Report on The Philadelphia ‘Center City Jazz Festival’ by Darlene Olsen

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Local Philadelphia trombonist with fresh vision creates inaugural Center City Jazz Festival on April 28, 2012

Out of Philadelphia, the melting pot of music styles came a style of jazz that I’ve heard called sophisticated jazz. With the blending of New Orleans blues with the popular European music of the time, there developed this unique jazz style that was carried throughout the world by Philadelphia born jazz legends Jimmy Heath, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and Gerry Mulligan to name a few.  Back in the 1940s and 50s, Philadelphia was one of the most important centers for jazz. As a new Philadelphian looking for jazz in the city, spoiled by the jazz in DC and NYC, I began to ask, what happened to that once vibrant jazz scene.

Then through finding Jazz Bridge, I learn of Ernest Stuart’s fundraising efforts through Kickstarter.   I make my contribution, spread the word, and waited. Ernest was successful in meeting his goal of raising $16,000. I am much appreciative of what Stuart, only 28, did in planning this inaugural Center City festival. The one-day jazz extravaganza took place on Saturday afternoon April 28, 2012, from 1-8 pm and featured some 50 artists in four venues  – Chris’ Jazz Cafe, Fergie’s Pub, MilkBoy, and Time — all within a few blocks of each other in Center City, the heart of the Philadelphia tourist district.

Trombonist Ernest Stuart With Red Baraat At Winter Jazzfest 2012. Photo by Dave Kaufman.

I had heard the names and music of a few of these musicians on WRTI radio which broadcasts jazz from the campus of Temple University seven days a week from 6 pm to 6 am. It was hard to choose.  I started at Fergies where I heard Wade Dean (sax) and his group.  Next I moved to Milkboy where I heard Kory Riker (sax) and Ernest Stuart (trombone).  From there I went to Chris’ to enjoy George Burton on the piano, then back to Milkboy to hear Jaleel Shaw (sax), ending at Time to hear Dave Mattock..

Let’s hope that Ernest Stuart’s initiation of this successful first festival in Center City turns into an annual event that is widely embraced and promoted. Let’s hope his efforts follow a similar pattern to what happened in the Nation’s Capital.  The Duke Ellington Jazz Festival was created in 2004 to present major jazz artists and celebrate the history of music in Washington DC. After years of success, in 2010 the event was rebranded and renamed the DC Jazz Festival to highlight the national and international impact of jazz in the nation’s capital. The annual DC Jazz Festival will take place over 10 days, from June 1-10, 2012, and will feature more than 100 jazz performances at concert venues and clubs throughout Washington, DC.

Jimmy Heath. Photo courtesy of Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Isn’t it ironic that I will be hearing Philly jazz legend Jimmy Heath at The Hamilton as part of the DC Jazz Festival in June? Throughout the day we spotted Ernest on his cell phone, running the festival while also performing in the festival. There are lots of young and extremely talented jazz musicians out there that need a venue and an audience and as Ernest Stuart proved on Saturday April 28th, 2012, “If you build it, they will come!”

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.

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