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.
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.
Thanks to an unexpected confluence of shuffled schedules, pet health scares, and weather-defiant vacation planning, it seems my wife and I will be heading up to New England the day after Thanksgiving. We’ve decided to fully embrace the coincidence, so that Saturday we’ll be sitting down for a second, (relatively) period-accurate holiday supper at Plimoth Plantation, the Williamsburg-like “living history” recreation of the Pilgrims’ first settlement, presumably surrounded by buckle-shoed and feather-headdressed reenactors.
That of course means that I’ll be missing out on the Philly jazz scene’s own venerable Thanksgiving tradition, guitar great Pat Martino’s weekend-long stint at Chris’ Jazz Café. This year he’ll lead his quintet, with his regular triomates, organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre, supplemented by tenor saxophonist Adam Niewood and trumpeter Alex Norris. In the spirit of the season, Martino’s guitarist wife Ayako has been known to sit in as well.
The jazz offerings in the city this month offer the opportunity to explore the music from a number of different perspectives. For a historical one, the ICA is hosting The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now through next March. The exhibition, which opened last year at the MCA in Chicago, tells the story of the influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and its intersections with the visual art and culture of the era. It’s a must-see, and also features a number of performances to coincide with the show. But aside from that, this month’s standout concerts provide a number of different angles.
Yes, the president’s recent visit to Havana portends new opportunities for the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. But don’t jump the gun just yet and assume that historic rapprochement has trickled down to affect artists like Jane Bunnett, who has spent the last 30 years traveling from Canada to Cuba and attempting to bring the resultant cross-cultural musical collaborations into the States.
“If one more person comes up to me and says, ‘It must be easier now that Obama went to Cuba…’” Bunnett trailed off, but the frustration in her voice revealed the challenges that the saxophonist/flautist continues to face in crossing our northern border with her Cuban collaborators. When we spoke last Thursday morning, Bunnett was scheduled to head into the studio that afternoon to start recording the second album by her all-female ensemble Maqueque, in which she’s joined by seven young women (all still in their early 20s) that Bunnett and husband/trumpeter Larry Cramer discovered during their travels to the island.
Instead, she found herself scrambling to deal with a series of visa-related catch-22s related to their impending return to the U.S., which will (if all goes well) bring them to the Painted Bride on Friday. She discussed the headaches she was facing with the air of someone who’s no less annoyed by the hurdles she had to conquer just because she was used to them, but confident that they would once again be overcome in time to take the stage.
For the better part of the last four decades, the City of Philadelphia has been known for having some of the world’s best DJs. In addition to being technically proficient and possessing an expansive knowledge of music, many of our city’s DJs also have a reputation for injecting a deep social consciousness into their craft that influences the music that they play, educating listeners while moving butts on the dancefloor.
Bruce Campbell Jr. (aka DJ Junior) is one such DJ whose musical talents intersect with his desire to educate and speak to greater social issues such as race, poverty and our country’s educational system. Dust + Dignity, the multimedia art exhibition that Campbell has curated opening tonight at The Painted Bride is a culmination of those interests and mission. Continue reading →
When Greg Tate founded Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber in 1999, the amorphous ensemble was conceived as a turn-of-the-21st century evolution of the electric funk-jazz maelstrom of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, filtered through the ideas of the Black Rock Coalition (of which Tate was a co-founding member) and the explosion of hip-hop culture. The band became known for its sprawling, utterly unclassifiable group improvisations, executed under the rules of Butch Morris’ conduction system and drawing on influences from Jimi Hendrix to George Clinton to Sun Ra and who-knows-what in between.
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 →
A few hours after we spoke on Wednesday night, Lovett Hines was planning to be on a plane from snow-covered Philadelphia to the balmier climes of Miami. But unlike many 70-year-olds, Hines had no intention of making a one-way migration to Florida. After three days at a retreat with other recipients of the Knight Foundation’s BMe Leadership Award, he’ll be right back at Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts on Monday, where he’s been guiding Philly’s young, aspiring jazz musicians for the last twenty years.
“Lovett is an icon,” says Suzanne Cloud, executive director and co-founder of Jazz Bridge, which aids local jazz and blues musicians in times of crisis. “He’s the uber-mentor. He’s the teacher to Philly’s young lions and lionesses. He has brought kids through the fire of music education and really mentored a lot of heavyweights.”
Asked for his reaction to the award, Hines laughed in typically self-effacing fashion. “It’s so funny to receive an award for something I love doing,” he says. “It’s almost like getting an award for having fun. But I’m so happy that this is coming from an organization that’s dedicated to musicians.”
No one has been more dedicated to musicians in Philly than Lovett Hines. Through two decades at the Clef Club and prior to that at Settlement Music School, he has mentored some of the most high-profile jazz artists to have emerged from Philadelphia during that time, most notably bassist Christian McBride, organist Joey DeFrancesco, saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, and drummer Justin Faulkner.
Hines started out as a piano prodigy before turning his focus to education, and credits his own love for music for his successes with students. “I had a passion for jazz,” Hines explains, “and my idea was to make sure that my young people felt that same passion. I gave the students freedom to create their own voice and let them know that I was there to encourage them, wherever they went. I always tell people that when students come to me, they become my children.” Continue reading →