Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Philadelphia Swings Into Spring with Jazz

Philadelphia will celebrate national Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in April, for the first time in many years. This national celebration, sponsored by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and also promoted by the United States Conference of Mayors, is now in its 10th anniversary year.

Recognizing this quintessentially American art form is especially appropriate for Philadelphia, which has an extraordinary legacy of leadership in jazz. Beginning with Ethel Waters, and extending to John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Stan Getz, the Heath Brothers, Dizzie Gillespie, Sun Ra, McCoy Tyner, Grover Washington Jr, Stanley Clarke, Philadelphia has an illustrious roster of jazz greats who were either born here or lived and worked here for a significant portion of their life. Despite the demise of many of the City's historic jazz clubs, the City still has a vital, thriving jazz scene, with many venues and a strong and deep array of renowned working musicians. There is a nice succinct history of jazz in Philadelphia on the "Music of Philadelphia" page of Wikipedia.

A few months ago I organized a group of leaders in the Philadelphia jazz scene to discuss how to better support and promote this great art form. This followed a meeting with some members of the Clef Club's staff and board about how to revive its fortunes. I am grateful to Warren Oree and Gaciella D'Amelio of Lifeline Music for getting me started down this path. Working together, and with the Office of the City Representative, my colleagues in City government, we have organized a special promotion of Jazz Appreciation Month in Philadelphia.

This celebration was announced earlier this week right outside City Hall, on a chilly but sunny morning. With musical accompaniment from Warren Oree and the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble, we announced a Citywide celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month in April, A new logo has been created (shared above), and banners have  been designed that will hang in the City Hall portals, and have also been produced in poster size.

L-R: Charles Truxon, Gregory Jones, Melanie Johnson (City Representative), Gary Steuer, Warren Oree; showing off the new Jazz Appreciation Month banner designs. Warren, Charles and Gregory are the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble.

In addition to the banners in City Hall, and the logo that will be used throughout the jazz community, we have also created a website: that has information on how to celebrate jazz, including a complete list of the Coalition members, downloadable versions of the logo, and a special Jazz Month event listings site, organized with the help with our friends at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and their Philly Fun Guide listings site. That special jazz listings site can be directly accessed here.

So with April beginning Friday, make your plans now for how to make jazz a part of your life this month, how you can support the art of jazz. And if you are not in Philadelphia, there are opportunities to support and experience jazz wherever you live. Here is a link to a great resource on the Smithsonian's site: it is called "112 ways to celebrate jazz".

As an aside, I have a somewhat personal connection to jazz, having been a major appreciator of the art form pretty much my entire adult life. In college at SUNY Purchase I was President of the student group charged with concert promotion and produced a jazz festival featuring the likes of Bill Evans, Elvin Jones and Betty Carter. Later, while Managing Director at the Vineyard Theatre in New York, we produced a concert series called Vintage Jazz at the Vineyard that highlighted jazz music from the 20's 30's and 40's, and featured many of the musicians from that era who were still around and playing, often paired with young proteges. That concert series was recorded and transformed into nationally broadcast radio programs. (Sadly, these radio shows, of which I think there were about 30, seem to have been lost to the mists of time. I never had the masters, and have been unable to track them down to make sure they are archived somewhere - it is a great loss, if in fact the masters are gone; most of these artists have now passed on.) Also while at the Vineyard I produced Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, a musical about the last days of Billie Holiday, that went on from its Off Broadway run to be produced all over the country. Growing up in NY, I sort of lived at clubs like the Village Vanguard, Sweet Basil, and The Blue Note. And more recently, my wife worked at Jazz at Lincoln Center for several years, during which I was a regular at their programs, including the extraordinary Essentially Ellington national high school jazz band competition.

Let's end with images of the two banners that will be "swinging" in the City Hall portals during the month of April!


  1. Mr. Steuer, members of the revitalized Philadelphia Music Alliance (PMA) applaud and share your wonderful enthusiasm for the much deserved full-month observance of Jazz Music and its influence this April. We intend to have a significant share in promoting our City's endeavors toward highlighting Philadelphia's proud position in the historical development of the culture.

    It is especially encouraging to see the inclusion of, and focus upon, the Clef Club -a valuable cultural resource for our town that has been historically under-utilized and weakly supported.

    Equally vital as our attention to the rich legacy of Philadelphia's Jazz tradition will be the PMA's continuous push for the perpetuation of this grand American art form through capturing the sustained imagination and participation of Philadelphia's amply gifted youths.

    Thus, details will soon be made available regarding a $2,000 PMA Scholarship that will be awarded during this Jazz Appreciation Month. Its purpose will be to assist a deserving young student in pursuit of achieving excellence in the musical art of Jazz.

    Speaking for our entire dedicated and distinguished Board of Directors, as well as for myself, I say BRAVO to your efforts toward making Philadelphia exemplary in its promotion of the nation's Jazz Appreciation Month!

    Randy Brown
    Executive Director
    Philadelphia Music Alliance
    1601 Market Street - Suite 2525
    Phila., PA 19103-2301

  2. Thanks Randy - Look forward to working together to promote and support Philadelphia's jazz legacy, our talented young musicians as well as our great masters, and the larger music community!