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The October Jazz Scene

Check out what's new and what's happening this month in jazz. ICON Magazines's Bruce Klauber has the scoop. QUEST FOR A FEST: Those who hope to lure a major, multi-day, corporately sponsored jazz festival back to Philadelphia may well look at The Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival in Sussex Country, Delaware, as a good model. This fest, soon to celebrate its 25th anniversary, runs from October 17 through October 20 with around 14 shows being presented on five area stages. There are national acts, to be sure, mostly in the commercial/smooth jazz vein, including Shelia E., Jeff Lorber, Steve Cole, Will Downing, Marion Meadows and Najee. There are, however, no outright “gigantic stars,” which keeps the budget down and allows for a good variety of music (though it’s hoped that future fests will include some “straight ahead” acts), jam sessions and spots for regional artists. Rehoboth does things gently, without fuss and hysterical hype, and well. Tickets and details here.

In these pages not long ago, the jazz renaissance man known as Harry Connick, Jr. spoke of how much he enjoyed his stint as “guest judge” on television’s American Idol, despite having raised a few eyebrows with his strong mentoring of one or two contestants who, to his ears, butchered several classic, American pop songs. He had fully expected, he said, that the guest stint was a one-off appearance. However, it has been recently announced that Connick will be a permanent celebrity judge on American Idol this season, the program’s 13th. “I have always been a huge fan of American Idol and really enjoyed my time as a mentor on the show,” Connick told Variety. “I am honored that they’ve asked me to be a judge this season. As an entertainer, I am truly excited to bring my perspective to ‘American Idol and to help emerging performers find their way.”

Harry Connick Jr. is the first performer with any jazz background whatsoever to be a part of this program, or for that matter, any televised “reality music talent competition.” This is big news, important news and great news for jazz. Note to contestants: Don’t mess with ol’ Har. Contestants had best learn, in advance, the melody as written, the song’s chord changes, the meaning of the lyrics, and the concept of letting the lyrics speak for themselves. Above all, remember that “My Funny Valentine” is not a funk or a rap tune. Or face the consequences.

There was a time, just about when WRTI radio first hit the airwaves, when this region had a real, full-time, commercial jazz radio station. That was WHAT-FM radio, 96.5 on the FM dial, and featured hosts like the still-going strong Sid Mark, the late Stu Chase and several others. Joel Dorn was one of those WHAT personalities, and he is being posthumously honored by The Philadelphia Musical Alliance with a bronze plaque on Broad Street’s musical “Walk of Fame.” The ceremony will be October 24.

Dorn, who ultimately was completely absorbed by pop music as an Atlantic Records’ producer for Bette Midler, Roberta Flack and the Neville Brothers, passed away at the age of 65 in 2007. His stint at WHAT took place in the early 1960s, and his knowledge and tastes were impressive enough that he was lured into the record production arena by Atlantic’s Nesugi Ertegun to produce soon-to-be crossover jazz artists like Herbie Mann and Hubert Laws.

In those days—much like Bob Perkins, Sid Mark and Bob Craig today—jazz radio hosts had instantly identifiable voices, instantly identifiable tastes, and instantly identifiable theme songs. If memory serves, Mark’s theme was Maynard Ferguson’s “At the Sound of the Trumpet,” and Joel Dorn’s was David “Fathead” Newman’s “Hard Times.” Those who knew Joel Dorn say that, despite his lucrative forays into commercial pop, his heart always remained in jazz.

The concept of a CD, i.e., the little round disc held in one’s hand, is on the soon-to-be-extinct list, say some purported musical experts. No one is listening to these reports, at least in this area, as the new and impressive, “hard” CDs just keep on coming.

New and notable is something called Whose Life is This? by the exquisitely swinging songstress Keli Vale, a mix of originals and standards(wait until you hear the very faithful remake of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’ “In a Mellowtone”) recorded, as Vale explained, “the old-fashioned way,” and featuring the finest players in the area. Go to KeliVale.com for ordering info.

