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This article by Phyllis Maguire was prepared for the September 18, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The Season in Jazz
There’s absolutely no smoking allowed, and the musicians
start playing long before midnight. And you won’t find too many clubs,
as one saxophonist pointed out, where you walk past real Van Goghs
to get to the bathroom.
But the fact is that Philadelphia has a brand new jazz venue: the
Philadelphia Museum of Art is now hosting live jazz every Friday evening.
With two sets each night, jazz artists from Philadelphia, as well
as national and international talent, are now performing in the museum’s
Great Stair Hall.
And they are winning a devoted, growing audience. On a recent Friday
evening, young couples on dates kicked off their evening with glasses
of wine and a stroll through the galleries, accompanied by the sounds
of New York soprano saxophonist Steve Slagle, trumpeter and Grammy
nominee Tim Hagans, Philadelphia vibraphonist Tony Miceli, bassist
Tony Marino, and drummer Tom Whaley.
Families visiting the museum ordered light dinners — including
crabcakes and salmon — and desserts at linen-draped tables set
up around the musicians, while rapt listeners sat stacked the entire
length of the great marble stairs, under the drawn bow of Saint-Gaudens’
Cognoscenti Don Tannenbaum is always part of the crowd; he and a group
of friends reserve two tables every Friday night and stay the entire
evening. Having listened to jazz in the idiom’s Golden Age — hearing
Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Billie Holiday at
now-defunct Philadelphia hotspots like Pep’s Bar and the Showboat
— Tannenbaum makes this startling announcement: Not only is the
museum the city’s newest jazz venue, but it’s already its best.
"There aren’t many other places to hear jazz in the city anymore,"
he says, "and people in clubs are more interested in socializing
than hearing the musicians." Unless you’re sitting right on top
of the band in some city jazz clubs, he continued, it can be hard
to listen to the music.
"Here, the music fills this glorious space" — he gestures
up to the several stories of marble atrium lined with balconies, Doric
columns, and medieval tapestries — "and you can hear every
note and nuance."
Tannenbaum also praises the talent the museum has assembled for the
Friday night series. Laura Henrich, the museum’s evening program coordinator,
is responsible for booking the artists.
"I got a lot of advice, and listened to hours and hours of music,"
Henrich says. "Then it becomes a matter of taste, balance, availability,
and budget." Getting a good mix of artists from Philadelphia,
as well as national and international musicians, was one guiding principle,
She also wanted a representative sampling of different jazz sounds.
The fall line-up reflects that diversity: Afro-American vocalists
Gino Siston and Sunny Sumter as well as Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos
Neto are featured later this month. New York pianist Bill Charlap
is coming with his trio in October, while Boston’s Rebecca Parris
and Caribbean-born Izaline Calister — both vocalists — are
slated for different Fridays in November.
Pianist and Philadelphia resident Orrin Evans is booked
for the last Friday of the year. Evans started playing in Philadelphia’s
veteran clubs — Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus on North Third Street in the
city’s Northern Liberties section, and Chris’s Jazz Cafe on Sansom
Street at 14th — when he was only 17.
Like many American cities, Evans says, Philadelphia is a great place
for young jazz musicians to get educated musically and to break in.
But also like other American cities, Philadelphia doesn’t provide
enough opportunities for musicians to pay the rent once they come
into their own artistically.
"We really have to go to Europe or Japan to be able to get gigs
seven days a week," Evans says, pointing out that seeing live
music in the United States — other than for touring rock groups
— is often relegated to only the weekends. With audiences not
getting many chances to see live jazz performances, they often don’t
appreciate the kind of improvisation and experimentation that is the
core of jazz expression.
"It’s easy to fall into the rut of just wanting to hear standards
or tributes to innovators who came before," Evans says. He appreciates
the fact that the museum has created an artist-friendly venue "where
the audience comes and actively listens." Plus, he continues,
"being surrounded by art when you’re creating music is always
an advantage. It’s a great inspiration."
