By ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
In an ongoing effort to preserve Philadelphia’s rich jazz history, the Knight Foundation and Philadelphia Jazz Project will present the third annual “Center City Jazz Festival” on April 19. The celebration, a highlight of Jazz Appreciation Month, will feature six hours of non-stop jazz performances. Chris’ Jazz café, Fergie’s Pub, Milkboy Philadelphia and Time Restaurant, all within walking distance of one another, will play center stage to an impressive roster of artists. This year’s featured players include Steve Coleman, Tim Warfield Jr., Branford Marsalis’ drummer Justin Faulkner and his band and “Thumbscrew,” featuring Tomas Fujiwara and avant-garde guitar goddess Mary Halvorson. They will join rising stars Stacy Dillard and Tivoni Pennicot. Additional performers include Miss Ida Blue, Ronnie Burrage, Rhenda Fearrington, Mike Kennedy, The Kimmel Center’s Creative Music Program, Joanna Pascale, John Raymond and Giovana Robinson.
“This is my dream festival lineup,” said Center City Jazz Festival director and trombonist Ernest Stuart. “My goal is to create a scene that feels like it did years ago, when jazz greats would come through Philly regularly, hanging and performing with local talent.” Stuart expects artists to perform and socialize throughout the festival crawl with fellow musicians and audience members. “You can get a ton of great listening in and be exposed to what people are doing, and I think that’s something that Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily do on a regular basis from night to night.” Legendary saxophonist, spontaneous composer and bandleader Steve Coleman is looking forward to participating in the festivities. “It’s my first time,” said Coleman. “We’re looking forward to it. I’ve played Philly many times over the years. I’ve always liked the city. For what I’m doing, the whole thing has turned upside down. I’m aware that what is happening with us is just a subset of what is happening with the times. So things like this, creative events, are becoming few and far between in places like Philadelphia. So, I think it means a lot.” “We need creativity,” added Coleman “It’s something that keeps the spirit going. It’s something that infuses you with a kind of optimism. We need that in general. Anything creative, whether it’s art, painting, dance, music — all of that music expands my awareness. My whole goal, my whole purpose is to try to find a way musically, just using sound, to open people up, to expand things, to make you curious, wonder, ‘cause that’s what it does for me.” Influenced by everyone from Duke Ellington to Beethoven, Coleman, who deflects being labeled by a specific music genre, finds inspiration from anything creative. “I tell people that they should always be open to the fact that they might discover something,” said Coleman. “You should keep an open mind because you might be expecting one thing and the unexpected can come in. I hope people find something from me, something they respect.” “Music is no doubt the core of who I am,” Coleman said. “From the time I wake-up to the time I go to sleep, creating music is the thing that I do. Everyday is evolving around music. Music is universal in a sense that it’s symbolic. With music you don’t have definitions. It can mean different things to different people. It brings up things that are in you based on your experiences, your temperament and who you are. Everybody has these experiences where they’ve heard a song that they heard when they were a child, and it brought up certain memories, a certain kind of nostalgia.”
For Philadelphia resident and University of the Arts guitar chair Mike Kennedy, this will be his festival debut as well an opportunity to continue working on creating a jazz resurgence on his home turf. “It’s a great for everybody — not just the performers but the community to get out and expose themselves if they’ve never been,” said Kennedy. “I think there is an art community that will venture out to see an event like this. I think it’s vital for the City of Philadelphia to host this kind of event and continue to, because I think it does bring in people that are not the locals that always go to Chris’. I think having a festival like this and having the promotion that it gets opens people up to the idea that I can walk from venue to venue in a pretty short period of time and see a whole lot of music.” Kennedy, a highly regarded guitarist, instructor and producer that has performed with Lou Rawls, the Philly Pops and Grateful Dead tribute bands, will be fronting his own quartet. “I’m excited to get this group in front of a different audience,” said Kennedy. “We’re going to be playing all of my compositions. It’s a very open, very adventurous at times, introspective as well. It’s very intuitive of how we interact with each other. I think it’s very exciting to listen to, not because of me, but because of the group. The sound and the interaction we have together is very interesting and exciting and very special to me.”
The inaugural 2012 Festival was made possible through an innovative Kickstarter campaign, during which 188 individuals contributed $17,200. Since its inception, more than 1,500 jazz lovers and 60 bands have taken over Sansom and Chestnut streets, reveling in the spirit of the festival crawl atmosphere. Past performers include a diverse range of instrumentalists and vocalists, including Orrin Evans, Sean Jones, Venissa Santi, Mike Boone, Denise King, and Jane Bunnett.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Center City Jazz Fest
WHEN: Festival takes place from 1 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 19.
WHERE: Chris’ Jazz Cafe, Fergie’s Pub, Milkboy Philadelphia and Time Restaurant. TICKETS: $15 in advance and $20 day of show (one ticket will get you into all the venues).
INFO.: To purchases tickets and other information visit www.ccjazzfest.com.