By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Kimmel Center is getting jazzed up for the holiday season.
On Wednesday night, the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia, a celebrated trumpeter, and three Philly Jazz legends will take the stage in the Perelman Theater.
I caught up with renowned trumpeter, Terell Stafford, and legendary saxophonist, Larry McKenna, inside the Merck Gallery upstairs at the Kimmel. Surrounded by photographs of musicians of every generation, Stafford and McKenna intoned “Jingle Bells.”
But the holiday classic doesn’t usually sound like this. With the improvisational flair that is uniquely jazz, even the two artists didn’t know what was going to happen next.
“He plays a lick, and I kind of answer it,” said McKenna.
Stafford described it as “weaving in and out.”
“We could create something right here on the spot,” said Stafford.
And they did, revealing the magic of jazz on a Monday afternoon.
Stafford leads the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia. On Wednesday night at 8 p.m., they’ll launch the holiday season with a performance of Billy Strayhorn’s “Harlem Nutcracker.” The arrangement takes Tchaikovsky’s original and cuts a new dimension.
Stafford found his musical home in Philadelphia more than twenty years ago.
“Especially here in Philadelphia, there is a soulfulness to all the music that you don’t find other places,” said Stafford. “And I think the soulfulness comes from the spirit of the people.”
At age 77, Larry McKenna feels that too, living in Olney his entire life.
“A lot of people feel that, especially jazz musicians, the older they get and more they’ve lived, it comes through in their music,” said McKenna.
You’ll hear that when McKenna teams with two sax icons in the Perelman.
For the first time, McKenna, Bootsie Barnes and Jimmy Heath will perform as The Three Tenors – not singing tenors, but playing tenor saxophones.
“They’re two legendary sax players,” said McKenna. “That will be a big kick doing that.”
Stafford is the artistic director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia and director of jazz studies and chair of instrumental studies at Temple University.
“I do love to do what I do,” said Stafford. “I love to teach, I love to play, I love it all.”
Some of that love was inspired by his mother, who played the trumpet as a teenager.
I was curious about his response when his mother might “constructively criticize” that his “notes” weren’t quite right.
“I’d say, ‘Yes, Mom. You are absolutely right. I’ll work on it and get it better.’ That’s been my answer for 48 years.”
For more on all the holiday concerts and performances at the Kimmel you can go to www.theartsinphilly.org.