Heritage House Jazz Workshop

From Jeffrey S. McMillan, “A Musical Education: Lee Morgan and the Philadelphia Jazz Scene of the 1950s”:

Early in 1954, a Camden, New Jersey, DJ named Tommy Roberts began holding jazz sessions at the Heritage House, a north Philadelphia community center located on the second floor of what is now the Freedom Theater at 1346 N. Broad Street. These sessions became an important part of the Philadelphia jazz scene, especially for young musicians, and gave birth to a series of events known as the “Jazz Workshop.” Beginning in April 1954, the Workshop met every Friday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 and featured prominent jazz artists who were in town playing evening engagements in the clubs in Center City. The first hour of each session entailed a performance by the featured artists and was followed by an intermission where members of the audience were free to socialize with the musicians. The second hour was devoted to young musicians and composers who were encouraged to sit in with the artists or submit their work to be performed by the band. This unique, hands-on opportunity for youngsters to learn about jazz was augmented by the quality of artists that appeared at the Workshop.

In 1954 alone the artists included the Chet Baker Quintet (featuring James Moody), Johnny Hodges’s band (which, at the time, included John Coltrane), Buddy DeFranco, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Bud Powell, Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Roy Eldridge, the Erroll Garner Trio, and Billy Taylor. Besides a 75¢ admission fee, there was only one restriction to being admitted to the Workshop: every attendee was required to be twenty years old or younger. Those of legal drinking age, twenty-one or older, had to take their business to the clubs to hear the artists.

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