Now entering its eighth year, this year’s Center City Jazz Festival takes place in Philadelphia on Saturday, April 27 from 1:00 to 7:00 PM. The event can certainly be considered a success, judging by the fact that it has sold out the past five years and the sheer enthusiasm of its crowds. However, this year’s festival almost didn’t take place.
The urban festival was founded by Ernest Stuart, a trombonist born and raised in Philadelphia, who moved to New York for his profession. Growing up under often difficult circumstances, Ernest knew the important role jazz played in shaping his own life. Despite his success, he never forgot his roots. Quite the contrary, he kept tabs on the music scene in his hometown. Distressingly, he was aware of the closings of some of the favorite jazz clubs he frequented as a young man and worried for the future of the genre.
In 2012, despite his own better judgement, he took a leap of faith and launched a Kickstarter campaign. With no background in organizing a major music event, he had the idea to start a jazz festival that would take place in the heart of downtown Philadelphia — all the better to reach younger, still impressionable versions of himself — to be exposed to the genre and hopefully fall in love with it, as he once did. Miraculously, he raised more than $17,000 and the first Center City Jazz Festival was off and running.
Fast-forward to today, where Ernest carries the title of founder and creative director of the festival. Despite its apparent success, money to stage the event continues to be an issue, which weighs heavily upon him. There are also struggles to keep up with the simultaneous time demands of his own evolving career as a performing artist — and as a devoted, hands-on father. Ernest is also scheduled to be married on Sunday, April 28 — the very next day after the festival! He seriously considered bowing out of his involvement in the event this year, which would likely have spelled its demise. In the end, he couldn’t walk away. Ernest’s passionate devotion to jazz and his hometown simply wouldn’t let him.
The Center City Jazz Festival is Ernest Stuart’s love note to jazz and Philadelphia, which despite its challenges has become a fixture on the city’s music calendar. Still taking place in downtown, this year’s event offers a jam-packed schedule with more than 20 acts performing at five venues over six hours, all within walking distance of each other in the heart of Center City. Scheduled to coincide with Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month, one $20 ticket (purchased in advance) provides access to all performances.
This year’s smash lineup of artists include Eric Wortham, acclaimed pianist for Adele and musical director for Seal; legendary D.C. band, The Marc Cary Trio; Chilean singer-songwriter-guitarist, Camila Meza; noted father-son team, Mike and Mekhi Boone; and Israeli-raised bassist and composer, Adi Meyerson. (Please see the press release below.)