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City jazz festival, second edition

This year, six venues - and a little more help.

Founder and director Ernest Stuart: "I wanted to have a festival where the headliners would be jazz acts."
Founder and director Ernest Stuart: "I wanted to have a festival where the headliners would be jazz acts."Read more

Last year's inaugural Center City Jazz Festival taught Ernest Stuart, its director, an important lesson: Never book yourself to perform if you're also running the show.

He recalls that last year, just as he was about to step onstage with his trombone, "my phone started ringing." The festival's headliner was threatening to walk because of problems at his hotel, and the WiFi had gone out at the box office.

"Then I realized that I had been so busy working on the festival that I hadn't practiced this music," he says.

So you won't hear Stuart playing at this year's festival, which kicks off Friday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with singer Venissa Santi, joined by saxophonist Jane Bunnett and trombonist Luis Bonilla (Stuart's mentor during the latter's time at Temple University) for an Afro-Cuban-inspired set.

Though Stuart remains in charge, he has gotten a little more help than last year, when he pulled together the one-day event in a matter of weeks through a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign.

The second edition will feature more than 20 performances spread across six Center City venues. It will conclude Saturday night with the headlining performance, sponsored by Peco, by pianist Orrin Evans at the Arts Bank Theater at University of the Arts. A number of other sponsors stepped forward with festival funding, including the Philadelphia Jazz Project and the Knight Arts Challenge.

"Last year was mainly about picking the right group of people to kick off this festival idea, something that I hoped would become a yearly event," Stuart says. "This year, I tried to widen the breadth of music represented and to let the festival grow in a way that maintains the vision of the original."

That initial vision stemmed from Stuart's observation that too many "jazz" festivals booked headliners from other musical genres, especially pop and R&B.

"I wanted to have a festival where the headliners would be jazz acts," he says.

This year's program again spotlights local musicians, with performances by bassist Mike Boone, saxophonist Korey Riker, percussionist Francois Zayas, and the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret, among many others.

Beyond offering a full buffet from the city's jazz scene, Stuart also wants to lead by his DIY example, encouraging his fellow musicians to do it themselves.

"I hope that I can inspire more musicians to take matters into their own hands," he says. "Everyone creating opportunities for each other to perform is something that would positively affect the local jazz scene. I hope that will happen."