new quintet music written by renowned jazz bassist John Patitucci. Being a member of the unparalleled Wayne Shorter Quartet would be recommendation enough, but Patitiucci is a stunning virtuoso who should merge comfortably into the adventurous chamber group.

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