Philadelphia United Jazz Fest celebrates the scene in Center City
For the eight years spanning 2004 and 2011, the West Oak Lane Jazz & Arts Festival was the closest thing that Philadelphia had to an annual jazz festival. That was long a sore point given the city’s rich jazz heritage, the fact that the festival took place in the far-flung Northwest, and the prevalence of fading R&B stars like WAR and The O’Jays as headliners rather than actual jazz artists. And it was even worse when the festival folded amid neighborhood political squabbling, seemingly leaving Philly jazz fest-less once again.
Thankfully a few local jazz lovers have since stepped up. At virtually the same moment that West Oak Lane was taking its last gasps, trombonist Ernest Stuart founded the Center City Jazz Festival, which has become an annual and growing spring event. Then last year, West Oak Lane producers LifeLine Music Coalition returned with the Philadelphia United Jazz Festival, which was smaller in scale than West Oak Lane but proved to be a closer approximation of their original vision – namely, a showcase for Philadelphia jazz musicians in Center City. While the inaugural fest was cooped up inside the Clef Club, the second edition moves outside onto South Street between Broad and 16th Streets.
The headliners this year will be the unstoppable Sun Ra Arkestra led by saxophonist Marshall Allen, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday but can still make his alto scream and swoop with cosmic fury. The line-up will be filled out by a host of local favorites, including saxophonist/poet Elliott Levin, trumpeter Josh Lawrence, blues singer Lisa Chavous, and a tribute to John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space featuring saxophonist Bobby Zankel, bassist (and one-half of LifeLine) Warren Oree, and drummer Muhammad Ali, brother of the original album’s co-creator, the late Rashied Ali.