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.
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.
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.
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.
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.