Tag Archives: Jam Session

Wurlitzer Music Store

Wurlitzer’s was a musical instrumental store located in Center City. It was also known as Music City.

Wurlitzer_s Music Store4

During an appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” in 1973, Philly native Bill Cosby recounts buying a drum set and taking lessons at Wurlitzer’s. The erstwhile drummer provides a snapshot of the jazz scene back in the day

Hot Jazz and Cold War

In his opening remarks at the International Jazz Day global concert at the White House, President Barack Obama said:

Jazz is perhaps the most honest reflection of who we are as a nation. Because after all, has there ever been any greater improvisation than America itself? We do it in our own way. We move forward even when the road ahead is uncertain, stubbornly insistent that we’ll get to somewhere better, and confident that we’ve got all the right notes up our sleeve.

That “honest reflection of who we are as a nation” became an instrument of cultural diplomacy during the Cold War. Jazz musicians-turned-cultural ambassadors toured in more than 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Jazz diplomacy was intended to win hearts and minds and promote a positive view of America as the land of freedom.

The irony of being ambassadors of freedom was not lost on jazz musicians who were treated as second-class citizens at home and subject to racial segregation.

As part of Jazz Appreciation Month, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, the Public Diplomacy Council and the DC Jazz Festival presented a program on jazz and public diplomacy.

Dizzy Gillespie was the first Jazz Ambassador. The legendary Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was the catalyst behind the tour. His son, Adam Clayton Powell III, President of the Public Diplomacy Council, recently wrote:

Americans underestimate the impact of jazz on audiences around the world. And in a way that contributes to the power of international tours by U.S. jazz musicians, including and especially tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

[…]

During the Cold War, America’s most prominent “jazz ambassadors” included Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong – at a time when segregation was the law of the land in much of the U.S. and the civil rights movement was at its peak. And that created a conflict for many of musicians.

“You had people being hosed down with fire hoses and dogs sicced on them, and you had these reports going out across the world,” said [Willard] Jenkins. “So it did create a real issue for many of the African American musicians who were selected to make those tours.”

Then Jenkins read from instructions given to musicians by the State Department: “‘Remember who you are and what you represent. Always be a credit to your government.’”

READ MORE

International Jazz Day 2016

All good things must come to an end. Jazz Appreciation Month is going out on a high note. On Saturday, April 30, America’s classical music will be celebrated across the globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

International Jazz Day 2016

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement:

Jazz was born in the U.S. and traveled the world as a music of tolerance, freedom and human dignity. This is why UNESCO created International Jazz Day and we are extremely pleased that in 2016 Washington, DC has been designated the host city for this global celebration, with a unique All Star Concert at the White House, hosted by the President of the United States Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. This event reminds us Jazz is more than music – it is a universal message of peace with rhythm and meaning.

Jazz at the White House - 4.25.16

UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock added:

We are thrilled that President Obama and Michelle Obama are hosting the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert at the White House, and are truly grateful for their commitment to jazz and its role in building bridges and uniting people around the world. Over the past five years, the innovation and creativity of Jazz Day has been a beacon of light to millions of people who find common ground and communicate through the values inherent in jazz. On April 30th, people of all ages in all corners of the globe will participate in International Jazz Day. A wide range of momentous events will take place in thousands of neighborhoods – and the streets will be alive with the sounds of peace and freedom.

The all-star global concert will air on ABC-TV at 8pm ET.

Shirley Scott: Queen of the Organ

From NPR’s Jazz Night in America:

Known as the “queen of the organ,” Shirley Scott was one of several Philadelphians who developed the electric Hammond B-3 into a viable instrument for a soulful, bluesy style of jazz. With dozens of recordings to her name, she was already a major voice when she became the leader of the house band at Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus. Among the young players who timidly found their way onto the stage at Ortlieb’s were Warfield and Stafford — and, in doing so, they got a lot more than they bargained for.

READ MORE

2015 BlackStar Film Festival

The 4th annual BlackStar Film Festival gets underway on Thursday, July 30.

BlackStar Film Festival Logo

The four-day film fest is “a celebration of cinema focused on work by and about people of African descent in a global context. BlackStar highlights films that are often overlooked from emerging, established, and mid-career directors, writers and producers working in narrative, documentary, experimental and music video filmmaking.” The program also includes panel discussions and workshops.

I am particularly looking forward to “Virtuosity,” a collection of shorts, including University of Pennsylvania music professor Guthrie Ramsey’s documentary, “Amazing: The Tests and Triumph of Bud Powell.” The film is based on Ramsey’s 2013 book, The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History and the Challenge of Bebop.

Powell had frequent gigs in Philly in the 1940s and ‘50s. He performed in such legendary jazz spots as Watts’ Zanzibar, Downbeat and The Point. While in town, Powell shared his genius with young musicians, including Lee Morgan, at the Heritage House Jazz Workshop.

The festival runs from July 30 to Aug. 2. For the full schedule and ticket information, visit BlackStar Film Fest.

We Remember Clifford Brown

Trumpeter Clifford Brown was only 25 when he died in a car crash in 1956. His last performance was at Philadelphia’s famed Music City.

