Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in August

By
Willie Jones | photo courtesy of the artist

I hate to lead off a Philly-focused column by touting an event in New York, but last month’s very special Ornette Coleman celebration at Lincoln Center had some definite local ties. The culminating event, a reunion of the late sax icon’s eclectic and electric Prime Time band, of course featured the many Philly greats who served such vital roles in that incomparable ensemble – namely, the off-kilter avant-funk rhythm section of Jamaaladeen Tacuma and G. Calvin Weston, and Charles Ellerbe, a guitarist who always plays on his own wavelength. Sadly absent was Ellerbe’s counterpart, Bern Nix, who passed away in May and to whom the evening was dedicated.

Earlier in the week, a live performance of Howard Shore’s exhilarating music for David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, which originally featured Coleman’s spike intrusions on the orchestral score, included a jazz band (fronted by Henry Threadgill and Ravi Coltrane filling Ornette’s shoes) with drummer Denardo Coleman joined by longtime Coleman bassist Charnett Moffett. A longtime Poconos resident, Moffett moved to the Philly suburbs a few years ago after his wife’s passing. He’s recently begun to make South his new home base, and will bring his fleet and fluid playing there next on August 9. [TIX / INFO]

Moffett followed his father, drummer Charles Moffett, into Coleman’s band. Another second-generation jazzman, drummer Willie Jones III inherited his penchant for tasteful but powerful swing from his own pianist father. But the true testament to his playing comes in the elders that have hired him, legendary names that include Horace Silver, Cedar Walton and the late Hank Jones. He also served a seven-year stint with the demanding trumpeter Roy Hargrove, though, which speaks to his ability to walk a little closer to the edge. On August 19, Matt Yaple’s invite-only (just shoot him an email; he’s generous with the invites) @exuberance offers the opportunity to see Jones in a wonderfully intimate setting, in a trio with two other players who have earned first-call status with an older generation: bassist David Wong and pianist Jeb Patton. In short, seize the occasion to truly scrutinize some impeccable swing. [INFO]

While Charnett Moffett’s stops at South are a relatively recent development, Orrin Evans has been a fixture there since the Broad Street club opened (though how long that lasts once he has to keep pace with The Bad Plus’ unflagging touring schedule remains to be seen). The pianist will spend quite a bit of August in residency, playing almost every Sunday with invited guests that include trombonists Stafford Hunter and Reggie Watkins and R&B duo Soul Understated. The monthlong run will culminate on Aug. 30 with Evans’ always lively Captain Black Big Band. [TIX / INFO]

Speaking of big bands, a number of young locals have banded together to give Philly its fair share of impressive jazz orchestras. Saxophonist/composer Jack St. Clair’s makes the trek to Germantown worthwhile on the first Thursday of every month, while another pair have made Chris’ Jazz Café their regular hangs. This month, the Philadelphia Ambassadors Big Band – led by Dylan Band and Joseph Block, students at Temple and Germantown Friends respectively – will play on Friday, Aug. 4, while the South Philly Big Band – founded by third-generation jazzman Chris Oatts – hits the following Thursday, Aug. 10. [TIX / INFO]

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