Ten things we loved at Center City Jazz Fest 2019 - WXPN
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THREEZUS at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

If you’ve missed the Center City Jazz Fest these past eight years, you’re truly missing out. The annual event packs five venues on either side of South Broad Street with full-day lineups showcasing the spectrum of jazz: seasoned vets and up-and-comers, some so new to the craft that they’re still in school; traditional-leaning swing as much as futuristic, boundary-expanding cosmic compositions. This year, we got to see ten of the 20 artists playing, and went to four of the five venues participating, and it was an incredible day all around. Here’s a rundown of highlights, beginning with the photo you see at the top of the page.

That’s festival founder Ernest Stuart closing the day with an awesome performance with his new trio THREEZUS at TIME. Rock-energy trombone led jams and a mix of originals and covers, including “The National Anthem” by Radiohead which shut down their set and the festival in a big way.

Eric Wortham at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Versatile keys player Eric Wortham leading his trio through a ridiculous amount of solos and extended jams at Franky Bradley’s. At the point I caught their set, they were in the middle of a 15-minute cover of “Crazy.”

Arnetta Johnson at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A super impressive ensemble led by trumpeter Arnetta Johnson packing the stage and the house at Chris’ Jazz Cafe. Cosmic excursions of the best kind.

Camila Meza at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A beautiful set by Camila Meza at Franky Bradley’s that matched expressive, enchanting guitar playing with commanding vocals. Mellow but it kept me engaged.

Kory Riker at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Sax player Kory Riker and his band ripping it up at the Fest’s newest venue, Maison 208. Super amped, even when Riker said they were mellowing things out.

Michael and Mekhi Boone at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A swinging ensemble led by the core rhythm section of Michael Boone and his 12-year-old son Mekhi on drums. The chops were unreal, and inspired some serious air bass from the dude you see leaning in the window at the left.

Lee Mo at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

I ran into Ernest Stuart on the way to Lee Mo‘s set and he talked about how he was super excited to have the Philly via Baltimore vocalist on the lineup, and that she’s due for some beyond-Northeast recognition. He’s not kidding; Mo’s voice is classic but not forced, commanding yet inviting, and she did a dynamite cover of “The Nearness of You” with her awesome band. Cannot wait to hear more from her.

Hambone Relay at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

I previously thought of local folks Hambone Relay as a funk band, so it was cool seeing them get their groove on with some instrumentals in the Stax / Memphis soul variety at Time.

Kimmel Center’s Creative Music Program at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Students from The Kimmel Center‘s Creative Music Program played covers (I caught a Thelonious Monk then) and originals with impressive flare; especially so considering these were middle school and high school kids.

Ode to Omni at Center City Jazz Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

And starting off the day was Ode to Omni, the large ensemble led by drummer Marcus Meyers. Seriously talented players, one seriously talented singer, doing songs that range from dramatic rock to smoky soul to far-out instrumentals, with spiritual philosophizing from Meyers in the mix.

Incredible day all around, and we cannot wait to do it again at #ccjazzfest 2020!

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