The First Annual Philadelphia United Jazz Festival and Celebration was held on Septermber 21-22, 2013 at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz. Under the capable leadership of Warren Oree and Graziella Damelio of Lifeline Music Coalition, a lineup of small groups, vocalists, larger ensembles, and yes, poets and a fashion extravaganza, showed off their wares in two full afternoons and evenings of what local WRTI DJ Bob Perkins has referred to as “the GM, the good music.” Most of the groups and musicians hailed from in and around the Delaware Valley, but a few out-of-towners spiced up the programs. The week prior to the main event, a series of discussions and musical performances were held at various venues around the city. The festival gave a needed lift to a local jazz scene that continues to boast the finest musicians in the business, but has suffered an attrition of jazz clubs and concert series due in large part to the recent economic recession. Some major jazz clubs have closed or curtailed their jazz shows, and two long- running and fabulous concert series at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts were abruptly terminated. Jazz fans and performers in the area have been hoping for a renaissance, and the Festival represented an important step in re-charging the jazz life in the City of Brotherly Love.
A full list of the performances is provided below. The local groups included Philadelphia Clef Club Youth Band, the Julian Pressley Quartet, the internationally renowned Sun Ra Arkestra, Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble, and the Odean Pope Trio. From Washington, DC came the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors Big Band and from the Baltimore area, Philly native Coltrane-mentored saxophonist Carl Grubbs and his Quartet. Vocalists such as Joanna Gardner, Taeko, and Lisa Cavous sung soulful, bebop, and blues-oriented renderings of the American Songbook and other sources. WRTI DJs Jeff Duperon and J. Michael Harrison kept the momentum going and provided introductions to each act.
Three of the performances deserve special notice. Taeko is an outstanding female vocalist from Shiga,Japan (now also residing in New York City) who has both a resounding, resilient voice and an absolute mastery of musical vocabulary and timing. She gave standards like “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” new life, and showed her mastery of diverse genres with powerful renditions of songs by Sly and the Family Stone and Marvin Gaye. Her rendition of McCoy Tyner’s ballad, “You Taught My Heart to Sing” was extraordinary and moving. Like Italian- born Roberta Gamborini, Taeko’s cross-cultural background has given her an incomparable mastery and understanding of the jazz idiom that makes her singing electrifying and memorable,
Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound are a Philadelphia-based ensemble who – thanks to Zankel’s compositions and arrangements and the exceptional competence of the musicians – push the limits of jazz into the avant-garde while retaining a sound basis in traditional forms. Here, they provided a sample of Zankel compositions that they are preparing for an upcoming recording date. The finale was the first movement of Zankel’s elaboration of themes from John Coltrane’s epic “A Love Supreme.” Zankel’s version is for large ensemble and has an energy that goes beyond even Coltrane’s. Zankel’s group was relentlessly driving and yet possessed the beauty and nuances that make his music meaningful and memorable.
The U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors are a top-notch big band (many of the original great swing bands such as Glenn Miller’s emerged in the barracks of World War II) that happens to serve our country as soldiers as well. They played with the discipline of a tight army unit, while swinging with the best of the big bands. Importantly, they avoid the stock charts that compromise many big bands, and instead went right to the masters for their arrangements, and in many cases sounded as good or better than the original bands. Every section and every musician in the band was outstanding. Vocalist Marva Lewis swung standards like “Green Dolphin Street” with all the panache of a Nancy Wilson combined with a power and discipline she may have picked up in her tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In all, the ensembles and performers at the Festival gave a taste of what jazz in Philadelphia can offer aficionados and newcomers among the populace. The hope is that, in the future, as in this instance, the funding sources and venues of the city will be responsive to the enormous talent and potential that walks around this city looking for opportunities to perform. Oree and Damelio deserve kudos for their singular efforts in making this Festival happen.
Philadelphia United Jazz Festival Performances:
Philadelphia Clef Club Youth Band
James Dennis Brass
“I am Jazz” Fashion H2K
Julian Pressley Quartet
Sun Ra Arkestra
Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound
Jazz Ambassadors; U.S. Army Band
Carl Grubbs Quartet
John Coltrane Tribute (with Carl Grubbs, Odean Pope, Bobby Zankel, Umar Rahim, Adam Faulk, Warren Oree, Ju-Iu, and the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble
Odean Pope Trio