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Wendy Simon and Ella Gahnt pair up for 2nd Fridays Jazz Series

2 minute read
Ella Gahnt is a staple in the Philly jazz scene. (Photo by Anthony Dean)
Ella Gahnt is a staple in the Philly jazz scene. (Photo by Anthony Dean)

This Friday, May 10 at the Community Education Center, two formidable jazz singers and a kick-ass rhythm section will be performing as part of the Leo Robert Gadson’s Producers Guild 2nd Fridays Jazz Series.

Singers Wendy Simon and Ella Gahnt have been long-time friends who will finally will be singing together on this very special concert of standards and original works. Simon, half of a popular duo in the 1980s and 1990s called 52nd Street, has been back on the scene for the last three years after retiring from teaching music and drama at Springfield Middle School. Gahnt has been on the scene for many years and has two albums out under her name, performing regularly with stellar jazz musicians from the area.

The idea for this mutual admiration society gig originated last year, according to Wendy Simon.

“Ella and I are on the same page in our taste in music…we set the date last November and decided to incorporate four duets in the shows.” They’ll be singing and scatting together on How High the Moon, a jazz standard that every singer worth their salt needs to know, Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), and a Dave Brubeck/Carmen McRae collaboration, Traveling Blues, a dig-in, grooving swing that will have their audience dancing in this intimate setting.

Wendy Simon is thrilled to pair with Gahnt for the first time in years. (Photo by Anthony Dean)
Wendy Simon is thrilled to pair with Gahnt for the first time in years. (Photo by Anthony Dean)

Ella Gahnt agreed that they both wanted this performance to become a reality. “Wendy and I have been talking about it for years and things finally came together…and we have an awesome band!”

Yes, indeed they do, with pianist and composer Aaron Graves, the go-to jazz player on the scene today with a bio about a mile long sprinkled with jazz greats past and present; bassist Lee Smith, another Philly monster who has recorded with saxophonist Odean Pope, Mongo Santamaria, and singer Billy Paul; and Harry “Butch” Reed on drums, an alumnus of the late jazz violinist John Blake Jr. and the Electric Mingus Project.

Something makes this performance by these two delightful vocalists and stellar musicians possible – veteran jazz producer Leo Robert Gadson, a Philly jazz booster for many decades who has put together this 2nd Fridays Jazz Series at this historic space abutting the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel campuses.

Two Jazzy Ladies, happens Friday, May 10 at 8pm-10 pm at the Community Education Center, 35th and Lancaster Avenue. $20 at the door or call (215) 387-1911.

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