Philadelphia International Records was never particularly tied to Philly’s jazz scene. Still, historian Jack McCarthy made it a point to stop at the legendary soul label’s Broad Street home when leading tours about the city’s jazz history. In part, that’s because many local jazz musicians picked up session work there when it housed the Cameo-Parkway label. And in part, it’s simply because it was so integral to local music history.
In April, when McCarthy led his inaugural “Exploring the Philly Jazz Legacy” tour, he showed tourists the Philadelphia International Records building itself; a month later, he showed his next group a block-long hole in the ground surrounded by a chain-link fence. In coming months, he’ll be showing tourists a photo of the now-demolished building while standing in front of a new 47-story hotel and condo tower. That story is indicative of the history of Philly jazz, where so many of the music’s former homes have been erased from the ever-changing landscape.
As a freshman jazz performance major, Ethan Fisher is focused on making music. That is why he self-produced his debut six-track EP, Beat Tape in his dorm room, using his Macbook, speakers, keyboard, and a mic.
It’s basically an experimental hip hop album and the intro sets a post-apocalyptic world ambiance, accompanied by rhythmic drum beats and jazz-influenced guitar. “Bass Jams” opens with a minimal drum pattern and features Fisher’s twin brother on bass, who is also a music major at Temple. Continue reading →
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 →
The third Annual Center City Jazzfest was held on Saturday afternoon, pleasing a sellout crowd with sixteen genre-spanning jazz performances spread out over four locations in Center City Philadelphia. The four venues were Fergie’s Pub, MilkBoy,Chris’ Jazz Cafe and Time – all within a few blocks of each other and three of them on Samson Street.
The festival offered remarkable value at $15 per ticket if you bought them ahead of time, so you were paying less than a dollar per artist. Your ticket purchase earned you a wristband that allowed you access to any of the four venues whenever you wanted. Events were running at each venue simultaneously, so like any festival, you had to pick and choose what you wanted to see and hear. I kept on the move and was able to catch partial sets and photograph ten artists on the bill, and at times I definitely wished I could clone myself and see more than one set at once. It was an afternoon full of memorable performances that reminded both the attendees and musicians of the togetherness and pure joy that music can create.
The opening act of the fest, vocalist Rhenda Fearrington set the tone for the day. She and her four piece backing band gave a spirited and powerful performance that rocked the tiny upstairs at Fergie’s Pub. Another highlight of the sets at Fergie’s were the Jazz guitar stylings of Mike Kennedy, who was backed by a tight three piece keys, upright bass and drum trio. Of all the locations used for Jazzfest, Fergie’s best recreated the intimate, packed clubs that many Jazz greats cut their teeth in. The small upstairs room got more and more full as the day went along, and many fans seemed to set up shop there for the afternoon.
The events held upstairs at Milkboy also got more and more crowded as the afternoon went on. This venue hosted impressive sets by Giovana Robinson and Justin Faulkner. Panama’s Robinson and her group pleased the mid-afternoon crowd with a set featuring her passionate vocals and distinctive style of music – a mix of pop, world music and Jazz elements.
Late in the day Philadelphia native Faulkner’s thunderous drumming led a trio through an hour of groovy, prog-like space jazz to a packed and rapturous audience that included many of the other musicians from other bands on the bill.
Chris’ Jazz Cafe’s dinner theater-like set up and large stage area were a perfect fit for the musicians who played there on Saturday. Early in the day the Cafe hosted a fourteen piece Jazz orchestra of youths from The Kimmel Center Creative Music Program for Jazz. Despite being young they proved to be old souls with a swinging, powerful ensemble performance that showed that Jazz has a bright future in Philly. Later in the day the stage was owned by Joanna Pascale and her band. Pascale delivered an well received set of torch songs and included a meditative and memorable Jazzy take on Carole King’s classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
The Time restaurant hosted some of the best shows of the day in it’s large mirror and clock filled bar area. The bar area featured a lot of open standing room space, natural light and two large sliding windows behind the stage area that were usually open. The open windows allowed passersby and fans who couldn’t fit into the frequently packed venue to hear some of the music outside. Early on, trumpeter Charles Washington led a five piece backing band through an excellent set that evoked the spirit of the early Miles Davis combos.
After them brassy Brooklyner Miss Ida Blue drew one of the largest, most enthusiastic crowds of the day. Her look was eye-catching: she aptly described herself as a “vamping dame” in one of her songs. Miss Blue and her clarinet/trombone/banjo and tuba backing band delivered a raucous set of her innuendo-laced Jazz that had the crowd roaring with laughter and appreciation for her singing and the group’s talent.
Next up was Stacy Dillard who had the crowd smiling, bobbing their heads and exchanging “did you hear that” glances as he blasted out complicated runs of notes on his sax while leading his trio through an impressive and powerful hour of music. Last up at Time was Trio Up, composed of virtuoso performers Rick Tate on Sax, Ronnie Burrage on drums and Nimrod Speaks on bass. They showed their mastery of their instruments and their ability to create beautiful music together during a highlight-filled hour of muscular and complex Jazz that thrilled the packed restaurant.
From a field holler to Marvin Gaye’s “make me wanna holler,” music is historically a source of solcae for African Americans in their struggle for equal rights and social justice.
Rooted in the black experience, jazz both has been a sanctuary and found sanctuary in the church. Indeed, the church was one of the safe places where jazz was played during Philadelphia’s jazz heyday in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
Jazz musicians and the jazz culture played a key role in breaking down barriers to racial integration. Nat Segal’s Downbeat Club, located at 11th and Ludlow streets, was the first integrated nightspot in Center City. So it was fitting that in his invocation at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Pastor A.R. Bernard Sr. noted how artists helped ignite the civil rights movement. Continue reading →
Tonight, as part of Camden’s Sunset Jazz series, there will be a free show called, “Jazz Funk & Soul” at Wiggins Park. The show includes Jeff Lorber, Evrette Harp and Chuck Loeb (pictured). Lorber, a Philly native and an incredibly skilled pianist, has one many awards for his jazz and is considered a founding father of the smooth-jazz genre. Harp is a Texan saxophonist whose blues-inspired jazz has been well regarded since the beginning of the 90s. And rounding out the night is Chuck Loeb, a jazz-guitarist with skills few can match. Together, this is the mecca of smooth jazz in a great venue for free. Check out some of the artists’ music below and click here for information about the concert.