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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 →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Duane Eubanks at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, RFA at Steel City, Frog Holler at Johnny Brenda’s

Duane Eubanks | Photo by Gulnara Khamatova
Duane Eubanks | Photo by Gulnara Khamatova | via duaneeubanks.com

Philly native Duane Eubanks, the youngest of the local jazz scene’s famed Eubanks brothers, returns to Philadelphia tonight. Last year, he released Things of That Particular Nature on Sunnyside Records. Tonight, he and his quintet play two sets at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Center City, one at 8 p.m. and one at 10. Tickets and more information can be found at the Chris’ Jazz Cafe website. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Hoppin’ John Orchestra at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra at Verizon Hall

Hoppin' John Orchestra | Photo by Rocco Peditto | <a href=http://roccopeditto.virb.com/ target="_blank">roccopeditto.virb.com</a>
Hoppin’ John Orchestra | Photo by Rocco Peditto | roccopeditto.virb.com

It’s going to be a chilly Fat Tuesday tonight, but a couple center city jazz shows will warm up your Mardi Gras celebration. Over at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, the regional crew Hoppin’ John Orchesrta will take the stage for their annual throwdown. The New Orleans-style brass band mixes up traditional and vintage numbers with more contemporary vocal tunes and originals in the spirit of the big easy. Listen to their recent appearance on The Key Studio Sessions and get more information on the show here. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Hoppin John Orchestra

Philly-area jazz ensemble The Hoppin John Orchestra has been doing its thing for nearly 20 years now, and it has a songbook to prove it. With over 200 selections in its repertoire – amassed by band leader Michael Hood since founding the ten-piece in 1996 – the HJO touches on vintage standards and original compositions in the spirit of Southern ragtime and New Orleans brass band music. Which means this time of year is the band’s busy season. Continue reading →

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head
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Reconsidering history with jazz guitarist Nir Felder

Nir Felder | Photo courtesy of the artist
Nir Felder | Photo courtesy of the artist

At the time that guitarist Nir Felder was writing the music for his debut album, the world around him seemed to be in the midst of momentous changes. It was 2011, and headlines blared news of the global financial crisis, the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. The events couldn’t help but start Felder wondering about the future – as well as the past. Continue reading →

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Philly native Orrin Evans talks about paying tribute to a friend in Liberation Blues

Orin Evans | Photo by Jimmy Katz
Orrin Evans | Photo by Jimmy Katz

It was a time before cell phones when Orrin Evans moved to New York City in 1996 with friend and trumpeter Duane Eubanks. So when he’d meet other musicians on the scene he’d simply tell them, “Call me at Duane’s crib if you need to find me.” The only problem was that Evans and Eubanks had been preceded by another Philadelphian named Dwayne a few years earlier – bassist Dwayne Burno. Evans realized his mistake when he received a phone call from the none-too-pleased bassist, who skipped past the pleasantries and proceeded to play an answering machine full of messages intended for the young pianist. Continue reading →

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Saxophonist Odean Pope makes rare appearance at Chris’ Jazz Cafe tomorrow

Odean Pope | photo courtesy of the artist
Odean Pope | photo courtesy of the artist

Philadelphia saxophone great Odean Pope doesn’t perform with the same frequency that he once did. Originally from South Carolina, Pope was raised in Philly and got his start playing behind some of R&B’s most legendary artists at the Uptown Theater before befriending John Coltrane before the tenor legend left the city. Pope’s most enduring musical relationship was with Max Roach, with whom he played for nearly 40 years until the pioneering drummer’s death in 2007. In the early 1970s Pope co-founded the ground-breaking early fusion group Catalyst, and later corralled many of the best young saxophonists in Philly and beyond for his rousing Saxophone Choir. His sound is brawny and barbed, a bridge between hard bop, soul jazz, and the avant-garde.

The last few years have been marked by several monumental changes for Pope – last fall he turned 75, in 2011 he spoke publicly about his 30-year struggle with bipolar disorder and was celebrated at a fundraising concert at the Clef Club, and most importantly, in 2012 he lost his beloved wife Cis, the inspiration for one of his most beautiful compositions. So it’s already a special occasion that Pope will lead a quartet at Chris’ Jazz Café on Saturday, bolstered by the fact that it will be the saxophonist’s first show ever at the city’s sole remaining full-time jazz venue. He’ll front a group of local all-stars featuring bassist Lee Smith, pianist Tom Lawton, and drummer Craig McIver.  Tickets and information for the show can be found here.

