Legends Keeping Alive The Golden Age Of Jazz

Posted: March 31, 1995

Sixteen cats swinging and one chick singing."

That's the billing for the Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra, which will be part of an exceptional session of jazz Sunday afternoon at the Rivage Club.

Another highlight will be an old-fashioned "battle of the saxes" featuring quartets fronted by Bootsie Barnes, Jimmy Oliver, Larry McKenna and Sam Reed. These musicians, along with the Legends, should account for as good a jazz show as you're likely to find anywhere.

Let us dwell a little on the Legends, who have dedicated themselves to celebrating the music of what is considered the golden age of the Philadelphia jazz tradition - the '40s, '50s and early '60s.

The average age of the Legends is 60, and most of them were contemporaries of the great musicians who are a part of Philadelphia jazz history - a lineup that includes John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Philly Joe Jones, Charlie Ventura and so many more.

This swinging bebop band was formed in 1991, evolving from another unit that was organized under the auspices of the Philadelphia Elders of Jazz Project.

The Legends went on to get coverage in many of the top music publications, including DownBeat magazine. Among the performances they are most proud of is opening for Bill Cosby at Harrah's in Atlantic City in 1993.

These "16 cats swinging" have something else going for them. That "chick singing" happens to be Evelyn Simms, who at 62 remains arguably this region's leading jazz vocalist.

The Philadelphia Legends of Jazz, with Bootsie Barnes, Jimmy Oliver, Larry McKenna, Sam Reed and Evelyn Simms, at the Rivage Club, 4324 Kelly Dr. (at the Falls Bridge), at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 (includes hors d'oeuvres or one drink). Phone: 215-763-2819.

TAIKO JAZZ PROJECT. Pianist/composer Sumi Tonooka, who was raised in West Philadelphia and now resides in New York, will bring her Taiko Jazz Project to the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum Saturday night.

Featured will be Kenny Endo, a third-generation Japanese American who in 1980 embarked on a decade-long odyssey throughout Japan to discover his artistic heritage. Along the way, he became a master of both taiko and classical Japanese drumming.

Taiko means drum in Japanese, and Japanese drums are much different from the ones we're accustomed to in this country. They are made of natural material - usually carved from the wood of a tree and covered with cow- or horsehide. Taiko has a long and diverse tradition that is believed to go as far back as the Shinto religion.

Performing with Tonooka and Endo will be John Blake on violin, Joe Ford on saxophone, Kyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Akira Tana on drums.

The Sumi Tonooka Taiko Jazz Project at the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, Seventh and Arch Streets, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20. Phone: 215-574-0381.

SANCTUARY JAZZ. "Family" jazz events are rare, but that's just what the Philadelphia Clef Club of the Performing Arts offers with its "Jazz in the Sanctuary" series, which will resume Sunday at the Arch Street United Methodist Church with noted saxophonist Stanley Turrentine topping the talent lineup.

Also on hand will be Trudy Pitts & Mr. C with bassist Lee Smith, the Clayton White singers and poet Sonia Sanchez. It's a good bet that this particular sanctuary will be one of the liveliest spots in town.

''Jazz in the Sanctuary" at the Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad St., at 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10. Phone: 215-236-9656.

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