The museum got the idea for the jazz series after enjoying several
years of success with its Wednesday night events. Every Wednesday
evening, the museum hosts different types of performers, along with
offering special wine and beer tastings, chef’s special dinners, and
seminars. Coming up on Wednesday evenings this fall are performances
of Kathak dancers from India, Bulgarian folk musicians, a Japanese
flute master, and hip-hop dancers.
"Each evening has a different personality," says the museum’s
Henrich. "I liken Wednesdays to an indoor street festival, while
Fridays are more like a jazz cafe."
On Fridays, musicians play two one-hour sets, separated by a half-hour
break. That gives attenders the chance to visit the exhibits if they
don’t want to stroll during the performances. All of the museum’s
galleries are open on Friday nights, and two different guided tours
are available for a more in-depth look at exhibits and galleries.
With jazz such a distinctly "indigenous American music," according
to jazz critic Charles Edward Smith, one exhibit to the right of the
Great Stair Hall — "Indivisible: Stories of American Community"
— seems particularly appropriate. It offers photographs and oral
histories of 12 American communities including North Philadelphia,
the Navajo Nation, an Alaskan fishing community, and Bluff, Utah (on
view through October 6).
The permanent exhibit of European art in the Annenberg Galleries to
the left of the stage also makes great viewing. The artists featured
there — Van Gogh, Pisarro, Cezanne, and Gauguin — might indeed
have appreciated the seductive tension of Miles Davis’s classic "All
Blues" being re-visited by a saxophone and trumpet, vibes, bass
and drums for several hundred appreciative listeners, as Alexander
Calder’s massive "Ghost" mobile wheeled slowly overhead.
— Phyllis Maguire
at 26th Street, Philadelphia, 215-684-7506. $10 adult; students &
children free. Two jazz sets are featured each Friday evening from
5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. and from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. The museum
closes at 8:45 p.m.
Trio , September 27. James Williams Trio, October 4. Jim
Ridl’s Door In a Field, October 11. Bill Charlap Trio, October
18. Tony Miceli and Tony Marino, October 25.
November 8. Larry McKenna Quartet, November 15. Rebecca Parris,
November 22. Jovino Santos Neto Trio, November 29. Mamadou
Diabate , December 20. Orrin Evans, December 27.
is scaled back this year to one day only. Sponsored by the New Jersey
Jazz Society and Palmer Square Management, music lineup features New
Legacy Jazz Band at noon; Joanne Brackeen at 1:15 p.m.; Bucky Pizzarelli
Trio at 2:30 p.m; Earl May Quintet at 3:45 p.m.; and Randy Reinhart
at 5 p.m. Food vendors showcase the culinary arts of more than 20
area restaurants. Rain or shine. Free. September 28, Noon to 6 p.m.
Arts at Peddie
Pre-concert chat with the artist at 7 p.m. October 11, 8 p.m.
Miri Ben-Ari, violin; Bill Schimmel, accordion; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone;
and Matt Wilson, drums. Pre-concert chat with the artist at 7 p.m.
November 15, 8 p.m.
and featuring the poetry of Walt Whitman. Pre-conert chat with the
artist at 7 p.m. April 4, 8 p.m.
Terence Blanchard with the Jason Moran Trio. November 4, 8 p.m.
Andre Previn with bassist David Finck. January 15, 8 p.m.
Victor Trent Cook, Rodrick Dixon, and Thomas Young, present an evening
of vocal music that spans opera, Broadway, jazz, blues, gospel, soul
and spirituals. January 26, 3 p.m.
CDs "Appalachia Waltz" and "Appalachia Journey" became
best-sellers. February 17, 8 p.m.
March 7, 8 p.m.
14, 8 p.m.
concert with the Christian McBride Trio. March 31, 8 p.m.
Princeton University Concerts
by Princeton’s teachers of jazz. November 9, 8 p.m.
with the Princeton Concert Jazz Ensemble. February 7, 7:30 p.m.
$18 to $38. December 10, 8 p.m.
band show. $22 to $50. April 26, 8 p.m.
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