Jazz has etched itself into the cultural fabric of Philadelphia.
The city has served as the mold for jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Bessie Smith, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Throughout this month in Philadelphia, jazz appreciation month will be honored in venues across the city that are hosting events to capture audience’s attention and reveal the genre’s relevance.
These events will culminate with the Saturday, April 28 Center City Jazz Festival. Alumnus trombonist Ernest Stuart is the brainchild of the festival.
Stuart is leading the way for young jazz musicians. At the age of 12, Stuart said he was exposed to his elementary school’s jazz band and immediately gravitated toward the saxophone.
“After the performance my response was ‘I have to have one of those, I have to play,’” Stuart said.
When Stuart began taking music lessons at school, he said there were only three choices: tuba, baritone horn and trombone.
While at Temple, he established a meaningful relationship with groups including the Roots and Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
As a student, he traveled between New York and Philadelphia to play with Vanguard. After graduating from Temple, he made New York his new home and he expanded his jazz résumé.
Stuart said he recognized the lack of jazz appreciation in Philadelphia.
“All of the musicians were moving to New York – the Center City Jazz Festival was a way to stop that and pick up and create something,” Stuart said.
The idea for the festival began as a Kickstarter project one year ago, when more than $17,000 was raised to make the festival a reality. It will showcase young “cats” in Philadelphia who are “killing” the jazz scene with their unspoken talent.
In the midst of new music coming out constantly, jazz cornet player Jafar Barron said he believes there has to be a foundation. Barron regularly plays in Rittenhouse Square, has been featured on the CDs of fellow jazz legends like Jill Scott and Erykah Badu and is credited for extensive contributions to the Philadelphia jazz scene.
“It is important that good music consists of constructive thought, rather than destructive thought,” Barron said. “Fast food music doesn’t take much intellect and it’s important that we don’t continue to produce this type of music if we are going to encourage progress in our society.”
Stuart’s formal jazz training at Temple allowed him to build a foundation for his work.
Stuart credits the head of Temple’s jazz department, Terell Stafford, for helping to foster his love for jazz music. Based on Stuarts’ experience at Temple, he has advice for upcoming musicians.
“There is no real rule [that] you have to be in college for four years as long as you get done in your time,” Stuart said. “We all have a path and our own identity, and its important that we embrace this.”
The April 28 jazz festival, headlined by trumpeter Sean Jones, will feature more than 16 bands and performers at various venues throughout the city, including Chris’ Jazz Café, Time Restaurant, Milkboy Café and others.
The festival will exhibit that the powerful impact of jazz music in Philadelphia is undeniable.
“Jazz music is not dead – that could never be as long as it is holding an objective,” Barron said. “I wouldn’t say there has been a great change in music, art is always going to be art regardless.”
Priscilla Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.