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Philadelphia could be a great jazz city again

Nimrod Speak

The days of a swinging jazz scene in Philadelphia, where greats like John Coltrane and Stan Getz made their roots, may be over, but a new scene is taking over. Mayor Michael Nutter last week declared April as Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month hoping the scene comes back to the forefront.

Mark DeNinno, owner of Chris’ Jazz Café, the last vestige of the dying local community, said at least at his club, the scene is alive and well. The industry is changing but in a good way.

“It seems the younger kids that are doing jazz now are coming up with some really interesting music,” he said. “There was a lull there for while from the older cats to the younger cats. Now, there is a return for the younger musicians.”

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The newbies coming up aren’t just playing the standards, DeNinno said; most of it is original music. Chris’ still features 500 shows a year, giving the musicians an outlet that Rowan University jazz studies director and musician Denis DiBlasio says students — and even the older jazz folks — need.

“Philadelphia was one of the great jazz towns,” DiBlasio said. "We’re all trying to do whatever we can do to get people to listen to this music because it’s not in the mainstream. You’re trying to find a hook like anything else.”

Groups like the Philadelphia Jazz Project continue to support jazz in Philadelphia especially after Nutter’s official announcement. They provide that outlet DiBlasio was talking about.

But there’s no doubt Philadelphia is in a transitional period — one that could last decades, said DiBlasio who does work with The Jazz Bridge Project, a nonprofit established a decade ago that assists jazz and blues musicians.

“I’m not even sure if it’s a period that’s going to change into something else,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to settle out. I think we settle into it. It’s not a bad thing. It’s what it is.”

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