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The Eubanks Brothers make hometown return at Chris’ Jazz Cafe this Saturday

The Eubanks brothers | photo by Christopher Dubay
The Eubanks brothers | photo by Christopher Dubay

It’s a rare occasion these days when the Eubanks brothers find themselves in the same place at the same time. Two out of three of the Philly-born jazz siblings will share the stage for one night in their hometown when trombonist Robin and trumpeter Duane co-lead a specially-assembled quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café on Saturday night.

“I’m always excited to play with my brother,” says Duane. “It’s been a while since Robin and I have played together, so this is almost a reunion. And being back at home makes it even more special.”

A glance at the brothers’ activities suffices to show exactly why it’s so difficult for them to synchronize their calendars. Robin apprenticed with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and is currently an active member of the SFJAZZ Collective, the San Francisco-based collective that explores the repertoire of a single composer each season (they’re about to tackle the work of Joe Henderson). He’s on the cusp of releasing a new CD, Klassik Rock Vol. 1, which features electric jazz reimaginings of classic rock staples by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Sly and the Family Stone, and is planning to record his MassLine Big Band in late July. He’s also a tenured professor at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Duane is also set to return to the studio next month, and has recently recorded with drummer Jeff Williams and keyboardist/producer Mark de Clive-Lowe. He’s worked with jazz greats like Illinois Jacquet and Oliver Lake and with R&B and hip-hop stars including Mos Def and The Temptations. Earlier this month he was on stage at Madison Square Garden with Rhonda Ross, opening for the singer’s mother, Diana Ross. He gets back to Philly frequently as part of pianist Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band.

(Middle brother Kevin wrapped up his fifteen-year gig as leader of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band in 2010, released a pair of well-regarded solo albums, and is currently a member of bass legend Dave Holland’s new quartet Prism.)

Born more than a decade after his two older brothers, at 45 Duane still feels like he has something to prove. Continue reading →

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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 →

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What the end of jazz nights at Ortlieb’s means for Philly’s jazz community

Local university and college students play with Fresh Cut Trio at The Painted Bride in February | Courtesy of Emily Rolen
Local university and college students play with Fresh Cut Trio at the Painted Bride in February | Courtesy of Emily Rolen

Pete Souders owned Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus for 20 years, but learned in January that the establishment he built a reputation for would no longer be needing his services. His Tuesday Night Jazz Jam Session was canceled.

But, he can’t say he didn’t expect it.

After growing exhausted of the hectic lifestyle of running a night spot and music venue, Souders sold Ortlieb’s in 2007, and after a bouncing around of owners, it was purchased by Four Corners Productions.

“I decided to sell it because I thought I was really getting tired,” Souders said.

Under its newest ownership, Ortlieb’s has shifted gears from its once-smooth atmosphere to a place of socialization, drinks and indie rock. It’s also dropped the “Jazzhaus” portion of its name.

The newest owners asked Souders to come in to host his Jazz Night upon opening, but Souders said he saw major flaws from the get-go.

When he owned Ortlieb’s, Souders said a large, acoustic piano sat center-stage which amplified the room, but once the newest owners came in, they hired a engineer who wired various mics for the jazz performances taking over the piano, which Souders said he thought was “unnecessary.”

Real jazz, Souders said, is able to fill an entire room without the need of any additional equipment.

But then again, Ortlieb’s is now hosting more than jazz performances, necessitating a more involved setup.

But Souders said he saw more concerns than just the equipment. Right before Christmas, the owners told him they  “weren’t making any money during the first hour-and-a-half.” They also asked his to cut the session back from its 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. slot so it wrapped up by 11:30 p.m. The owners told him they “weren’t making any money during the first hour-and-a-half,” Souders said.

He said that the new owners at Ortlieb’s told him they wanted to attract a better bar crowd at midnight, and Souders’ smooth tunes weren’t cutting it. It boiled down to a business issue.

“I had mixed emotions,” Souders said. “…[the situation] was anticlimactic.”

The current owners declined multiple requests for interviews.

So is the the current state of Ortlieb’s and what happened to its long-standing tradition a reflection for what might happen across the city’s jazz community? Continue reading →