The jazz festival that Philly needed

With the recent disbanding of Philly’s well-loved West Oak Lane Jazz Festival, a new showcase has emerged to fill the silence.

This weekend’s inaugural Center City Jazz Festival will take place at four venues nestled within a three-block radius in the heart of the city.

As envisioned by founder and trombonist Ernest Stuart, the daylong, easily accessible festival will feature more than 50 jazz musicians performing in 17 bands over the course of seven hours.

“Philly has one of the most storied jazz scenes in the country — but in the last few years, it’s really declined in accessibility and quality,” says Stuart. “On top of that, there’s been some passing of a lot of older influential jazz musicians here. Add that all together in a short period of time.”

Currently, there is only one club, Chris’ Jazz Cafe, dedicated solely to jazz in the nation’s fifth largest city. “Now that’s a problem,” says Stuart. “My idea for the festival was born from that situation.”

Pianist George Burton, one of this weekend’s performers, attributes his musical education to the city. “I grew up 100 percent a product of Philadelphia in every way, shape and form,” says Burton.

As the son of music teachers, a graduate of the city’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts and an alumna, like Stuart, of Temple’s Jazz Studies program, Burton believes in the festival’s potential to renew the scene and provide valuable exposure. “People are still trying to find somewhere to play,” says Burton. “I hope this brings more audiences back not only to jazz, but live music in general.”

A new energy

Mike Boone is one of the city’s most seasoned jazz musicians. For him, the festival is the perfect time to recruit some new members to the scene.

“Philadelphia isn’t just cheesesteaks, sports and hoagies — we hope to bring awareness that there’s also jazz here in this town,” he says. “Listen to it! It’s a viable thing, and it’s happening right now. The jazz scene has always been kind of self-contained without a large influx of new listeners. So if anything, I hope that the festival at least grabs people’s attention to increase the self-esteem of the musical community–and the whole community of arts. You gotta start somewhere.”

If you go

Saturday, 1-8 p.m.

Time Restaurant, Fergie’s Pub, MilkBoy Philadelphia and Chris’ Jazz Cafe

$25 (general admission all-access pass)

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