Bop Goes the Opera - In 2002, the brilliant saxophonist Joe Lovano took the jazz-meets-classical music concept outside of the box when he recorded jazz versions of tunes from the songbook of opera legend Enrico Caruso. While Viva Caruso was critically acclaimed and did well for Lovano and Blue Note Records, it represented, at the time, the beginning and end of jazz versions of operatic compositions and vice-versa. Until now. What does alto saxophonist Charles “Yarbird” Parker, one of the founders and inventors of what we now know as modern jazz, have in common with Opera Philadelphia? A lot, believe it or not. A project called Yardbird is being developed by Opera Philadelphia for a June 2015 premiere at the Kimmel Center, with tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s voice taking the place of the alto sax voice of the real “Bird.” Soprano Angela Brown will be the voice of Bird’s mother. Innovative and ground-breaking projects like these that combine genres are essential and rare, if only because it will certainly bring jazz fans to opera and opera fans to jazz. And it’s just fabulous that the premiere will take place in Philadelphia, one of Bird’s favorite stops. The suggestion is to keep checking operaphila.org to see when tickets go on sale. This will sell out. And it will deservedly make national and international news.
Speaking of John Birks Gillespie, the folks at Jazz Bridge are again presenting last year’s wonderful stage show, Last Call at The Downbeat—a charming and swinging story about a Dizzy Gillespie gig in Philadelphia circa 1942, and how modern jazz virtually hatched as a result of that job. With a book by Jazz Bridge’s Suzanne Cloud, the participation of stellar trumpeter Duane Eubanks, and Terrell Green portraying Birks, Last Call will run in the Red Room of the Society Hill Playhouse, 507 South 8th Street, the first two weekends in April. Friday/Saturday shows are at 8 pm, with 2 pm matinees on April 6 and April 13. Tickets, which can be purchased in advance via jazzbridge.org, are $25. Jazz Bridge’s annual fundraiser on April 25 will star the living legend of jazz guitar, Pat Martino.
Roman à Clef Club
The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts is an outgrowth of a “social club” of sorts, started in 1966 by a musician named James Adams, then a member of the last independent black musician’s union in the country, Local #274. In 1995, The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts made history when it opened the doors of its new headquarters on 738 South Broad Street. The facility was the first ever designed and constructed specifically to be a jazz institution and now houses educational facilities, performing arts spaces of various sizes, and a repository for jazz artifacts. For a variety of reasons, The Clef Club has had more than its share of growing pains since it opened. But it appears that the organization has found its way. The Clef Club appears to have a new website, has instituted a Monday night jam session hosted and led by pianist “Chappy” Washington, is taking their wonderful Youth Ensemble to perform at area churches, and is starting to produce and host major jazz events. Last month, saxophone virtuoso James Carter visited, backed by an all-star Philadelphia rhythm section (and Carter’s charts aren’t easy). On March 15, The Clef Club will present A Salute to Women in Jazz—Phyllis Hyman, Nina Simone, Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan—featuring singers Sherry Wilson Butler and Malyka Sankofa, and guitarist Monnette Sudler. Wielding the baton for the event is Tony “TNT” Jones, who also promises some jazzing “with a who’s who of musicians.” The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts needs and deserves the support of those in and out of the jazz community. Tickets for this 8 pm show are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Information here.
Jazz Tap on the Map
Jazz tap dancer Pamela Hetherington recently received a 2014 Project Stream Grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, which will partially fund an eight-month dance and music project that will explore the intersection of tap, ballet and the rhythmic possibilities of Bach’s “Third Brandenburg Concerto.” Given Hetherington’s jazz orientation, the music will not be Bach’s version of the “Concerto,” rather, the version by the Swingle Sisters. This will be a collaborative piece of choreography which fuses complex rhythmic musicality with intricate choreography and fast-paced staging for six tap dancers and four ballet dancers. There are also plans for a public performance of this and other works, a community tap and music class, an open rehearsal and a post-show “talk back” with the two choreographers and the dancers. Information here.
The Gene Krupa Story on CD: It Only Took 55 Years
Fans of drummer Gene Krupa, and there are thousands of them out there, can rejoice. For years, 55 to be exact, those who still regard “that ace drummer man” with reverence have wondered when and if the soundtrack album to the 1959 film, The Gene Krupa Story, would make it to CD. Jordi Pujol of the Barcelona, Spain-based Fresh Sound Records, is releasing The Gene Krupa Story soundtrack in tandem with the jazz soundtrack to The Five Pennies—a 1959 film starring Danny Kaye (!) as jazz trumpeter Red Nichols—in a deluxe, 24-bit, stereo, re-mastered edition with 16-page booklet of essays and photos. Though the Krupa Story was as corny as all get out - and most of the music had little to do with the career of Krupa - Sal Mineo, who portrayed Gene, did an incredible role of miming to the soundtrack of Krupa’s drums, and Maestro himself probably never played better. More importantly, The Gene Krupa Story inspired thousands of pre-Ringo hide-beaters, including a young fellow who made his name with The Vanilla Fudge, Carmine Appice, who to this day can play every lick on that recording. Ordering: freshsoundrecords.com. Area connection? GK played Atlantic City’s Steel Pier as a sideman and leader annually from about 1933 through 1967.
When it comes to creative and progressive music, the Ars Nova Workshop virtually defines the words “cutting edge,” and they are particularly effective in presenting artists associated with a form of jazz too often forgotten these days: the avant-garde, a.k.a. “free jazz.” Individually and in tandem with organizations like the Painted Bride, Ars Nova is, as they say, “taking care of business.”
Here’s their March line-up:
Saxophonist Bobby Zankel and his Warriors of the Wonderful Sound celebrate the music of pianist/composer Cecil Taylor at the Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine Street, on March 8.
Drummer Denardo Coleman (son of Ornette) and his band, and bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and his band, celebrate the music of saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman at the Painted Bride Arts Center on March 21. Information here
Outside of the Painted Bride, on March 19, Ars Nova will present the avant-garde quartet co-lead by veteran cornetist Bobby Bradford—of Ornette Coleman fame—and Norwegian reedman Frode Gjerstad. This is the quartet’s Philadelphia debut and they can be heard at the Art Alliance, 251 South 18th Street. On March 25, Ars Nova presents the innovative vocalist/pianist from Oslo, Susanna, at International House, 3701 Chestnut Street.
The Last Time We Saw Paris
Though the Ortlieb’s Tuesday night jam session is now a part of history, there are still plenty of local spots featuring world class live jazz in jams and otherwise. The Paris Wine Bar, part of The London Grill at 23rd and Fairmount, features live jazz regularly on weekends, often by swinging trumpeter Josh Lawrence, pianist Jim Holton and Steve Beskrone. There are a lot of other things going on here as well, from art exhibits and theatrical presentations to, yes, Passover Seders.
Paul Jost: He’s the Most
The long-awaited and much touted CD by Paul Jost’s The Jost Project is now a reality. The concept of Can’t Find My Way Home—featuring the leader on vocals, harmonica and guitar; Tony Miceli on vibes; bassist Kevin MacConnell; and drummer Charlie Patierno—is an individual interpretation of rock standards performed in a contemporary jazz format. Hey, a tune is a tune. Colleague Nick Bewsey handles criticism and reviewing in these parts, but those within “The Jazz Scene” can confirm that these players are the absolute best on their instruments, and gimmicks aside—and doesn’t everyone in this business need a gimmick?—anything they do is worth serious listening.
This article is from the March 2014 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More Information.