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Jazz Night in America on WRTI: Social Music in an Age of Social Distancing in Philly

Heath Allen and Friends performing in a socially distanced concert in Molly Murphy's backyard in Philadelphia. Her sold-out series of concerts has raised over $30,000 for out-of-work jazz musicians.

How is the jazz community in Philadelphia responding to the global pandemic? Jazz Night in America found a few different answers to that question. In the video below, we explore how a performer, a private citizen, and an entrepreneur are striving for resilience during a time of social upheaval and economic uncertainty.

In the Jazz Night in America radio episode on WRTI 90.1, Sunday, October 25th at 8 PM, we'll hear vibrant performances from a front porch, a backyard, and a jazz club.

There's an echo of this struggle in jazz history. Philadelphia in 2020 and New Orleans in 1918 offer two historically distinct versions of America, but it's striking to consider the parallels.

In his 1954 memoir, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong recalled being a teenager when the Spanish flu ground the city to a halt. "Just when the government was about to let crowds of people congregate again so that we could play our horns once more, the lid was clamped down tighter than ever," he wrote, "that forced me to take any odd jobs I could get."

Pianist and proud Philadelphian Orrin Evans, whose Club Patio series has been a grassroots success story during the coronavirus pandemic, cites the Food Network reality cooking show Chopped. Maybe on some level he's thinking of Armstrong's "Cornet Chop Suey."

Evans says, "I love Chopped because you have no idea what the ingredients are inside that basket, but they make a meal out of it. That's how I'm looking at life right now. Every morning I open the basket. I have no idea what the ingredients are going to be, but I got to make something happen. And that's what this time has to be for every artist."

As you'll hear in our show, many artists are rising to the occasion, while aware of the deeper challenge. "Everybody's improvising and making sunlight happen," marvels bassist Alex Claffy, "in a time when it just seemed completely unfathomable."


Orrin Evans Trio: Orrin Evans: keys; Luques Curtis: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

Heath Allen and Friends: V. Shayne Frederick: vocals; Hailey Brinnel: trombone and vocals; Marcell Bellinger: trumpet; Josh Machiz: bass; Jimmy Coleman: drums; Heath Allen: keys.

Alex Claffy Trio feat. Mike Moreno: Alex Claffy: bass; Orrin Evans: piano; Byron Landham: drums; Mike Moreno: guitar.

Radio Set List:

    "Don't Fall Off the Ledge" (Orrin Evans)
    "Feed The Fire" (Geri Allen)
    "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You" (Andy Razaf and Don Redman)
    "Give Me The Simple Life" (Rube Bloom and Harry Ruby)
    "Growing Pains" (Alex Claffy)
    "Liberia" (John Coltrane)


This show was produced in partnership with WRTI. Special thanks to Josh Jackson. Video Producer: Nickolai Hammar; Radio Producer: Sarah Geledi; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Host: Christian McBride; Recording Engineers: Tyler McClure (Club Patio and Molly Murphy's backyard); Sean Svadlenak (Chris' Jazz Cafe); Technical Director: David Tallacksen; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for programming and content at WRTI.