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Center City Jazz Festival returns to Philly

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STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digistal First Media

In honor of “Jazz Appreciation Month,” Philadelphia welcomes the return of the fourth annual “Center City Jazz Festival.”
The Festival will feature some of the finest musicians in the local, regional and international jazz community. Chris’ Jazz Café, Fergie’s Pub, Franky Bradley’s, Milkboy Philadelphia and Time restaurant will play host to this year’s roster of talent.
“There’s a very cooperative spirit in Philadelphia among venue owners, restaurant owners and artists that really drives me to want to produce festivals and shows,” said Center City Jazz Festival director and trombonist Ernest Stuart, from his home in South Philadelphia.
“Philadelphia is all about soul. The music is about something different here. It’s about expressing soul — even the jazz. It’s always been about playing soulfully within the many genres. That’s one thing that Philadelphia does very well.”
“The first festival in 2012 was great. A lot of support came for the idea. It was unbelievable, the energy and the interest. Last year, we sold out. Everyone has been so supportive of it and continues to really enjoy it.”

Ernest Stuart. Submitted photo

Ernest Stuart.
Submitted photo

“This one is going to be our most diverse line-up ever,” adds Stuart. “I’m extremely happy to present this mix of artists and music. A handful of the festival’s bands have never performed in Philly before. Everyone is in for an awesome surprise.”
The six-hour festival, presented by Fifth City Productions, the Wyncote Foundation, and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, will feature 19 acts, including performances by Bootsie Barnes, Ben Schachter & Re:Trio, Dahud El-Bakara Sextet, Dena Underwood, Ernest Stuart, Fresh Cut Orchestra, Greg Snyder, The Huntertones, Matt Davis’ Aerial Photograph, Max Swan, Surface to Air, Tomas Fujiwara, and the West Philadelphia Orchestra.
Stuart is excited to be joining this year’s musical line-up for the first time since the festival’s inaugural year.
“It just seemed a good time to perform in it again,” said Stuart. “The first year, I thought that I had to prove to people I was a natural musician and not somebody who just decided to put a festival together. For the next two years, I didn’t play at all.”
“It’s fun to experience the festival from this perspective as opposed to just producing,” added Stuart. “This seemed like a good thing to do.”
Driven by a passion to play the saxophone at age twelve, Stuart’s desire to be a musician nearly ended before it began. Raised by his mother, a single parent, the economics of acquiring the instrument and getting lessons were out of reach for his struggling family.
By switching to the more accessible trombone in a beginners music class at school, Stuart was able to satisfy his creative expression.
Attending South Jersey’s Pennsauken High School, (Class of 2002), Stuart delved into classical music by funding lessons with a part-time job.
“By the tine I got to high school, I knew that I was going to play music for the rest of my life,” said Stuart. “It was just a matter of how I was going to pull it off. I don’t know how to explain it. I just connected with music on a level that, at that point, I’d never connected with anything. By the time I finished the 9th grade, I was so serious about it that I got my first job at McDonalds so that I could afford to pay for trombone lessons.”
Stuart’s commitment to his art paid off. A participant in high profile district orchestras and the recipient of awards in area jazz competitions, Stuart enrolled at Temple University.
After studying under Luis Bonilla, an internationally recognized jazz trombonist, composer and arranger, whom Stuart credits for “changing my life,” the foundation was in place for the burgeoning talent of this young artist.
While at Temple, Stuart was making a name for himself in the Philly music scene. Displaying an ability to excel at a variety of musical genres — jazz, salsa, R&B, soul, rock and hip hop — he found work with “The Roots,” Jaguar Wright, John Swana, Jimmy Jorge and the Latin Express and the O’Jays, among others.
Following his graduation from Temple in 2008, Stuart relocated to New York City for a time. He performed at the legendary Village Vanguard, The Iridium, Smoke and the Blue Note with The Duke Ellington Orchestra, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Reggie Workman and Terrell Stafford. Stuart was rapidly gaining experience and exposure as a working musician.
“Learning at Temple from the people that I learned from was great,” says Stuart. “I’ve gotten a lot accomplished since graduating. I’m glad I took advantage of the resources that were available to me. We had Professors Terrell Stafford and Luis Bonilla that also performed with the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. So, all of these musicians were coming down from New York for these gigs and going back up to perform. Any chance I got, I would go and see them perform regularly up in New York. They eventually called me to play with the band after I graduated. That was instrumental in my development. I would not have done that if I hadn’t gone to Temple.”
Currently touring with a band out of Brooklyn called “Red Baraat,” Stuart is releasing his latest solo EP, “Same Walking Animals,” later this month.
“The music on the album shouldn’t be labeled as any one thing,” said Stuart. “I really don’t know what music I subscribe to or what my genre is. I don’t know if I identify with any one thing. I like rock, classical, jazz, soul. It’s all improvisational, and I like it all.”
“I think we get in the habit of calling all improvisational music jazz,” added Stuart. “Jazz is such a wide-open term. I think its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If people hear my music and call it jazz, then cool. If people hear it and call it rock, then cool. I’m not trying to create any of that stuff. I’m just trying to create something that is honest.”

IF YOU GO

What: The Fourth Annual Center City Jazz Festival is on Saturday, April 25 from 1 to 7 p.m.
Venues: Chris’ Jazz Cafe, Fergie’s Pub, Franky Bradley’s, Milkboy Philadelphia and Time Restaurant.
Tickets: Admission is $15 in advance and $20 day of show. One ticket provides access to all performances.
Info.: Visit www.ccjazzfest.com.
To stay up to date with Ernest Stuart visit www.erneststuart.com

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