The 2016 NEA Jazz Masters were honored at a tribute concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
This year’s class includes Archie Shepp who grew up in West Philadelphia. During an NEA interview, Shepp talked about jazz and Philadelphia:
The music that we call jazz has always been important in the African American community, especially in the poorer neighborhoods.
There was a lot of racism and prejudice, but a lot of music, a lot of blues and some good times. Music was all over Philadelphia. You could go down to North Philadelphia and hear young John Coltrane or Johnny Coles, Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath. I suppose that’s what jazz is all about, suffering and good times, and somehow making the best of all of that.
At the tribute concert for Benny Carter, I got a chance to spend some time with Shepp during the break. He reminisced about the jam sessions at the Heath Brothers’ Family Home. He shared that he learned how to play chords from Coltrane and Lee Morgan.
Truth be told, Philadelphia’s contribution to jazz is mostly an untold story. We must capture stories about Philly’s jazz scene while those who know the history are still here.
Irvine Auditorium is a performance venue at 3401 Spruce Street on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was designed by the firm of prominent architect Horace Trumbauer and built 1926–1932. Irvine Auditorium is notable for its nearly 11,000-pipe Curtis Organ, the world’s 22nd-largest pipe organ (by ranks), originally built for the Sesquicentennial Exposition of 1926 and donated to the university in 1928. The building was opened in May, 1929.
The 1987 Mellon Jazz Festival was dedicated to the Heath Brothers who performed in the auditorium on June 25, 1987.
Barber’s Hall dates back to Philly’s golden age of jazz.
Mel Melvin’s Orchestra was a jazz-oriented R&B band which featured some of Philly’s best musicians, including the Heath Brothers and John Coltrane. NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron played with the orchestra when he was a teenager.
The black-owned bar has played host to such legendary musicians as John Coltrane, Robert “Bootsie” Barnes and Grover Washington, Jr. Charlotte Adams — Ms. Charlotte — granddaughter of the original owner, has been serving drinks there for more than 30 years.
New Barber’s Hall is located in the former home of the Quaker City Wheelmen bicycle club. In a piece for Hidden City Philadelphia, GroJLart wrote:
In 1953, a group of four African American barbershop owners formed the National Barber’s Sunshine Club, a trade organization for local barbers, and purchased the building for their headquarters, which was colloquially renamed Barber’s Hall. In addition to hosting the Sunshine Club, the building also became a music venue and event space. Jazz musicians staying at the Chesterfield Hotel next door would often drop by to play at the club between gigs.