The Jazz Scene: The dearly departed and the reinvented

The piano of Philly's Orrin Evans will join The Bad Plus. (Photo by John Abbott, via orrinevansmusic.com.)

Vocalist Abbey Lincoln, who died in 2010, was a fiery and outspoken artist who also happened to be a world-class jazz singer, actor, and composer. Four contemporary jazz greats — vocalists Diane Reeves and Dee Dee Bridgewater, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding — pay tribute to Lincoln with a concert at the Kimmel Center on Friday, May 5, at 8pm.

Two impressive jazz events will take place the following evening. Trumpeter Chris Botti, who successfully merged jazz and pop and sold a load of recordings in the process, will perform at the Merriam Theater at 8pm. Of a more esoteric nature is the performance of bassist/vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello, who will appear at Annenberg Center at 8pm. Ndegeocello has inventively combined soul, spoken word, R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and rock and for the past 20 years has worked alongside the likes of the Rolling Stones, Madonna, James Blood Ulmer, and Chaka Khan. 

Never say die

Coming to Sellersville Theater on Sunday, May 14, at 2pm is a real oddity: The Artie Shaw Orchestra. What makes this booking odd is that bandleader/clarinetist Shaw stopped playing the clarinet in 1954 and had nothing to do with the band business after that, aside from a brief sojourn in the 1980s, when he fronted an ensemble that played his hits.  But it’s literally “never say die” in the ghost-band industry — Shaw died in 2004 and Matt Koza, a clarinet player who worked in a previous Shaw ghost band, now leads the ensemble.

Although Dino’s Backstage in Glenside is not a jazz club per se, the elegant venue does book its share of the region’s finest jazz singers. Two of the most impressive are the aptly named Ella Gahnt — who recently presented a well-received Ella Fitzgerald tribute show at the Clef Club — booked for Friday, May 12; and, on the following night, popular singer/multi-instrumentalist Paul Jost. 

Big news and can’t-miss albums

Breaking jazz news: Pianist Orrin Evans, one of the biggest jazz names ever produced by Philadelphia, has been tapped to join The Bad Plus, one of the most successful ensembles in the jazz world. And Philadelphia’s own Patti LaBelle is the latest pop chanteuse to try the jazz route on for size. This month, the vocal diva will release Bel Hommage, which includes songs like "Peel Me a Grape" and "Here’s to Life." Though she admits the jazz genre is new to her, LaBelle told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jenice Armstrong, “The jazz was in me all along. I was just afraid to try it and to take a chance.”

Congratulations are in order to multitalented lyricist, composer, and producer Melissa Gilstrap, who spearheaded the album Tender Heart: Songs of Tom Giacabetti and Melissa Gilstrap. It features the late, great, beloved guitarist Giacabetti on the only album he ever recorded. Gilstrap wrote the lyrics to Giacabetti’s songs — which feature top-notch area vocalists Joanna Pascale, Paul Jost, Denise King, and Sharon Sable alongside Gilstrap. One of the tunes on the album, “Fantasy of You and Me in Love,” was voted one of the top three jazz songs of 2016 by WRTI Radio. All told, this is a charming and often touching recording that gets better with repeated listening.