Festival will help small jazz venues in Philly and beyond


Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Center City has been providing Philadelphians with the gift of jazz since its opening in 1989. The institution has held a special place in many music lovers hearts for more than three decades and has seen some greats grace its stage. Audiences have flocked from all 50 states and 160 countries to see performances at the venue, but now, Chris’ Jazz Cafe is asking for a different type of support in a completely new way.

On March 20, jazz lovers will be able to tune in to the first-ever East Coast Jazz Festival from 5 to 11 p.m. The musical event was created by a group of beloved and well-known jazz clubs on the East Coast, and tickets are now on sale to pre-register.

According to the release, the proprietors of Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, Smalls and Birdland in New York, Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, Keystone Korner in Baltimore and Blues Alley in Washington, DC began planning this all-virtual jazz fest at the start of 2021, and the music will flow live with some pre-recorded sessions mixed in from six different stages. The festival will showcase the talents of more than 60 of the most renown and respected jazz talents of our time.

“It’s a musical first, but one that was needed in order to shake up the jazz world and keep the importance of saving our stages foremost in the minds of audiences around the country,” explained Mark DeNinno, chef and owner of Chris’ Jazz Cafe in a statement. “We recently celebrated a major milestone – 32 years of continuously operating in Philly. 2021 marks the 56th continuous year for Blues Alley, and the other jazz clubs have been around even longer, but their continued survival will not be possible if we don’t unite and conceptualize creative ways to ‘ride out’ the coronavirus storm that has decimated the live music industry. We all agreed, as owners of these struggling venues, that we had to do something to keep the live music going and the awareness alive, and this is ‘that something.’”

Chris’ Jazz Cafe owner Mark DeNinno recently celebrated 32 years of continuously operating in Philly. Provided

Chris’ has been adapting during the pandemic before launching this major festival. In 2020, they were in full swing streaming numerous recorded shows after financing a  recording studio at their venue on Sansom Street. When the venue started streaming, they landed viewers from about 30 countries and Chris’ even began offering their space for a recording studio for any musician using money they received in grants from the city and state. After indoor dining was allowed at 25%—which equaled about 30 people—the hotspot was bringing in revenue despite the restrictions. However, that all changed with the second wave of shutdowns.

Although Chris’ Jazz Cafe did receive some PPP and grants in the beginning of the pandemic, their streamed performances, GoFundMe and new streaming service are truly what helped them survive. The venue did apply for help through the National Independent Venue Association, but were recently notified that they had to re-apply because the money for help was taking some time and even the association couldn’t keep track of what venues were staying open.

This festival will help bring some pep back into the step of Chris’ Jazz Cafe and other East Coast small jazz venues. 

“Birdland is thrilled to participate in the first ECJF and we hope it becomes an annual event. Not only has the pandemic challenged us and our fellow clubs to accelerate and refine our streaming concert programs, to the benefit of our fans, but the circumstances have also enabled us to program a stunning scope and diversity of artists —otherwise nearly impossible to hear in one evening,” noted Ryan Paternite, Director of Programming and Media at Birdland Jazz Club & Birdland Theater, in a statement.

From Chris’ Jazz Cafe specifically, viewers will get to witness three local performers during the festival, along with talented instrumentalists. The lineup includes: Alex Claffy Quartet, featuring saxophonist/vocalist Sonny Step; Ari Hoenig Trio with pianist Gadi Lehavi and bassist Ben Tiberio; and Orrin Evans Quartet with bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Mark Whitfield Jr., and special guest saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. 

A full lineup of musicians can be found online. The price to listen to five hours of jazz from a choice of six different venues is “pay-what-you-wish.” Philadelphians can visit page.inplayer.com/eastcoastjazzfestival/ to pre-register. To learn more about Chris’ Jazz Cafe, visit chrisjazzcafe.com