The Jazz Scene: Legends, innovators, and a Philadelphia goodbye

Catch saxophonist Bobby Zankel at the Painted Bride on January 20. (Photo courtesy of the artist.)

Though Reading, PA, is hardly a hotbed for jazz, the nationally sponsored Reading-based Berks Jazz Fest, which will celebrate its 28th year from April 6 to April 15, seems to get bigger and better with each successive season, thanks to its singularly impressive mix of national and regional jazz performers.

Headliners this year include the smooth jazz of trumpeter Rick Braun with saxophonist Dave Koz on Friday, April 6; concerts by funky saxophonist Boney James and bassist Victor Wooten’s group on Saturday, April 7; versatile reedman Eric Marienthal on Tuesday, April 10;  a solo program by master bassist Brian Bromberg on Thursday, April 12; soul saxophonist Maceo Parker and vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater on Friday, April 13; the Rippingtons on Saturday, April 14; and saxophonist Kirk Whalum’s Gospel According to Jazz Celebration featuring singing group Take 6 on Sunday, April 15. For tickets and the full lineup, visit online.

The legend and the innovator

There are not a lot of certified jazz legends still among us. Saxophonist Charles Lloyd, coming to Williams Center for the Arts in Easton on Saturday, January 27, for an 8pm show with a group featuring the brilliant Bill Frisell on guitar, is one.  It’s hard to believe that this NEA Jazz Master actually broke into the business with Chico Hamilton’s group almost six decades ago. At 79 he continues to startle as a refreshing soloist, and still manages to break new ground as an improviser and composer.

Saxophonist and composer Bobby Zankel has been a part of our area’s more progressive jazz scene since the 1970s. He’s always ignored trends and fads and has bravely gone his own way musically, studying with avant-garde pioneer Cecil Taylor and working with forward thinkers like the late multi-instrumentalist Muhal Richard Abrams and clarinetist Don Byron. Zankel and his group of first-call area players, the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, will appear with guest saxophonist David Murray at the Painted Bride Art Center on Saturday, January 20, at 8pm.

Rite of Swing

Trumpeter, educator, and bandleader Mike Natale is one of those jazz instrumentalists almost everyone has heard — either in person, in countless area big bands and collegiate jazz ensembles, on recordings, or on television and radio — but whose name remains relatively unknown. Though the Philadelphia-based Mike Douglas television program is long gone, Natale is still fondly remembered in the region’s jazz community as the lead trumpeter on that show, as well as for his appearances on many now-famed Cameo-Parkway recordings. Natale will appear in a rare small group setting on Thursday, January 25, at the Temple University Performing Arts Center for a free show at 4:30pm, part of Temple’s Rite of Swing Jazz Café series.

Goodbye to Mr. C.

Recently, we were sad to say goodbye to drummer, decorated World War II veteran, raconteur, and promoter William “Mr. C.” Carney, one of Philadelphia’s last “always on the scene” jazz icons. Mr. C., a consistently swinging musician who was married to another area jazz icon, keyboardist Trudy Pitts, until her death in 2010, was also instrumental in raising funds for what he called “the house that jazz built”: the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and the Performing Arts.

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