Dave Manley has an uncanny knack for being on the scene when a new musical trend takes off.
As a high school guitar whiz in Detroit, he got pulled into the garage studio of pioneering producer Juan Atkins, adding licks to some of the foundational recordings of techno.
Arriving in Philly in the early 90s, he got a job at Tower Records, where his coworkers included innovative DJs King Britt and Josh Wink, who enlisted him for their earliest sessions. At the same time, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter were busking outside on South Street, where no one throwing change at their feet would imagine they'd someday lead the house band for The Tonight Show.
Not much later, Manley became a regular at the Center City club Wilhelmina's, where the likes of Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal, and Jeff Bradshaw were planting the seeds of the neo-soul movement. Through those connections he ended up honing his studio skills in the basement studio of DJ Jazzy Jeff.
"It really all came from just hanging out," Manley says. "When you were doing it, you weren't aware that something was happening. But if you were sitting in, making yourself available, being a team player, it snowballed from there."
Manley left Philly in 2013, carrying that philosophy with him to a few new cities, with varying results. The eclectic "Butter N Jam" session that he hosted at Dozen Street in Austin, Texas, continues even though he's left town. A short stint in Nashville was less productive, though he's optimistic about his newly adopted home of Washington, D.C.
He returns to Philadelphia this weekend as part of the Seventh Annual Center City Jazz Festival. Manley will lead a version of his Indigenous 3iO trio with bassist Jason Fraticelli and drummer Matt Scarano (stepping in for Francois Zayas) Saturday afternoon at Time.
The trio's music continues Manley's lifelong interest in mixing and matching diverse styles of music. They play a blend of jazz and Latin influences, applied to a songbook that includes everyone from Depeche Mode to Chick Corea, Miles Davis to Aerosmith.
His wide-ranging tastes stem from his childhood in Detroit, where he'd hear hard rock by the likes of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Van Halen alongside the funk and R&B of the Isley Brothers and Parliament-Funkadelic, while his trumpet-player uncle would take him to local clubs to hear jazz.
"Like Philadelphia, Detroit had a long history of jazz spread through the neighborhoods," he says. "Both places had working-class people that were great musicians: guys that worked at the post office or worked in a factory but would go out and play gigs at night or on the weekends. So it was always in my periphery."
That upbringing served Manley well as he carried his guitar into burgeoning scenes where artists were intent on blurring the lines between genres. "It came from being exposed to stuff and just saying, 'I'll try it out.' Like Philadelphia still is, Detroit was a very nurturing environment for young musicians to cut their teeth. The thing that was unique to Philly was that the musicians freestyled. They would make things up as they go, and the band would vibe together and create."
Since founding the Center City Jazz Festival in 2012, trombonist Ernest Stuart has brought a similar attitude to presenting music in the city. The festival is unique in its club-hopping atmosphere, where the spirit of the day – audiences making the rounds of five different clubs along the Sansom Street corridor while music spills into the street – is as much of a draw as the artists themselves.
This year's impressive roster includes locals such as trombonist Bradshaw, pianist Dave Kikoski, and the duo of violinist Diane Monroe and vibraphonist Tony Miceli — along with imports like the electronica-jazz-rock-classical fusing band Big Yuki, gifted saxophonist/composer Sharel Cassity, and saxophonist Marcus Strickland's hip-hop-infused group Twi-Life.
The festival has always been a celebration of the local scene, but that's complicated now by the fact that Stuart is no longer a permanent part of it – he's started a family and settles in Indiana, where he teaches at the University of Indianapolis.
"I was kicking and screaming," he says with a laugh. "I didn't want to leave Philly. This year has been very difficult in terms of planning, but there's something to be said for perseverance. The response so far has been so positive; it reminds me that a great deal of people out there want this to happen and see the value in it. I always knew it was a small thing compared to what could happen in Philadelphia, but it's still important to a lot of people and that keeps me going."