On Saturday, Love From Philly became a jazz festival.
The weekend-long virtual music fest is a fund-raiser for 30 Amp Circuit, a nonprofit that’s distributing micro-grants to Philadelphia musicians and venue workers whose livelihoods have been impacted by COVID-19.
The fest started Friday with a slate of mostly up-and-coming rock and hip-hop acts. It’s scheduled to continue Sunday at 3 p.m. with bigger names, like The War On Drugs, Freeway, Kurt Vile, and John Oates.
On Saturday, Love From Philly immersed itself in the current scene of a city with a storied tradition, while also paying tribute to those who have been lost.
The year has been particularly brutal on the Philadelphia jazz community, with the deaths of saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Danny Ray Thompson, bassist Jymie Merritt, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and sax player Bootsie Barnes, the latter two due to the coronavirus.
Barnes was the one whose name was most frequently evoked as a stellar horn player and a mentor to young Philadelphia musicians.
He was paid tribute to by Henry Tirfe, who led a trio from a studio in West Philly, and Tom Moon, the former Inquirer music critic who played sax and flute accompanied by electronic drums, and spoke of the pandemic’s toll not just in terms of disappearing gigs and income, but also lost opportunity for creative interaction and inspiration.
Many Philly-connected jazz men performed from far-flung locales. Pianist Uri Caine’s well-conceived three-song set included a cover of Grover Washington’s “Mr. Magic,” a song written in honor of 19th-century African American activist Octavius Catto, and “Blues From Bootsy” for Barnes.
“I carry Philly wherever I go,” said headliner Christian McBride as he gave his upright bass a workout in his Montclair, N.J. living room, shouting out Barnes and kicking off his set with Merritt’s “Nommo.”
Organist Joey DeFrancesco got cooking on a three-song set that closed with a vocal version of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon” from his home in Arizona. And Germantown native Kurt Rosenwinkel played solo piano meditations from Berlin, Germany.
Camden County trumpeters Arnetta Johnson and Matt Cappy each brought an element of funk and soul to the occasion. Johnson played solo with prerecorded backing, and bandleader Cappy assembled his group via Zoom, with a guest appearance by West Philly rapper Chill Moody.
Guitarist Tim Motzer’s set was an ambient, improvisational standout. Bassist Gerald Veasley was lyrical and meditative. Former Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks put his jazz chops on display and employed visual trickery, as he accompanied himself in disguise on keyboards on one song and bass on another.
Not-strictly-jazz acts included rapper Kuf Knotz and harpist Christine Elise, and Lauren Hart, who started off the show with “God Bless America.” Ivan Neville, a 30 Amp cofounder, was the only non-Philadelphian on the bill, singing Stevie Wonder’s “Joy Inside My Tears.”
There were minor technical difficulties. The sound occasionally cut out during host Blake Melvin Jr.’s intros. It was silent during the entirety of the second song by drummer Mike Greenfield of jamtronic band Lotus the first time the prerecorded performance was shown. (It was replayed later.) And trombonist Jeff Bradshaw’s set was nixed, due to a power outage on his block.
Love From Philly’s spirit of unity, with a city’s resilient musical community united in common cause, was best captured in a charismatic performance by spoken word poet Ursula Rucker. “Philly born and bred, Tastykake sweet or hard of head,” she rhymed. “We are here ... We live... We matter.”
Watch Love From Philly on YouTube via lovefromphilly.live.