I’m recently back from holiday, my first trip to the USA, birthplace of jazz.
I had to hang around Philadelphia airport to change flights. There was a small stage set up at one end of the food court, and while I was sitting trying to work my way through a “regular” smoothie – a swimming pool with a straw in it, basically – a band came on stage and proceeded to play. A jazz group. The Freedom Jazz Quartet, who despite the name didn’t play free jazz but hard boppish jazz standards. Hanging around in an airport is never my idea of fun, but it’s a lot less dull when there’s a decent tenor player getting stuck into some Monk tunes.
Philadelphia takes its music seriously: there’s a Musicians’ Walk of Fame in the city centre, with plaques commemorating a host of musicians with Philadelphia connections. Among the jazz musicians were Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, the Heath Brothers, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and the Brecker Brothers. I didn’t see one for Philly Joe Jones, but I assume I just wasn’t looking hard enough. But why did Albert, Jimmy and Percy Heath have to share a plaque, when Michael and Randy Brecker (or for that matter Darryl Hall and John Oates) got one each? The same street includes the Kimmell Center home of the Philadelphia Orchestra and, directly across the road from it, Gamble and Huff’s Philly International Records Studio.
It was possible to take a Philadelphia Historic African-American Trust (PHAAT, geddit) tour which included a visit to John Coltrane’s house, but I didn’t have time to do it. After Trane’s death it was apparently owned by his cousin Mary (after whom the tune is named), and after her death a few years back got placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
I did manage a trip to Chris’s Jazz
BarCafé to hear Kenny Werner playing in a trio with the fine young Philadelphia drummer Ari Hoenig, and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller. They were supported by a fine local quartet, lead by a particularly good young alto player called, I think, Dave Powell. The concert was organised differently to any I’ve been at in the UK or Europe it was very much a club, with eating and drinking seeming to play an important role in the evening’s proceedings (including some particularly tasty and particularly potent beers from microbreweries). There were two sets, one at 8.00 pm and one at 10.00 (the one I was at), and the support band came on after the main act and played until closing time. I don’t know if this is normal US practice, or just how they did things at that particular venue. There’s at least one other serious jazz venue in Philadelphia, Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, which Rashied Ali (another Philly guy) seems to have some involvement with.