From the first downbeat of the first Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, you could hear history in the air — and maybe history being made.
The Wade Dean Enspiration, a gutsy young quintet, led off the festival with “Gingerbread Boy” by Jimmy Heath, one of Philly’s many homegrown jazz legends. It was 1 p.m. last Saturday, and the dim carpeted room upstairs at Fergie’s Pub was starting to fill up.
For the next six hours, Dean, a saxophonist, and his fellow bandleaders would strive not only to honor the legacy embodied by Heath and others, but also to bring forward their own art, a music of today. There was a larger goal as well: to revive a year-round jazz presence in Philadelphia, where the jazz club scene has all but collapsed.
The Center City Jazz Festival is the brainchild of trombonist Ernest Stuart, 28. Buoyed by a Kickstarter campaign, which exceeded its goal of $16,000, Stuart took a cue from New York’sUndead and Winter Jazzfests. On Saturday afternoon, he booked 16 bands at four venues within short walking distance.
Of these, Chris’s Jazz Café and Time Restaurant book jazz regularly. Fergie’s, an old-school Irish bar, and Milkboy, a coffee shop and rock venue, do not. But for one day — possibly the most significant day for Philly jazz in years — these establishments came together for a grassroots showcase of one of the city’s greatest cultural assets.
“I’m so proud of my good friend Ernest,” said drummer Justin Faulkner as the day ended. “This festival was what we needed to lift our spirits.”
Wade Dean concurred: “He did a damn good job. Ernest came through.”
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