Although his life was cut short, Brown left an indelible impact. There are 334 versions of Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson’s composition, “I Remember Clifford.”

Since 1988, his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, has held the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival to honor his memory. Fittingly, it’s the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast. This year’s lineup includes Norman Conners, Leela James and Pieces of a Dream.

clifford-brown-jazz-festival-2015
For the complete schedule, visit www.cliffordbrownjazzfest.org.

Music City

In 1947, drummer Ellis Tollin and his business partner William Welsh opened Music City. What started out as a drum shop became a unique performance space where top jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis held jam sessions and mentored up-and-coming musicians like Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons and Archie Shepp.

Music City Collage

Trumpeter Ted Curson recalled:

It was like the scene in Philadelphia for young cats and old cats. They would bring guys in from New York to play and they would have the young guys sit in with them. If you played pretty good you always ended up with some kind of gig.

Jazz legend Clifford Brown gave his last performance at Music City. He left directly from there for a gig in Chicago. He never made it. He was killed in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

In a piece for Hidden City Philadelphia, archivist and Philadelphia music historian Jack McCarthy wrote:

On Tuesday evenings in the mid 1950s, young jazz enthusiasts from all over the city would gather inside the popular music store, Music City, at what is now 1033 Chestnut Street. Some came to jam, while others sat back and listened to intimate performances by major players of the era. It was an especially fertile period in Philly jazz when the city hummed with lively clubs and was home to many of the genre’s important instrumentalists. For aspiring teenage musicians who were too young to get into the clubs, Music City was a place to trade notes with fellow young players and even to play with their musical heroes if they were lucky. Many emerging Philly jazz performers of the 1950s cut their teeth there.

[…]

[Clifford] Brown had established himself as one of the top trumpeters in jazz by the mid1950s. He was living in Philadelphia during this period and was a frequent, featured guest at Music City. As the original story went, Brown performed at the store on the evening of June 26, 1956, accompanied by Ellis Tollin on drums and several other Philly musicians, and left directly from there to drive to a gig in Chicago. With him on the trip were the pianist Richie Powell and his wife, Nancy, who did the driving. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the car ran off the road and crashed, killing all three.

Read more

Union Local 274

Founded in 1935, Union Local 274 was the second largest black American Federation of Musicians local. Black musicians were barred from the then-segregated Local 77.

Local 274 members included James Adams, Bill “Mr. C” Carney, Trudy Pitts, Duke Ellington, Benny Golson, Count Basie, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Sarah Vaughan, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Shirley Scott, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy and Percy Heath, Jimmy Oliver, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Doggett, Jimmy McGriff and Nina Simone. The Clef Club, its social arm, was the place for weekend jam sessions. The bar and performance space was open to jazz musicians and enthusiasts.

In his autobiography, I Was Not Asked, noted educator and music scholar Dr. George E. Allen wrote:

Many Philadelphia African American jazz musicians attributed their success to the atmosphere and fellowship at Black Local 274. For aspiring musicians, the Local was a training ground for developing their reputation and experimenting with new musical concepts. Local 274 was also a place where African American musicians sought refuge from racial prejudice and discrimination. In the union club during the jam sessions, musicians were encouraged to pursue musical careers through the applause of grassroots Philadelphia African Americans who loved and respected them and the visiting jazz musicians who were playing in the local clubs. Many members of Local 274 joined because of these benefits. The atmosphere inspired both African American and white musicians. They learned by listening to the music performed at the Union and socializing with the many musicians who congregated there.

Local 274 resisted forced amalgamation, or integration, with Local 77. As a result, the American Federation of Musicians cancelled its charter in 1971. But the story didn’t end there. Historian and archivist Diane Turner wrote her dissertation on Local 274. In an interview with ExplorePA.com, Dr. Turner said:

Local 274 saw what was happening to other black Locals and refused to join 77. But she says Jimmy Adams…the local’s president at the time…realized a merger might be unavoidable:

Do we want 77 to have control over what we built? It took us years to build through dues, our property and so forth. So he came up with the idea to start a cultural wing of Local 274 and incorporate it, and transfer all of their assets and property into the Philadelphia Clef Club.

In 1966, Adams incorporated the Philadelphia Clef Club. All Local 274 assets, including the union hall were transferred for $1.00.

Union Local 274 Headquarters

The Philadelphia Clef Club for Jazz and the Performing Arts celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016.

23rd Street Cafe

The 23rd Street Café has been featuring jam sessions since 1988. Mace Thompson, the owner, opens his establishment only on Tuesday evenings, 7:30pm to 11:30pm. There is no cover charge.

23rd Street Cafe

Alas, nothing lasts forever. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

After 25 years and more than 1,300 Tuesday-night jazz jam sessions at Center City’s 23rd Street Cafe, the horns, drums, basses, guitars, violins, harmonicas, and singers will soon be silenced for good. The property at 223 N. 23d Street will be demolished this summer, likely to make way for condominiums.

But all is not lost. The jam sessions will resume on Tuesday, August 4th at the Manayunk Brewery.

For updates, join the 23rd Street Cafe Facebook group.