Philadelphia Residency – Feb 2015

Artist In Residency – Mann Center and Clef Club

In Philadelphia there’s a master-class program in cooperation with the Mann Center for Performing Arts, which brings together junior and senior high school music students and renowned Jazz artists. It’s fantastic! It takes place over three days and involves performances by the students of music they’ve selected and rehearsed and very often involves the music of the artist in residency. The AIR (artist in residency) listens and comments on their performances and observes them as they grow and change over the three days. I’m delighted with the discovery that all of this takes place with the involvement and cooperation of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz…OUTSTANDING! This is the kind of thing, which if cloned in some sort of miraculous fashion could really serve the preservation of one of America’s most precious art forms and cultural contributions.

It’s quite significant that many European countries with populations that were walled in by dictatorships and suppressive governments came to have their first glimpses of freedom by listening to Jazz music and watching American films. They will talk to you about Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Stan Kenton—“Am-jazz-adores”. You probably know that this music had its birthplace in the Deep South with a kinship to cotton fields and slavery and early gospel music and juke joints. It probably would not have happened without these elements. Even if we are embarrassed by these facts, we should celebrate this singular phenomenal occurrence. Today’s Rock n Roll and pop music owes its roots to the musical descendants of this form through Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, and Eric Clapton. This music today is played behind Wall Street commercials on television. “Here come old flat top…come together.”

So here we were in Philadelphia at the Clef Club of Jazz. I’ve already rambled too much so I’ll try to be brief here on out…BUT…this is a brilliant undertaking that deserves every bit of this.

Suffice it to say, Philadelphia is an amazing mecca for music, at least as important as New Orleans, Detroit, Los Angeles, or New York City. I’ll leave it to you to start finding individuals that range from Frankie Avalon to the “Delphonics” and Stanley Clarke. I kept saying, “It must be in the water,” that such incredible musical things happen at the confluence of the Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers. Great universities too.

The average age of these young choral participants was about 16 or 17. This was the first time that the Mann Center’s program has focused on singers instead of instrument players, so the kids came joyously and happily accepted this challenge of singing some Jazz music.

All 3 of these groups elected perform “Take Five.” My my my…what a challenge! There aren’t three recording professional Jazz singers who’ve taken on that song. And so it was good for them to experience one of the extreme challenges of Jazz performing. One of the groups also chose “Spain”, also a big singing performance challenge.

My first remarks of a comment or critique just flew out of my mouth. And it had to do with the fact that most Jazz singers do not do this kind of work. We could go down the list of them and after you mentioned Ella Fitzgerald and John Hendricks, the list gets quite small of singers who take on really complex music. Most well known Jazz singers sing music more in the style of Mark Murphy, Frank Sinatra, or Tony Bennett. It’s not necessary to be technically complex and as challenging as ‘Take Five” and “Spain,” and, for most, scat singing and improvising is a out of bounds. It requires a discipline and self-criticism that is beyond rare. You’ll know when you’re ready, and of course all of this requires experiment and trial and error.

There were sparks of fresh singing ability and talent shown by one girl who “wow-ed” the audience with her performance of Etta James’s “At Last” and a young man on “Teach Me Tonight”.

So the main thing here is to let you know about a marvelous thing that is already underway in Philadelphia that is surely the model for what could be and should be happening in America and the rest of the world. Get this; some visionary sponsors along with the Mann Center for Performing Arts realized a serious need that’s not being met in our public school programs. The sad thing is that music and arts programs have declined from the curriculum and many say with drastic implications. More on this later…

Let me close now by saying a huge “Thank You” to Rhoda Blount and her team for their spectacular work in leading the way for establishing this program and in particular for inviting me to participate and to educate myself too. Thank you to the Clef Club and the Mann Center of Performing Arts!

I’ll be back soon.



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