THE BASS-PLAYING lawyer was home recuperating from quadruple-bypass surgery but the ex-councilman piano player, the judge/drummer and the surgeon/guitarist made it to their monthly gig in the middle of Reading Terminal Market to jam for the lunch crowd, just as they've been doing for 25 years.

Time has taken its toll on hairlines and waistlines, but The Reading Terminals still have their chops and such unabashed fervor for caressing jazz standards that the frenzied carvers all around them - serving the sandwich-craving hordes at The Original Turkey, Tony Dinic's Roast Pork and Hershel's East Side deli - seemed to be slicing in sync with Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll," the Terminals' opening number.

For a quarter-century, their joyful riffs have been as much a part of Philly's big-city charm as the itinerant tenor who serenades lunchtime passersby in Rittenhouse Square and the Afrobeat drummers who suddenly materialize anywhere from Walnut Street to Citizens Bank Park.

Ed Schwartz, former city councilman and the only piano man the Terminals have ever had, gazed fondly at the swirling crowds of foodies around him and drily observed that it takes a lot of courage to perform in a venue that sells so many ripe tomatoes.

The Terminals were born when drummer Richard "Dick" Klein - who became the youngest judge in Pennsylvania history after his 1971 election to the Common Pleas bench and now serves in Superior Court - read that Schwartz played jazz piano, and called him.

Klein had been forming bands on the spur of the moment since he arrived at Amherst College, fresh out of Central High School, heard some guys jamming in the dorm and saw a poster for a mixer at nearby, all-female Smith College.

He went over to Smith and said, "Hey, I got this band. Would you like us to play for your mixer?" Then he went back to his Amherst dorm and said, "Hey, guys, I got this gig at Smith. Would you like to play in my band?"

Decades later, he worked the same magic on Schwartz and bass-playing architect Herman DeJong. When they debuted at Reading Terminal Market in August 1984, nobody knew it would last five songs, much less 25 years.

"We literally met for the first time, never rehearsed, never played together before," Schwartz said with a smile.

"To quote the great Allen Iverson," Klein said, " 'Practice?' "

"That's the thing about jazz," Schwartz said. "You can come in with a kazoo and sandpaper, and nobody really cares because we all know the same tunes. I mean, we're not playing Chopin's nocturnes here.

"In 1986, we won a Best of Philly award for being the Best Way to Keep Lawmakers Out of Trouble," Schwartz said. "Or something like that."

From the get-go, Schwartz said, it was easier for him than Klein to make the middle-of-the-day Terminals' gigs.

"As a city councilman, I could come and go as I pleased, and do no work whatsoever," Schwartz deadpanned. "Dick, of course, had to go to a courtroom where there were actual trials."

Yet somehow, as he did for the 25th anniversary, Klein kept showing up in his immaculate white shirt and power tie, looking as if he'd just shucked off his robes, which he had - and losing himself in the music.

"It's all about the freedom of improvisation and the way you play off each other," he said. "Because I have a day gig and I don't have the technique to wow everyone with my licks, my best technique is my ears."

Klein's ears have heard some wild and wonderful riffs over the years.

"People would stop by with their horn or whatever and sit in for a little bit, or somebody would sing a song," said DeJong, 65. "The sessions were totally unorganized, sort of like an open-mike night. One time, somebody walked up and dropped a couple of quarters in my soft drink. Merchants would give us lunch. My dear friend [late City Councilman] Thacher Longstreth would show up and sing 'Making Whoopee.' I still miss him."

Paul Steinke, the Reading Terminal's general manager, remembered Longstreth, declining in health near the end of his long, colorful life, slowly making his way, with assistance, down the center of the market in December 2001, moving toward the music he loved.

"A couple of times, it appeared that he was going to keel over," Steinke said, "but he finally got to a stool in the center court. He sat down and belted out 'Making Whoopee' in a booming voice, as if he was 25 years old. If you were just listening, not looking at him, you would have thought you were hearing a much younger man."

"When you're playing and you're in your groove," DeJong said, "and the whole thing kind of falls into place and you feel like you're going up a narrow road with a cliff on the side and nobody knows what's going to happen next - it's fun."

DeJong's "volunteer jazz career" with the Terminals lasted 10 years until "traveling for my day job as an architect" ended it. Attorney Kevin Call took his place and when Call, recovering from heart surgery, couldn't make it to the 25th anniversary session, Michael Elkins sat in for him, and the beat went on.

Since the beginning, the Terminals' guitarist has been Dr. David Reider, 62, associate chief medical officer at Jefferson University Hospitals, who grew up in Atlantic City, playing in the house band for WMID-AM deejay Larry Keene's early-'60s record hops.

"Larry Keene, the Fat Cat in Record Land," Reider said fondly. "He drove us to gigs in Ocean City, Avalon, and Beach Haven in his white 1960 Ford Galaxy convertible with the top down. It had those wings? Oh, man, that was a great car.

"I was 13, 14 years old and I was one of the guys in the band. We got 10 bucks a night and, after the dance, you could reach into the record pile and pull out a handful of 45s."

By 15, Reider had played everything from "dance classes for little girls at the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall" to dance music for big girls at the Alibi Lounge, an Atlantic City strip joint. "As long as the beat was there and they could dance, we could play a fair amount of jazz," he said of both gigs. "The music was the magic. The challenge was to make everyone swing."

After decades of playing jazz and blues festivals from Louisiana to Chicago to Maine, it still is.

At the 25th-anniversary jam, Reider, looking every inch the cool cat in his dark jacket over white T-shirt and his cream-colored Panama hat, spiced the standards from "Summertime" to "Take the A Train" with his lush licks, effortlessly morphing from guitarist to saxophonist to horn section with the aid of his computerized synthesizer.

Irene Lambrou, a state Supreme Court attorney who fronted the Philly folk/rock band Medea a few years back, showed up to deliver her silky, swinging renditions of "All of Me," "The Girl from Ipanema" and "Route 66" before rushing off like Cinderella at midnight.

"Unfortunately, she's got to go back to work," Klein said sadly. "Work does interfere with the important things in life."

After a couple of instrumentals, Michael Morgan materialized from the crowd, plugged his new CD, sang "Blue Moon" and "Night and Day," then joined the line for an Original Turkey sandwich while Klein built the beat on "Summertime" and Reider launched into a smoking guitar riff.

Two hours after they started, Klein thanked the crowd and said, "Be back next month to start our next quarter-century."

On September's second Friday - Sept. 11 - he'll keep that promise.