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

Mark Guiliana
Mark Guiliana | photo by Deneka Peniston | courtesy of the artist

To some extent, I’ll forever associate David Bowie’s Blackstar with Christmas. The day after it was released was the day we dismantled our Christmas tree that year, so the iconic singer’s magisterial swan song became the soundtrack to the end of the holiday season. Of course, one day more and we’d learn the devastating news of Bowie’s death, but at least there was that brief period where we could enjoy the elusive mysteries of Blackstar without the tragic associations.

Beyond the fact of its late-career brilliance, one of the reasons I was so drawn to Blackstar was my familiarity with Bowie’s band on the album, the members of saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s stellar quartet, including drummer Mark Guiliana. Continue reading →

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

Theo Croker | via theocroker.com

Not to rub it in, but by the time you read this, I’ll be fleeing the encroaching Philly winter and enjoying the Caribbean sun and sand at the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival.  Ok, so there’s really no other reason to mention that other than to rub it in, but it seems that the rest of the Philly jazz scene this month is also looking to warmer climes for inspiration. Continue reading →

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

Trombone Shorty | Photo by Joe Del Tufo | joedeltufo.com

Though it doesn’t have the reputation of landmark rock festivals like Woodstock or Monterey Pop, the October Revolution in Jazz was at least as monumental for the free jazz scene. Organized by trumpeter/composer Bill Dixon in 1964, the four-day event was the first of its kind and included pioneering figures in the music like Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Steve Lacy and Andrew Hill. Continue reading →

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

Minas performs at SOUTH this month | photo via minasmusic.com

After a slow August (well, slow for live jazz, less so for life in general, but let’s not get into that), September makes up for lost time with a hectic schedule overlapped by competing festivals – both Fringe and Opera Philly’s calendars have plenty of venturesome programming sure to entice the same crowds (modestly speaking) who haunt the city’s jazz venues. This month’s picks feature a feast for jazz guitar fanatics, exciting shows by both veterans and innovators, and is bookended by very different approaches to celebrating the Brazilian influence in jazz. Continue reading →

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

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. Continue reading →

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

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PRISM Quartet | photo by Jon Rohrer

While it’s certainly not a new trend, it was particularly evident seeing May’s musical offerings in Philly that the lines between what’s considered jazz and classical or new music have never been blurrier. The highlight of last month’s calendar was Bowerbird’s landmark Julius Eastman retrospective; a last-minute program change on the final night led to the reprise of Eastman’s “Thruway” in a version that sounded radically different from its earlier performance and thus revealing the amount of spontaneity and chance in the piece. More explicitly, the first iteration followed Eastman’s instruction that a jazz band play from offstage, leading to scraps of Monk seeping into the music’s quieter portions like a neighbor’s stereo through an open window. Then there was the two-night Ars Nova run that featured Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley playing a long-form piece inspired by John Cage, followed by John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet playing short compositions that were often complexly through-composed.

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

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The Kimmel Center Jazz Residency | photo by Creative Outlet

A trio of dueling (or harmoniously co-existing, depending on who you ask) festivals means that May begins with a bit of a Jazz Appreciation Month hangover. Local fans won’t have too long to recover, though, as pianist Glenn Zaleski brings his fine trio – featuring bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Craig Weinrib, the only time the in-demand trio that recorded Zaleski’s new CD Fellowship will reconvene on his current run – to Chris’ Jazz Café on Wednesday, May 3rd, kicking off a run of worthwhile shows that continues the next night at Matt Yaple’s invite-only (shoot him an email) listening-room series @exuberance with Tel Aviv-born pianist Tamir Hendelman and on Friday with the Kennedy Center’s all-star tribute to vocal great Abbey Lincoln at the Merriam, spearheaded by Teri Lyne Carrington and featuring powerhouse singers Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding.

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Drummer Bobby Z remembers Prince ahead of The Revolution doubleheader at The TLA

revolution
Prince and The Revolution | photo by Larry Williams

The news of Prince’s death just over a year ago came as a shock to nearly everyone who heard it, with music fans in mourning around the world. But it hit particularly hard for those select few who knew and worked with the famously reclusive icon.

“I saw the words ‘Prince Dead’ on TV, and those two words just didn’t make sense,” recalls drummer Bobby Z, a member of Prince’s band from 1979 to 1986, the years from his breakthrough to the recording of Purple Rain and beyond. “It was incomprehensible that for some reason he was gone.”

Bobby Z and the other members of the classic line-up of The Revolution – guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardist Lisa Coleman, bassist Brown Mark and keyboardist Matt “Doctor” Fink – have reunited to pay tribute to His Purple Badness, stopping in Philly for two nights at the TLA this weekend. According to Z, the concerts provide a degree of catharsis for musicians and audience alike.

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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.

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