Philly has been celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month in a variety of ways throughout April, but the festivities really heat up during the last week of the month, with four very different jazz festivals. Things get underway this weekend at the Shore with the biannual Exit Zero Jazz Festival in Cape May. The last weekend of the month will feature two single-day, artist-run fests in the city: the sixth edition of trombonist Ernest Stuart’s Center City Jazz Festival on Saturday and bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s third Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival on Sunday.
This year’s highlight, though, is the inaugural Philadelphia Jazz Festival, a weeklong event headed by local restaurateurs Robert and Ben Bynum in conjunction with Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, and with sponsorship from Peco. According to Robert Bynum, “The idea for the festival came about through the feeling that Philadelphia, with its rich history in the music and with so many players having come out of the city, needed to have a festival that brought in a combination of local, national, and international artists.”
Naturally, most of the festival’s events will take place at the Bynum brothers’ four venues, all of which host jazz and blues artists throughout the year: South, Paris Bistro, Relish, and Warmdaddy’s. In addition, performances will take place throughout the city and beyond, with concerts scheduled at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, World Cafe Live, the Philadelphia Clef Club, Ardmore Music Hall, and the new Michael Nutter Theater at the Convention Center, where singer-songwriter Maysa will headline two sets next on April 29.
Since opening South a year and a half ago, the Bynums have stressed that the city can -- and should -- support multiple jazz venues. That concept is echoed in their attempts to bring the competition together under one umbrella for this and future festivals.
“We feel strongly that the Philadelphia jazz community needs to have a lynchpin that serves to bring everybody together,” Bynum says. “Our feeling is that the more united the jazz community becomes, the more we can focus on helping Philadelphia grow as a jazz city.”
Pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Gerald Veasley have been involved with bringing their network of collaborators to perform at South, a function both will also serve for the festival. Veasley will play with smooth jazz guitarist Peter White and team with singer Jaguar Wright to pay tribute to Nina Simone. Evans -- who last week was announced as the new pianist for the trio Bad Plus -- will essentially lead a house band for the week, playing with trumpeter Randy Brecker, organ great Joey DeFrancesco, and a quintet featuring saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen paying homage to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. He’ll also invite Saturday Night Live trombonist Steve Turre to guest with his Captain Black Big Band.
“There’s no reason for Philadelphia not to have a legitimate jazz festival, or at least be in the process of building one,” Evans insists, adding that other major cities, like Detroit and Chicago, host major annual festivals and New York City has several.
Evans also points out that several of the musicians coming to the festival from out of town, including Brecker and DeFrancesco, have Philadelphia origins, which makes for a strong lineup that maintains its local flavor. “It’s great to see that we can put together a lineup almost filled with Philadelphians and have a really good lineup. It makes me feel good to be from this city, which isn’t something we always feel about our hometown, whatever that hometown may be.”
The final weekend’s embarrassment of riches may seem like jazz overload on the surface, but each festival offers a distinct menu. The festival will end with a vocals-heavy weekend, with Maysa and Wright, as well as 93-year-old legend Bob Dorough. The Center City Jazz Fest is an all-day bar crawl with a smorgasbord of local artists at five locations. Tacuma’s Outsiders fest is jam-packed with more avant-garde-leaning artists, this year including saxophonist David Murray, percussionist Kahil El’Zabar, keyboardist Jamie Saft, power trio Harriet Tubman, and many others.