The word "pivot" has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic and taken on new meaning as people and businesses found creative ways to thrive during the crisis. Jazz Philadelphia's pivot resulted in the 2020 Virtual Jazz Appreciation Month (VJAM Philly) launch of the popular Hometown Heros profile series, which gives local jazz artists visibility and shines a light on the region's rich music legacy.
The online-only feature is in keeping with the organization's stated mission: "to advance the development of the city's thriving and vibrant local jazz scene and to gain recognition for Philadelphia as the world-class jazz destination it is."
Jazz Philadelphia is now in partnership with WRTI 90.1, where many of the featured Hometown Heroes are featured on our website and the airwaves.
"I think the pandemic taught us that the time is now," offered Heather Shayne Blakeslee, Jazz Philadelphia's executive director. "We have a beautiful, rich history of jazz and all kinds of music in Philadelphia. We are a music city. The experiences we have with the arts are often our most life-changing. Having had that taken away from us for over a year, it feels even more important to lift our music makers, and we're so glad that WRTI is partnering with us to get these profiles to a larger audience."
The ache of the pandemic touched every segment of the jazz world. According to the Jazz Foundation of America, more than a dozen influential jazz and blues musicians died after a battle with the coronavirus. Among those Hometown Heros who died from complications due to the coronavirus are Bootsie Barnes and Wallace Roney.
Bassist Gerald Veasley was advocating for fellow musicians long before becoming Jazz Philadelphia's President — and continues to discover ways for artists and audiences to share and connect. Now a year old, Hometown Heroes has become a celebratory gateway to get to know Philadelphia's dynamic performers, including emerging jazz artists, such as Immanuel Wilkins, Lee Mo, Nicholas Krolak, Arnetta Johnson, Olivia Hughart, and Laurin Talese.
"The Hometown Heroes feature is a way to celebrate musicians who have made a difference in our city," explains Veasley. "Philadelphia has produced a plethora of contributors to jazz, many of whom are well-known to jazz lovers around the world. Artists from John Coltrane to Christian McBride, from Nina Simone to Joey DeFrancesco have made their mark, and they inspire us. Our jazz artists invest their time and talent in serving our community both on and off the bandstand. What began as a way to lift Hometown Heroes in last year's Virtual Jazz Appreciation Month has now become a year-round celebration. Jazz Philadelphia is grateful for our partnership with WRTI and supporting artists of all generations."
You can nominate a Hometown Hero here.