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The Philadelphia Jazz Project: Pushing Jazz Performance In New Directions

Howard Pitkow Photography
Philadelphia Jazz Project is promoting the Mysterious Travelers Concert Series at the Free Library. It features free monthly concerts running through April 2015. Above is drummer Wayne Smith, Jr, performing on December 8th at 7 pm.

A former WRTI host stays close to jazz with an organization designed to extend its reach. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston speaks with the founder of the Philadelphia Jazz Project.

Have popular “performance spectacles” replaced the straightforward dance between a jazz artist and an instrument? Director of the Philadelphia Jazz Project, Homer Jackson, is considering that question and innovative approaches to the performance of music that has often depended upon an intimate feel - and feeling.

The idea for the Philadelphia Jazz Project germinated in 2012; the non-profit officially took shape in 2013.  Sponsored by The Painted Bride Art Center, with funding from The Wyncote Foundation, the fledgling organization aims to kick start a resurgence of popularity of jazz and a broadening of jazz audiences.

Homer Jackson thinks globally as he works locally to initiate jazz collaborations and partnerships. Cooperating with local promoters, musicians and other jazz organizations, the Philadelphia Jazz Project creates more performance outlets for jazz musicians, both live, digitally and on television. 

As part of his work with Philadelphia Jazz Project, Jackson spearheads the important conversations about jazz, its history and future, and the masterful musicians who speak through their instruments. In the 1980s, Jackson was one of a group of young radio hosts at WRTI who were fascinated by jazz, but were not musicians. A visual artist, he says jazz has always been his muse. 

"It’s still a mastery focused art form, and if you want to be good, if you want to be the best, and you’re an American, you at some point are going to have to bump into jazz," explains Jackson. "These people spend their entire lives developing this craft and  their relationship with their instrument – whether it’s their voice or their physical instrument. They can speak through their instrument as if it were their skin.  And that’s what any artist wants to accomplish - and the jazz musician has done that and still continues to do that. "

WRTI and the Philadelphia Jazz Project are presenting a unique concert, on July 31, featuring  Afro-Brazilian percussion in a Big Band Jazz format - it's Letieres Leite and Orkestra Rumpilezz at the Temple University Performing Arts Center, with opening act Another Holiday for Skins. Details and ticket information here.

More from Philadelphia Jazz Project Director Homer Jackson about how the Project started, his special interest in jazz and how with improvisation there’s no place to hide.