Jazz venues are broadly defined. Tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes said, “Back then, a jazz club became a jazz club as long you had jazz played in it.”
In the early years of the twentieth century, the church and concert based musical culture of black
Philadelphians was challenged by the popularity of a new, high energy, uptempo, loud, and improvisational music coming up from the South. At first, respectable churchgoing families looked down upon “jazz,” but the music had a life of its own, and its performers and audiences had little use for what they considered antiquated notions of respectability.
In the 1920s, jazz became the soundtrack for the revolution in manners and morals that was sweeping the nation. In New York’s Harlem, South Philadelphia, the south side of Chicago, Pittsburgh’s Hill District and other northern cities, urban African Americans known as the New Negroes were finding expanded opportunities and new identities. One of the first singers to give voice to this new generation was Chester, Pennsylvania’s Ethel Waters, the first recording star of the African American-owned Black Swan Record Company.
Jazz has always been an improvisational and constantly evolving music. A new wave of African American migration to Philadelphia during the Second World War helped set the stage for a jazz renaissance in the City of Brotherly Love. Jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and the Heath Brothers all came to Philadelphia from the Carolinas. The legendary Billie Holiday was born in the city. The musical ferment of the 1940s and 1950s in Philadelphia was similar to the explosion of jazz and pop music in the 1920s, especially within the black community.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, jazz is once again entering a new period of musical synthesis and experimentation. Philadelphia continues to boast more than its share of innovators and virtuosos, including Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Bobby Zankel, Uri Caine, Ahmir Thompson and many others. With its rich musical cultures and vibrant jazz scene, Philadelphia promises to build upon its rich history as a center of jazz innovation.