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

By
Reggie Watkins
Reggie Watkins | photo by Sienna Watkins | courtesy of the artist

The summer is traditionally a slow time for jazz in the city, though last month’s packed scheduled held off the malaise for a bit. July’s calendar is far more bare, especially in terms of touring artists – presumably everyone’s sticking close to home and obsessing over that newly unearthed John Coltrane Quartet album. But other than celebrating Independence Day while the name can still be used with a straight face, the month offers a few other chances to enjoy jazz by still-living artists.

Speaking of the worst of times, let’s switch gears to the best of times: two PA cities come together in the recently formed Keystone Jazz Collective, which will drop into its Philly half’s hometown at the Clef Club on Saturday, July 28. The band was co-founded by our own bassist Nimrod Speaks and Pittsburgh trombonist Reggie Watkins, and also features pianist/organist Luke Carlos O’Reilly and drummer George Heid III. The band will perform their own original music as well as favorites from Keystone State composers past – a treasure trove that includes the work of greats like Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey and Billy Strayhorn, among countless others. In other words, there’ll be no shortage of fantastic repertoire to draw from. [INFO]

Matt Yaple has hosted all kinds of musicians in his home/listening space @exuberance over the past year, but he seems to have a special affinity for Cuban musicians. The last transplant from the island to appear under Matt’s invite-only auspices (just email him for an invite) is pianist Dayramir Gonzalez, who’ll visit on Saturday, July 7. The Havana-born Gonzalez was the first Cuban national to receive a full scholarship to Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music, and he’s since justified the award with a pair of releases that expand outward from Cuban rhythms along pathways of modern and fusion jazz as well as classical music. [INFO]

Once upon a time, as local lore has it, nearly every block in the city had one smoky neighborhood bar with a Hammond B3 grooving in the corner. These days the organ jazz is as rare as the cigarettes in Philly bars, despite the legacy of area-bred giants like Jimmy Smith, “Groove” Holmes, Trudy Pitts and Joey DeFrancesco. Bob and Barbara’s still has its B3, though, and on Saturday, July 14 will host the fist Philly Hammond B3 Festival, produced by Center City Jazz Fest founder Ernest Stuart and Philly Mag journalist (and Martha Graham Cracker accompanist) Victor Fiorillo. The lineup includes legendary tenor Bootsie Barnes and his quartet, Luke Carlos O’Reilly, St. James and the Apostles, Chicago church organist Dominique Johnson, and B&B’s house band the Four Notes. [INFO]

Though he’s originally from Jersey and has lived and performed in NYC for more than a decade, Behn Gillece has long been a regular on the local scene, a near-fixture at Chris’ Jazz Café for many years among other haunts. So we can proudly hail him as one of our own for taking top honors as “Rising Star Vibraphonist” in this year’s DownBeat Magazine Critics’ Poll. Give him your congratulations at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday, July 20, where he’ll be performing in a duet with pianist Adam Birnbaum, who also joins Gillece on the latter’s latest album, Walk of Fire (Posi-Tone). [INFO]

The schedule at Chris’ Jazz Café this month focuses heavily on artists with current or past ties to Philly, but it’s a generations-spanning snapshot of the best the city has to offer. Bop-driven trumpeter Josh Lawrence has a flair for fiery, memorable tunes that would have easily earned him a spot in the Jazz Messengers in the days when Blakey still drummed the Earth (he’ll return with his phenomenal band Color Theory on July 6), while piano prodigy Joseph Block will pay tribute to Thelonious Monk with his sextet on July 27 and singer Chelsea Reed celebrates the sounds of the roaring 20s with her band the Fairweather Five the next night. Neither Bootsie Barnes (July 7) nor Larry McKenna (July 14) has been around quite long enough to enjoy that era, but both living tenor legends celebrated their 80th last year and continue to make powerhouse music. So take the opportunity of this slow stretch to catch up on where Philly jazz has been and where it’s going. [INFO]

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