The Jazz Scene: Improv, new work, and favorites for January

Joanna Pascale takes over the Kimmel's SEI Innovation Studio on January 12. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Though Philadelphia has yet to host a major jazz festival, there are several in the immediate area that are impressive and long-running. Artists just announced for Reading’s 27th annual Berks County Jazz Festival, March 31 to April 9, include saxophonist Dave Liebman, the swinging Diva Jazz Orchestra, soulful jazz organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, singer Patti Austin, guitarist Pat Martino, veteran fusion exponents Foreplay, and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Tickets are now on sale.

Two-night appearances

Philadelphia organist/multi-instrumentalist Joey DeFrancesco has helped put the jazz organ back on the jazz map. This talented improviser, who has just signed a recording contract with the Mack Avenue record label, will appear at Chris’ Jazz Café on Friday and Saturday, January 13 and 14, for shows at 8 and 10pm each evening. 

The New Orleans Rebirth Brass Band, swinging Dixie since 1983, will appear on Friday and Saturday, January 19 and 20, at the Ardmore Music Hall, a rock palace that is now booking jazz regularly. The Grammy Award-winning group will perform both evenings at 8:30pm. 

One night only

Jazz singer/educator/recording artist Joanna Pascale has long been one of our area’s improvisational jazz resources, and has often been at the cutting edge of jazz innovation. Her latest endeavor is called Project Concept, which she describes as “a song cycle that takes its inspiration from the lives of flowers.” This program is being presented in collaboration with 2015 Guggenheim Fellow and Michigan State University teacher Etienne Charles to create a song cycle that will take its inspiration from the lives of flowers and associated emotions. The project will be under the direction of Ellie Heyman, the Co-Artistic Director of the Orbiting Human Circus, who was part of the 2015-16 Kimmel Center Theater Residency with Joe’s Pub. This ground-breaking performance will take place at the SEI Innovation Studio within the Kimmel Center on Thursday, January 12 at 6pm.

Fusion guitar master Pat Metheny, featuring drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Linda Oh, and pianist Gwilym Simcock, check in to the Keswick Theatre on Saturday, January 21, for an 8pm concert. 

The Uri Caine/Pat Martino Philadelphia Real Book concert series show of last month, sponsored by the non-profit Jazz Bridge, was unexpectedly cancelled at the 11th hour due to a chemical spill issue near University of the Arts. Fortunately, it’s just been announced that this blockbuster show has been rescheduled for March 11 at 7:30pm within the Caplan Center for the Performing Arts. 

Albums and nominees

Drummer and educator Jim Miller has been at the helm of our region’s only record label devoted to exclusively to jazz — Dreambox Media, formerly known as Encounter Records — for 30 years. After issuing dozens of recordings over three decades, Dreambox is calling it a day (“it has constantly been on life support,” says Miller), but the label is going out with head held high via the release of a DVD called Flicks Sticks & Tones,  featuring the best of area players. In addition to Miller on drums, the DVD features bassist Tyrone Brown, guitarist Dave Hotep, Chris Simonini on keyboards, and long-time Miller collaborator E.J. Yellen on saxophone.

Congratulations are in order to Philadelphia-born-and-bred pianist/composer Kenny Barron, nominated for a 2017 “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” Grammy Award for his Book of Intuition recording; and to drummer Peter Erskine, a Somers Point native, for Dr. Um, nominated in the same category (Here are the 2017 jazz nominees.)