“There’s no higher or better purpose for our time than literally getting people in a room together.”
Those were Jazz Philadelphia executive director Heather Shayne Blakeslee’s words as her group launched its inaugural Jazz Philadelphia Summit in 2018 — and the guiding principle behind the proceedings.
The notion of gathering a large group has now become complicated, of course, and the 2020 summit will take place virtually this Friday and Saturday. The hope, Blakeslee says, is to bring people together from the various threads that make up the city’s often disparate jazz scene to inspire each other "and help them get through this year.”
With venues shuttered and festivals canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, the theme this year is resilience, says Jazz Philadelphia president Gerald Veasley, an in-demand bassist who’s seen his own instrument start gathering dust. "When March came and all of our lives got turned upside down, we immediately thought about how we could serve our community with trying to figure out, if not how to move their careers forward, then at least to be able to pay the rent.”
Over the course of two days, the Jazz Philadelphia Summit will present workshops, panel discussions, presentations, networking opportunities, and livestreamed performances. Presenters include notable jazz musicians from the city and beyond, as well as industry professionals from the concert-presentation and festival worlds. Topics on the agenda include new technologies, along with mental health and wellness.
British-born bassist Anthony Tidd, a longtime Philadelphia resident recently named a “Jazz Hero” by the Jazz Journalists Association, was among the first artists to see a potential way forward from this newfound isolation. During the Summit he will discuss his experiences creating Act4Music, a months-long virtual festival launched in April that eventually presented 260 performances from across the globe.
“During the time that I’ve been in Philadelphia, I’ve found that so many creative musicians have real trouble trying to find places where we can just get on stage and play,” Tidd says. “So I’ve spent a long time thinking about ways that I could change that, and one way that I came up with was to create a virtual venue which would record shows and present them to audiences around the world.
“While I was developing that the pandemic happened,” he says. "I was nowhere near finished, but I took what I had done so far and turned it into Act4Music.”
Jazz Philadelphia both supports the local music community and helps counter the troubling tendency toward division in the country as a whole, he says. “In U.S. society, a lot of times people just don’t talk to each other. That’s not just in terms of jazz musicians; it’s true of people of different races and different religions. So anything that allows people to have a dialogue with people outside of their direct circles and allows them to see the humanity in other people is a good thing. The summit is doing that.”
Social justice will also be a major topic of this year’s summit, Veasley says. “We just experienced a summer like none other that I can remember. A summer of unrest and a summer of outrage. We realized that the music industry and particularly the jazz community had something to say about those things, and would need to process and heal in that arena as well.”
Drummer and educator Terri Lyne Carrington, this year’s keynote speaker, will discuss her work with the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. Pianist Vijay Iyer will talk about artists' responsibility as change-makers.
Other summit highlights include an “Ask Me Anything” session with WRTI general manager Bill Johnson. Performers include Arnetta Johnson, Larry McKenna, Bobby Zankel, and others.
Bassist and Philly native Christian McBride will be the weekend’s closing act, as a nod to a brighter future.
“Christian is one of the most positive, encouraging people that I know,” Veasley says. “After two full days of tough conversations, a lot of digging deep to find solutions, we’ll be looking for a path forward. In spite of everything, what are the things that we can celebrate and look forward to?”
JAZZ PHILADELPHIA SUMMIT
Friday and Saturday, tickets $15-$250, jazzphiladelphia.org