Philly celebrates 90 years of Coltrane

Getty Images (Photo by JP Jazz Archive /Redferns)

The late, great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane would have turned 90 this weekend. To celebrate that Sept. 23 birthday, as well as ‘Trane’s 15 years of living of Philadelphia (he moved from North Carolina to 1511 North 33rd Street in 1943), Homer Jackson’s Philadelphia Jazz Project has gathered the troops for several parties; not just local jazz musicians, but DJs, beat-boxers, programmers and more. With the aid of the Wyncote Foundation and its fiscal host (Culture Trust of Greater Philadelphia), Philadelphia Jazz Project’s “Coltrane at 90” is free to the public wherever you go. That means Sept. 22’s show dedicated to Coltrane’s classic “Equinox” at Conwell Dance Theater and Sept. 23’s solo saxophonist marathon at Church of the Advocate hosted by WRTI’s, J. Michael Harrison with reeds men Bobby Zankel, Greg Osby, Sonny Fortune and Odean Pope. That also includes Sept. 25’s closing night Listening Party & Jam Session at The Fire where Brewerytown Beats & Cratebeats Inc. host a DJ beat battle with rappers and synth-techno heads joining in at will. Jackson gives up the information on how the celebration came to be.

What can you tell me about choosing players for “Equinox” and how their abilities portray Coltrane’s fascination with science and celestial bodies?
I chose local jazz musicians Alfie Pollitt and Alan Nelson as music directors because we have long discussed their personal Coltrane tales. Both of their stories deal with accessibility: Coltrane was a neighbor. Alan as a kid tried to sneak in to those classic South Street area clubs to see Trane as an underage teen and had to sit outside looking in the window. In fact, their tales are being illustrated for a book of Philadelphia Jazz Stories that we are working on. Alfie has an interesting background as a former Sound of Philadelphia musician and R&B player. Alan is a journeyman drummer who spent many years working with trumpeter/composer Hannibal Lokumbe.

The thing at the Fire where DJs, programmers and musicians are encouraged to create new Coltrane music or Coltrane inspired music looks great. What do you hope happens?
We rarely present “bands.” We put together special events, select folks from different places, different sets. We want to create special opportunities for the audience and the artists. So, our performances present diverse ensembles that cut across, age, education, clique, affiliations that are pretty standard in the community. We want folks who would never work together to meet and exchange ideas. At The Fire, i hope that we get folks from the different genre communities to reach across the aisle and try something out. We are preparing something down the road for collaboration between Jazz musicians and DJ/producers. Maybe we’ll get a head start on Sunday.

How is Coltrane 90 showing off all of PJP’s best sides?
PJP served and serves as a vessel for the community’s thoughts on celebrating Coltrane’s 90th birthday. We opened the process to our mailing list to participate in presenting concepts for what this celebration should look like. Audience members, musicians, artists, writers and organizations participated. What came together is a sum-total of what we all could muster at the price-point we could swing. Trane should be part of the basic fabric of this community. That he’s not is a shame on us. WC Fields pimp-slapped Philly many years ago. We’re still punch-drunk from that. Let’s get over it and get to the work of realizing and actualizing our potential.

How does the Coltrane 90 event define the Philadelphia Jazz Project – in how it celebrated the historical artist, worked with other elder giants and new music make who are either inspired by Trane OR should be?
I hope all of PJP’s work defines us as hard-working, forward-thinking and Philly-first minded.

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