As an 18-year-old Philadelphian with a limited knowledge of jazz except for Frank Sinatra, I wasn’t sure how I’d enjoy a jazz festival. But after nearly 12 hours of volunteering at the celebration of jazz singers, Voices of the People, I have a newfound appreciation for jazz, not only the music, but the culture of its performance also.
The 3-day concert focused on the concepts of freedom, interdependence, diversity, love and acceptance. Though the rain snagged most of the interdependence concert and all of freedom’s, we were still graced with heartfelt and jubilant performances from Annie Sciolla, Raimundo Santos, Suzanne Burgess, Barbara Walter, Barbara Montgomery, Michael Andrews, and Bethlehem Roberson. Set at the historically rich and evolving Hatfield House at the critical intersection of Strawberry Mansion and Brewerytown, the concerts were gloriously complimented by the tall white columns of the house and its relaxed atmosphere created by a spacious lawn and overhanging trees. Colorful lawn chairs spread out under the moon, purple and green lights highlighting positively infectious musicians, the sight was wonderful. And so was the smell, as Biscuits Biscuits food truck had honey biscuits and delectable buttermilk fried chicken in many happy hands.
I sat at check-in mainly, conversing with every one of several hundred people who came out to hear crooning and serenades. It was refreshing to see so many people, of all different backgrounds coming out right after the Fourth of July weekend. And the music! Some songs made me emotionally aware, while others made me want to kick off my shoes and dance amidst the loving togetherness of the crowd. Specifically, the Saturday afternoon concert was moving in the artists’ impressive control of the crowd. I remember at the end of Barbara Walter’s set, she had other musicians singing with her, the audience clapping and standing and dancing. It drew in people off of the street to the jazz music. It’s surprising to find that Barbara was a replacement, and that can be attributed to Philly’s unbelievably talented and flexible talent base that I personally believe is one of the most dynamic in the country.
Because of the hard work put in by the Philadelphia Jazz Project, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, Jazz Near You, and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, I was able to appreciate the genre of jazz. The calming consistency of the percussion, unpredictable jubilance of the piano, intimate crooning of the saxophone, funkiness of the bass guitar and the trained voices of the performers collided together beautifully to create what truly was magic. And to think that the concerts were free to the public! The transformational celebration was priceless, and I am eager to see what other programming can happen in Philadelphia jazz scene, and also at the Hatfield House.
For photos from the day by Albert Yee, click here.