Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival

By: Alexander Ariff
Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival, Part 1
I am still reliving memories from the first Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, PA. I heard of the festival, via its fundraising campaign. After watching the inspiring video, I backed  the Kickstarter project. The festival stretched 5 blocks of Center City using the following venues: Chris’ Jazz Café, Fergie’s Pub, Time and Milkboy.
This series features short pieces on three musicians I interviewed on April 28, 2012.  The first profile is trombonist and CCJF founder, Ernest Stuart.

Ernest Stuart. A Prepared Improvisor.

Ernest Stuart, age 28, founder of the Center City Jazz Festival, trombone in hand on Chestnut Street.
(c) Alexander Ariff

The Center City Jazz Festival would not have existed without Ernest Stuart. I caught up with him as he was traveling from Milkboy, where he had just performed, to the CCJF box office inside of Café Loftus takes a certain kind of improviser to be confident on the bandstand, while running a jazz festival. He hung up his phone from a call regarding festival finances. “It’s a pain in the ass sometimes,” he confessed, “but money has a way of solving problems.” Money towards the CCJF certainly energized the Philly jazz scene. One hundred eighty-eight people backed Stuart’s vision. The CCJF also received sponsorship (Philadelphia Magazine, Turtle Studios, Yelp, and Laube Torrefaction.) Stuart firmly believes that without Kickstart and Facebook, he may not have been able to exceed the campaign’s goal of $16,500.

Stuart moved to Philadelphia in 2003. “It’s great [living here], I have had chance to witness some beautiful things.” He’s seen stars come up, and older cats pass. He calls the city an incubator. “If you have an inkling of talent and you are out here long enough, people are nurturing enough to help you develop that talent and your own voice, that’s something that I was definitely fortunate to have coming up in the music scene here, and I’ve seen it happen with others.”

Stuart wanted to provide a smorgasbord of personalities at the CCJF. To him, it was more important to showcase the musicians themselves, rather than attempt to peg music down into genre-based slots. Therefore, a Hammond B3 residency inside of Time, centralized tributes to Philly organ-greats: Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Shirley Scott and Trudy Pitts. During Luke Carlos O’Reilly’s set, one couple’s spontaneous swing dancing took over the space in front of the band. Behavior like that! Swing?! At a jazz festival!

Chrissie Loftus and Ernest Stuart
(c) Alexander Ariff

Ernest Stuart’s own set was a collection of tastefully arranged groove and straight-ahead tunes. The quartet consisted of Mike Boone, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums; Jason Shattil, piano; and Stuart on trombone. Stuart also welcomed vocalist Chrissie Loftus to the stage. (The two  collaborated on Stuart’s album, Solitary Walker, and he served as arranger and executive producer on her new album.) Stuart’s arrangement of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” featuring Loftus, was one of the most engaging tunes of the set. She rephrased the melody against  Faulker’s spastic hip-hop kick and high-hat pocket.

The days preceding CCJF were anything but calm. Stuart had just arrived back from a Midwest tour with the band Red Baraat, a nine-piece that melds North Indian rhythms with funk, go-go, Latin, and jazz. I asked him how many people he had helping him out. He chuckled, “me, myself and I.”  Aside from four venue managers, security, and box office staff, Stuart flew solo, micromanaging from the bandstand. He also took pride in featuring young musicians that he came up with on the Philly scene–including Wade Dean, our next feature. Veterans include bassist Mike Boone. Stuart, like many young musicians, learned on the Ortlieb’s bandstand with Boone, so it was especially fulfilling to see Boone playing on Stuart’s set. At the end, Boone leaned over, gave Stuart a hug, and said “thank you.”

(L to R) Justin Faulkner, Ernest Stuart, Mike Boone
(c) Alexander Ariff

What’s the future of the CCJF? Stuart hopes to build a non-profit arm that puts on shows throughout the year. This is similar to what Adam Schatz is doing with Search & Restore. Stuart would hate to lose the vibe of the indoor crowd but also feels a need to move the music outdoors. “You can accommodate so many more people, then you’re not worrying about people who are just hearing about the festival or buying tickets, anyone who is walking by can just stop by and appreciate the music.” To Ernest Stuart, that’s what  it’s all about: informing a city that it’s jazz scene is alive, well, soulful, and swinging.

You can hear music and learn more about Ernest Stuart at his website:


One response to “Profiles from the Center City Jazz Festival

  1. Thanks Alexander that was a fun read. I’m looking forward to parts 2 and 3. Let me know if you are looking for any specific photos. I have plenty from early in the morning to the last ones out the door. It was 12 hours plus of music and excitement for me. It was nice meeting you there too.

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