City Scenes: Ensuring Philly’s Next Generation Of Jazz Musicians
Philadelphia’s famed jazz culture runs deep among fans and regional artists, who have celebrated this uniquely American art form for the better part of a century.
That said, new players arrive every year and are nurtured in jazz culture by organizations that prepare these promising young musicians for a future in music. The music makers that make up these programs are performers, composers, artists, educators and mentors whose honors range from local institutions to international awards. Many of the students who have attended these programs have become phenomenal artists who are garnering their own accolades.
The legacy of Philadelphia jazz is traced to several incubators of jazz talent that have nurtured and cultivated promising young musicians representing the genre’s future. These programs maintain a positive buzz with youth in the region who embrace the opportunity to receive training, gain experience and build confidence. Programs and institutions vary in size, location and target market, but all are offered in an environment that encourages participants to blossom and jazz educators to embrace Philadelphia’s legacy and music innovation. Many of these artists, new and seasoned, infused these lessons into jazzy counterparts ranging from funk to fusion to hip-hop. Together, they work hard to ensure jazz’s future through education.
Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts
Founded in 1935 as the social club for Philadelphia’s African-American musicians’ union, Local 274, the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts (PCC) is as crucial to today’s regional jazz scene as it was in breaking the tradition of segregation in the 20th century. No. 274 members included John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, the Heath Brothers and Nina Simone.
The PCC opened a new building in 1995 with renewed purpose as a jazz arts institution dedicated to the legacy and preservation of the music. The new facility featured an abundance of classrooms, a 250-seat performance space, archival space and recording facilities.
As PCC’s artistic director, saxophonist, and educator Lovett Hines is at the core of breathing life into its mission statement: “to support the evolving art form through talent development, programming, and public performance.”
Hines, a child prodigy and graduate of the former Philadelphia College of Art, was recruited by Odean Pope to head the jazz ensemble at Settlement Music School through the 1980s prior to transitioning to the PCC.
At the PCC, Hines has developed its innovative world-class music education program, which includes private instruction, master classes, ensembles, summer jazz camp, and, most importantly, live performances.
“I found out that a lot of those students that came to me couldn’t find a place that authentically taught jazz because they weren’t taught by jazz musicians,” Hines said.
In addition to the hundreds of students he instructs annually, he mentored some of today’s top names in jazz, including bassist Christian McBride, organist Joey DeFrancesco, drummer Justin Faulkner, R&B star Bilal, and alto saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Immanuel Wilkins.
Key of She Jazz
Olivia Hughart is a saxophonist and the founder and artistic director of Key of She Jazz, initially born as an all-girls group in her middle school to address girls and women players’ inequity in the jazz community. In 2019, while in her senior year of high school, Olivia held the first Key of She Jazz conference at the University of the Arts to celebrate women in jazz. The successful day-long session drew a couple of hundred attendees to network, share tips and, more importantly, encourage each other.
“Our mission is to support and encourage girls as they become involved in jazz,” Hughart said.
Now a college sophomore, Hughart maintains her busy schedule with support from two key women in her life: Her mother, Amy Hughart, who serves as managing director of Key of She Jazz, and advisor Jenny L. Neff, an associate professor and UArts’ chair of Music Education.
Olivia added: “I think one of the biggest issues is that we need a better representation of women in jazz because girls need to see themselves and envision themselves having a successful future in jazz.”
Nasir Dickerson, Jamal Dickerson and Hassan Sabree
Two brothers, Nasir and Jamal Dickerson, and their best friend, Hassan Sabree, are music educators who grew up in Camden, N.J., and returned with a vision to motivate students to “dream big and aim higher.” They collaborated on their lesson plans and created a music incubator that prepared talented students for the next step in their education. The trio found success using a peer-mentoring program set up across their three schools to allow the younger students to learn from the older ones.
The program’s shining example is trumpeter Arnetta Johnson, who toured with Beyoncé after blossoming under the trio’s tutelage and landed her first professional gig performing with the Little Jazz Giants. The band of young musicians was created and managed by Unity Community Center (UCC), an award-winning African dance, music and martial arts program led by the brothers’ parents, Robert and Wanda Dickerson.
The elder Dickersons founded the non-profit UCC in 1983, raising four children while developing performing and cultural arts programs to serve residents in the Delaware Valley. Today, the community organization is internationally acclaimed for its creative training, ranging from karate and praise dancing to the 8-foot-high stilt walkers parading with the always exciting Universal African Dance & Drum Ensemble.
Thus, Jamal and Nasir were entrenched in the development of self-discipline — and deeply understood the value of expert training.
“You got to get yourself ready to go to college and go for it,” said Jamal of the trio’s goal to create a pipeline to higher education for aspiring jazz musicians.
Nasir added: “The future is just making sure that they’re ready for whatever society brings, by making them true lovers of learning and people who study and research not just music, but also the everyday situations in life.”
The Kimmel Center’s Creative Music Program (CMP)
A decade ago, Philly bassist and educator Anthony Tidd created the Kimmel Center’s Creative Music Program (CMP) and also served as its first director. The program offers jazz training to students with a keen interest in music. The non-profit performing arts organization’s curriculum provides a hands-on exploration of the rich jazz tradition while developing selected students’ musicianship skills.
Community outreach ranges from introductory Kinderjazz classes to professional jazz residency programs.
“We really start early because we’re a hub for jazz music and we want to make sure that we get them at the very beginning and provide opportunities, especially for kids who might not otherwise have that opportunity,” said Susan Quinn, the Kimmel Center’s director of education.
“We go directly into schools, making sure that kids know about jazz and get a chance to connect with it so that then maybe they discover more of it while growing.”
During the nine-month program, youth participants also are invited to perform at the Kimmel Center and in the community.
“They play together as an ensemble, but then they also have music theory and ear training,” said Quinn. “We’ve had really amazing students who’ve come through and are starting to cycle into the program again, and some of them have become teaching artists.”
Settlement Music School
The Settlement Music School has provided quality music education, dance instruction and creative arts therapy for over 300,000 students since its founding in 1908. As one of the largest and oldest community schools of the arts, with six branches in the Greater Philadelphia region, the legacy school provides arts education to all regardless of location or cost.
“We’re like a creative home for everyone, and we offer a creative, accessible education for everyone,” said marketing director Megan Looby. “We want anyone interested in music to feel welcome here, especially jazz students, that they can come in at any time and point of their life and feel like they’re supported.”
“So many great students and great musicians have gone through Settlement and are jazz stars,” said vibraphonist Tony Miceli, a longtime Settlement instructor. “A great musician can also be a great doctor or a great lawyer. What people forget is that you have to work so hard to be a great musician — problem-solving, fractions, math, time, tempo, time management — I mean, the list goes on and on because you can’t be a great musician without all these skills. You can lack other skills, but you have to have these important skills that carry over to other fields.”