A day in Philadelphia demonstrated hard-core support for music stretching genres thrives, and a young audience seems ripe for such attractions.
Having been invited to the City of BroLo to present Miles Ornette Cecil — Jazz Beyond Jazz and illustrative video clips by Ars Nova Workshop, the sort of heroic small organization that supports the arts with vision and energy, more or less independent of other institutions’ sanctions or support, I enjoyed a quick visit, though I heard no music there.
I was interviewed by J. Michael Harrison for his Friday evening radio show “The Bridge” on WRTI, and was impressed by the bustling Temple University student body. Then I made my way to University of Pennsylvania’s leafy campus and found another massive population of seemingly sophisticated young urbanites, the kind of people who might readily respond to music that defies conventions in favor of imaginative energies and cool/hot sounds for right now.
Philly has traditionally boasted a significant jazz community — think Coltrane, the Heath Brothers, Philly Joe Jones, Gary Bartz, Grover Washington Jr., Reggie Workman, Walt Dickerson, Sun Ra’s Arkestra! and Pat Martino, and know that harmolodic bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma (scheduled for my event but unable to make it), saxophonists Bobby Zankel and Tim Price, pianist Orrin Evans and singer Ruth Naomi Floyd are still around (among many more). That it’s only 90 minutes by Amtrak from 30th Street Station to Penn Station — less than the time it took me to get from Penn Station to my home in Brooklyn! — makes Philly a natural launching pad for players eager to get to New York City, if that’s where they want to be.
But Philly would also seem to have what it takes to sustain a local scene — history, mixed demographics, a future — and organizations such as Ars Nova (which presented Trio M — Myra Melford, Mark Dresser and Matt Wilson — the night after it had me), the Mt. Airy Cultural Center, and the website PhillyJazz.org to play significant roles. There are only two jazz-devoted venues currently, I’m told (Chris’ Jazz Cafe and Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus), plus a smooth jazz station (WJJZ) that competes with WRTI. Which is more than many cities can claim. So yes, of course, if invited I’ll come again, hoping to explore even more.
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