April is Jazz Appreciation Month. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection got the party started early with the Philly Celebrates Jazz kickoff on March 28th.
Mayor Jim Kenney proclaimed April as Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month. He also honored Philly native and Grammy Award-winning bassist and composer Christian McBride who was given an inscribed Liberty Bell, the equivalent of the key to the city.
Christian McBride is an ambassador of Philadelphia to the world, not only through his music, but also through his work as an educator and advocate for music education. “Christian’s story and accomplishments demonstrates the power of arts education, in our schools and communities, and the impact it can have on a person’s life and how we can encourage and build the next generation of musicians, artists, and creative thinkers.
The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts was also recognized on its 50th anniversary. The Clef Club was the social arm of Union Local 274, the black musicians union.
Philly Celebrates Jazz includes live performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. Now on view at City Hall are two photography exhibitions, Live Philly Jazz – Through the Photographic Lens and The Clef Club at 50, a retrospective curated by Don Gardner, Managing Director of the Philadelphia Clef Club, and Artistic Director Lovett Hines.
For a full calendar of Philly Celebrates Jazz events, visit http://bit.ly/PhillyJazzMonth.
March is Women in Jazz Month. To mark the occasion, the U.S. Postal Service is issuing the Sarah Vaughan Forever stamp.
Jazz legend Sarah Vaughan is being honored with a U.S. Forever stamp, which will be released March 29 with a free concert at her hometown's Newark Symphony Hall.
Vaughan, who sang in the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Choir and attended Arts High School, joins the ranks of Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash, all part of the Postal Service's Music Icons stamp series. The stamp is an image of a Bart Forbes oil painting based on a 1955 photograph by Hugh Bell of Vaughan in performance.
The Grammy- and Emmy-winning singer nicknamed "The Divine One" and "Sassy" died of lung cancer in 1990 at 66. A member of the Jazz Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Hall of Fame, her hits include "Misty," "Broken-Hearted Melody," and "Send in the Clowns."
The First-Day-of-Issue dedication ceremony will be held on March 29 at 11:00 a.m. at the Sarah Vaughan Concert Hall of Newark Symphony Hall. The gala event features a Proclamation from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and remarks from Grammy Award-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves. The musical highlights include performances by actress and singer Melba Moore, the Mount Zion Baptist Church Choir and the NJPAC Jazz for Teens Ensemble with Jazzmeia Horn.
Information on how to obtain free tickets for the concert is available here.
Last week we nominated for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places the house in which Malcolm X lived in 1954.
Some background. In 1954, Elijah Muhammad sent Malcolm X to Philadelphia to expand Temple No. 12 of the Nation of Islam. During his stay in the City of Brotherly Love, Minister Malcolm X lived in the Sharswood neighborhood at 2503 W. Oxford Street.
The nomination for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places is sponsored by All That Philly Jazz, a public history project that I launched in 2013. The young Malcolm was known as “Detroit Red,” a fixture on the jazz scene in Harlem. The house at 2503 W. Oxford Street was located a short walk from Philly’s storied Golden Strip.
But that is not why the Malcolm X House is historically significant. 2503 W. Oxford Street is a place where history happened. Minister Malcolm X was a master teacher whose charismatic leadership laid the foundation for the growth of Islam among African Americans across the country. Today, there are 200,000 Muslims in Philadelphia, 85 percent of whom are black. According to the Pew Research Center, African Americans make up 23 percent of the U.S. Muslim population.
2503 W. Oxford Street is part of the story of the Great Migration. Architectural historian Oscar Beisert, co-sponsor of the nomination said:
Built in 1883, the house at 2503 W. Oxford Street has been chiefly owned by three families. Between 1920 and 1930 the demographics had changed to the point where African Americans were able to purchase property in the neighborhood. By 1940, the neighborhood of W. Oxford Street had become almost entirely African American.
2503 W. Oxford Street was purchased by Ida Mae Vacca in 1956. She lived there continuously until her death in 2012. Her descendant, Robin Cooper, recalled:
Ida was the kind of woman who said everything matter-of-factly. This was how the Malcolm X conversation occurred, in a very matter-of-fact way. An inquisitive child, I wanted to know how long she lived in such a ‘big’ house as the house was big in my little eyes. While talking about her house, she indicated that someone famous lived there before she moved there. I questioned her and she stated that Malcolm X used to reside there.
We anticipate the nomination of the Malcolm X House will be considered by the Historic Designation Committee of the Philadelphia Historical Commission on June 15, 2016. For updates, follow All That Philly Jazz on Twitter.
I celebrate black history 365. But outside the African American community, black history is recognized, if at all, in February, the shortest month.
