Tonight’s Concert Picks: Hippo Campus at Union Transfer, George Burton at SOUTH, Madalean Gauze at Bourban and Branch, and more…

Hippo Campus | via the band's Facebook page
Hippo Campus | via the band’s Facebook page

Minnesota indie rockers Hippo Campus are taking their serene, atmospheric sound to Union Transfer this Saturday. Along with Weathers, they’ll support Saint Motel as part of their “saintmotelivision” tour. Hippo Campus’ latest release, 2015’s South EP may have just turned one a few weeks ago, but its punchy drums and infectious hooks haven’t lost any of their luster in the interim. For tickets and more information, head over to Union Transfer’s website. Continue reading →


Why Philly pianist George Burton waited 15 years to make his debut

George Burton | photo by Zoran Jelenic | courtesy of the artist
George Burton | photo by Zoran Jelenic | courtesy of the artist

George Burton’s résumé is indisputably impressive: he’s worked with jazz notables including Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Wallace Roney, and James Carter; accompanied pop artists including Meshell Ndegeocello and Patti LaBelle; he’s been the pianist for Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir and the Sun Ra Arkestra and soloed with the Philly Pops and in Leslie Burrs’ opera “Vanqui.”

One thing the Philly native hadn’t done until now is record an album under his own name. That’s usually the first order of business for a musician leaving college for the competitive jazz scene, hoping to establish their reputation or least create a handy calling card to help land gigs. Since leaving Temple University in 2000, though, Burton has never lacked for work. Whether through the connections he made in the hothouse Ortlieb’s environment of the late ‘90s, where he was a regular, or simply through his own hard-won reputation for invention and adaptability, he simply hasn’t felt the need to record for recording’s sake. Continue reading →


Talking with Philadelphia native George Burton about his creative evolution and homecoming to Chris’ Jazz Cafe on 5/31

George Burton | photo courtesy of the artist
George Burton | photo courtesy of the artist

George Burton was a classically trained violinist and violist when he began high school, with aspirations to be “the next Pinchas Zukerman.” But he soon made friends with a number of peers who would go on to become jazz notables over the next several years: saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, drummer Johnathan Blake, pianist Orrin Evans.

“They were all into jazz and they were the cool kids, so I started playing jazz,” Burton recalls now. Having also studied piano from an early age at his parents’ behest – his mother was a violin teacher and his father a piano teacher, so he had a resource at home in either case – Burton found himself drawn to the keys in order to accompany his friends. By the time he graduated high school, his focus had shifted entirely. With parents versed in classical music and the church, it was uncharted territory. “Jazz was such a foreign concept in our house,” he says. “I didn’t grow up hearing anything like that; in our house it was either gospel or Stravinsky.”

Burton, now 35, has lived in New York City for the past decade and made a name for himself as a pianist playing alongside jazz greats including Wallace Roney, Donald “Duck” Bailey, Jack Walrath, and Odean Pope, and playing alongside such wide-ranging artists as Meshell Ndegeocello, Tia Fuller, Stacy Dillard, and Patti LaBelle. He’ll return home on Saturday, May 31 to lead his latest quartet at Chris’ Jazz Café. The band will feature his longtime collaborator Tim Warfield, Jr., on saxophone along with bassist Noah Jackson and drummer Corey Rawls.

Unlike those high school friends, however, Burton didn’t make the move to NYC immediately after high school. “I always feel like I’m one of the very few cats from my generation that actually stuck around,” Burton says. “I did most of my learning in Philly. So it’s always a major thing for me to come back and play and see what’s going on around the city and check out the kids who are coming up.”

Burton delayed his pilgrimage in order to attend Temple University, where he originally intended to major in music education. It was another recommendation from his musician parents, who encouraged him to establish a safety net in case the life of a professional musician didn’t quite work out. But trumpeter Terell Stafford, chair of jazz studies at Temple (and now also chair of instrumental studies, bringing both classical and jazz students under his purview) encouraged Burton to pursue jazz full time.

Continue reading →


Meet George, the world’s biggest fan of Reading Rainbow

Photo by Bruce Warren

Meet George, quite possibly the world’s biggest fan of Reading Rainbow. I couldn’t help but take his picture last Saturday evening at SXSW in Austin, as I was hanging out on 6th Street. I was just surveying the thousands of people out on the street, and there came George—wearing a big smile and a new Reading Rainbow t-shirt. George is from Los Angeles, and took some time off from his job managing a couple of record stores to go to the music conference and festival. He told me that seeing Reading Rainbow at SXSW was one of his favorite shows and that we should be happy to have a band as great as Reading Rainbow in Philly. We agree.