Another jazz singer, this one long a part of the Atlantic City scene, is Melanie Rice, an elegant and stylish, jazz-oriented interpreter of American popular song. Rice, in collaboration with the multi-talented keyboardist Dean Schneider and other area greats, is putting the finishing touches on a CD standards collection called This Love of Mine. A November 2nd release party at Atlantic City’s Resorts International is in the works. For information and tickets, visit MyCommunityTickets.net.

The vibraphone as a jazz instrument is still a relative rarity in jazz. Up until World War II, in fact, only Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo were on the national map as vibes players. Then, with the advent of bop, Milt Jackson and Terry Gibbs entered the fold. There were several more good players who came along in the 1950s and early 1960s—including Teddy Charles, Bobby Hutcherson, Johnny Lytle, Lem Winchester and Cal Tjader—but when Gary Burton first came on the scene in the late 1960s, he changed the entire nature of the instrument.

After stints with Stan Getz and several others, Burton pioneered jazz/rock/fusion, and he virtually invented what is called the “four-mallet technique” of vibes playing. This means that with four mallets—two mallets in each hand instead of one—full chords could be played just like a piano, and if a player were adept enough, could actually accompany himself. Burton has never made a lousy record, and several of the great ones include his solo works, duos with Chick Corea, and the still very much played collaboration with Stephane Grapelli.

Personally, he’s toned down some of his young rhetoric directed to those in jazz who had show biz overtones, and recorded several tribute items to same. And which Gary Burton will be on view October 6 at the Annenberg Center, a celebration of the vibist’s 70th birthday? Who knows.

There’s yet another entry in the jazz jam session sweepstakes, this one at the Penn Tap Room in Doylestown, and the fun begins at 8 p.m. each Sunday. The host is the great guitarist, Larry Tamanini, and regulars include some the area’s finest, including drummer Dan Monaghan, and Glenn McLelland on piano. The Penn Tap Room is on 80 West State Street.

Singer Rhenda Fearrington, a charismatic bundle of jazz energy, is one of the few out there who knows how important the “entertainment aspect” is to the jazz mix. Fearrington will be celebrating her birthday at an “Art After Five” performance at the Philadelphia Art Museum on October 18, along with accompanists Larry McKenna on saxophone, pianist Jim Holton, guitarist Larry Tamanini, bassist Vince Turnball and drummer Anwar Marshall. Show begins at 5:45 pm.

Congratulations are in order for Jazz Bridge co-founders Suzanne Cloud and Wendy Simon Sinkler. On October 7, Cloud and Sinkler will receive the first ever Humanities Partner Award from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. Jazz Bridge will receive this award in recognition of their innovative public humanities programming, community service, and long-standing connection to the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PNC). The ceremony and reception will take place in the Main Capitol Rotunda of the Pennsylvania Statehouse in Harrisburg.

Peggy King is a world-class jazz singer who has worked with everyone from Sinatra and Sammy Davis to Andre Previn and Harry James. Still fondly remembered from her stint on George Gobel’s television program as “pretty, perky Peggy King,” on-stage sightings of this talented artist have been relatively rare of late. But that is now changed. King recently “discovered” area swingsters, The All-Star Jazz Trio—and The All-Stars “discovered” King—and the town has been abuzz since their collaborations at Chris’ Jazz Café’ and at a concert date in Atlantic City. All this has led to “An Afternoon with Peggy King and The All-Star Jazz Trio,” a concert to be held at the Philadelphia Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square, on December 1 and beginning at 3 p.m. Sponsors of what promises be the “jazz concert of the season” are ICON, Fineman Krekstein & Harris PC, AllAboutJazz.com and “Jazz Near You,” and the University of the Arts’ radio station WRTZ. Tickets are $25 and are available in advance here.

Jam with “The Jazz Scene” and submit items to DrumAlive@aol.com.

This article is from the October 2013 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More Information.