The world-famous Apollo Theater has been “honoring the legacy, advancing the path” for 82 years. On Saturday, I attended their Open House Weekend, the theme of which was the arts and activism.
The event celebrated Apollo artists at the intersection of art and social justice. Artists like Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, James Brown, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy and N.W.A.
Although I’ve viewed the YouTube video countless times, hearing Lady Day sing “Strange Fruit” on the big screen with the Apollo Theater’s sound system brought an immediacy to her performance.
The program included film clips, live performances and commentary by Billy Mitchell, aka “Mr. Apollo,” and legendary radio personalities Bob Slade and Imhotep Gary Byrd. It ended with the performers and audience singing “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” like it was 1969.
I had a visceral response to news that City Councilman Mark Squilla introduced a bill that would impose new rules for a “special assembly occupancy” license. Among other things, applications for an SAO license must be approved by the Philadelphia Police Department. Promoters and venue operators would be required to provide the police department with the “full name, address and phone number of all performance acts scheduled to perform during the promoted event or special event.”
There is concern the bill is racially motivated. That it’s targeting venues that promote hip-hop artists. Capt. Francis Healy, the PPD's legal adviser, told the Philadelphia Inquirer Squilla’s bill has “nothing to do with race,” adding:
I could see where it could be [interpreted as such].
The police department has a sordid history with black musicians. During Philly’s jazz heyday, clubs were under police surveillance. Jazz venues would be raided because black and white patrons were fraternizing. In a piece for Hidden City Philadelphia, Jack McCarthy shared a news report from 1949:
A preholiday raid by… detectives… once again smacks of racial prejudice on part of the law enforcers… [The] Downbeat is the favorite hangout for the be-bop fans and is the only downtown spot which never has discriminated against Negro patronage. In fact, crowds here have been interracial in character, attracting everybody from the intelligentsia to the rabid be-bop fan.
Nat Segall, former owner of the Downbeat who originally established the room, gave it up a year ago rather than give in to certain political powers who urged he adopt a segregation policy for the room. When he refused to give in, Segall, a former musician now in the booking business, was pestered by police raids and finally sold out.
Charges of underage drinkers at the Downbeat, basis for the raid, is a weak one when you see the patronage of purity-white places… you’ll find teenagers any night of the week in practically every night club in town.
Police harassment put the legendary club out of business. Philadelphia police and federal narcotics agents hounded Billie Holiday. Indeed, Lady Day was the first casualty of the War on Drugs.
On Nov. 17, 1955, Ray Charles and his entire band were arrested on drug charges. Although the charges were later dropped, Brother Ray vowed never again to perform in Philadelphia.
Sixty years later, there are echoes of Brother Ray’s concern about the climate for musicians. As currently written, the police department would maintain a registry of performers. Musicians are posting on social media that if Squilla’s bill passes, they will skip Philly.
Heard enough? Then take note and join the protest against Bill No. 160016 at City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 9 a.m. For more information, visit March for Musicians Against Bill #160016 on Facebook.
Don’t let Squilla stop the music.
UPDATE: Councilman Mark Squilla’s bill struck a sour note. At a hastily-arranged meeting with music industry leaders, Squilla said:
There’s a distrust between some performers and the government, a feeling of “big brother watching you.” That was not my intent.
In the wake of the social media backlash, Squilla will “withdraw the bill and start over from scratch.” Strike up the band and let the music play.
Over the weekend, I attended a conference organized by the Black Radical Organizing Collective.
While I tend to fall center-right on the political spectrum, I’m sick and tired of all this bull that’s doing down.
The conference featured a who’s who of black radicals, including Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Patrice Armstead, Cornel West, Anthony Monteiro, Angela Davis, Pam Africa and Charlene Carruthers. While they all dropped knowledge, West’s remarks particularly resonated with me. He observed that gospel, blues, jazz and rhythm-and-blues are rooted in our spiritual striving.
West excoriated the black “misleadership class.” He said comparing today's leaders to leaders of the 1960s is akin to comparing Kenny G to John Coltrane.
The misleadership is in stark relief in Philadelphia where we have the spectacle of an elections chief who doesn’t show up for work and doesn’t vote.
Anthony Clark said he exercised his right not to vote. Philly’s black leaders have maintained a deafening silence about this buffoon who dishonors the sacrifices of the civil rights leaders and foot soldiers who fought for the right to vote.
West and other speakers noted that our struggle for social justice is endless. Indeed, the first black political convention was held in 1831.
So we have been at it for a long time. But in the words of one of my favorite gospel songs, “I don’t feel no ways tired.” The struggle continues.
Angela Davis spoke at Saturday’s People’s Assembly. She concluded her remarks with a call to action: Wake up, everybody!