Questlove, Christian McBride and Uri Caine are getting The Philadelphia Experiment back together at Newport Jazz Fest

The Philadelphia Experiment

It’s quite possibly that Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson‘s set to see of 2017 won’t be the one he played at the The Roots’ annual summer kick-off party, the Roots Picnic — awesome as that show was.

It’s not one The Roots will play in their hometown of Philadelphia, or on their nationally televised nightly gig on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. No, it’s looking like 2017’s performance-to-see for fans of The Roots and their drummer/leader takes place in a week and a half on the quiet coast of Rhode Island, at the annual Newport Jazz Festival.
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Items Tagged Philadelphia: Days of scorched earth and mystical discovery

Diamond Tooth | via

Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time each week digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. At the end of each week, we present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

Some people just want to hear the hits, and that’s perfectly okay. Hell, sometimes I just want to hear the hits — or I don’t mind / actually kind of enjoy that tingly sensation serotonin-release vibe you get when a near-and-dear song comes on in your auditory range.

Diving head-on into the unfamiliar, however, takes another sort of listening commitment. It’s not one that everyone shares, which makes total sense because it can be kind of a bonkers pursuit. But if you’re game, it can be intensely rewarding as well.

This project, obviously, is one example of such. This past Saturday’s Center City Jazz fest is another, and as I watched Norman David’s Eleventet perform with explosive, big band-style joy on the Franky Bradley’s stage, I realized how similar the two ideas were.  Continue reading →


Meet Brandy Butler: A Philly-born songwriter who rediscovered her voice abroad

Brandy Butler | via

“I don’t think of it as a breakup record,” says Brandy Butler. “I think of it more as my journey through learning how to let something come, and then let it go. Letting go of things is like everyone’s struggle on so many levels.”

The Inventory of Goodbye, the latest full length project by Philly born, Zurich Switzerland based singer-songwriter and her band The Brokenhearted is a harrowing journey through a cycle of love, loss, heartbreak and rejuvenation. Touching on soaring rock an soul, twangy country-blues and cinematic retro-pop, The Inventory… is a colorful and diverse listen.

From the bittersweet pop ballad “Crying” to the heart-wrenchingly sparse guitar epic “The Hardest,” Butler’s hushed windswept vocals breathe life into each of the album’s dark, emotionally dense love songs. We caught up with her before a trip to South Africa to film a video and spoke with her about her youth studying Jazz at UArts, new music and building a new life on another continent. Continue reading →


The Key’s Year-End Mania: Ernest Stuart’s top new releases and old discoveries of 2016

Ernest Stuar
Ernest Stuart at Center City Jazz Fest | Photo by John Vettese

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2016 incredible. Today, Philly trombonist and Center City Jazz Festival founder Ernest Stuart shares his favorite releases and rediscoveries. He rings in New Year’s Eve at TIME Restaurant from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., more information on the show can be found here.

Musically speaking, growing up wasn’t easy for me. My mother was particularly religious, and limited my musical exploration to: 1) Gospel, 2) Contemporary Christian Music, and 3) More Gospel. The only time I was exposed to different genres was when I spent weekends with my dad (think Motown classics & ’70s Funk) and on my daily school bus rides (think late ‘90s-early’00s hip-hop and R&B), where I would pretend to know the words to every BadBoy hit.

Now in my 30’s and armed with streaming service subscriptions, my appetite for new music is voracious. I try to keep an open mind and am often on the search for old music that “somehow” eluded me during my youth, new releases from both freshmen and established artists, and everything in-between. Below are my Top Five favorite old finds and new releases of 2016. Continue reading →


April is Jazz Appreciation Month; here are some can’t-miss shows at Chris’ Jazz Cafe

The George Burton trio performs at Chris’ Jazz Cafe | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and jazz aficionados and newcomers alike will have a lot of live music to look forward to over the next 30 days, culminating in Center City Jazz Fest on April 30th. Chris’ Jazz Cafe, an old staple in the Philly Jazz scene, has partnered with the city to bring a number of different acts from across the country to the stage. Continue reading →