Tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna is one of four musicians to perform a three-hour jazz concert at the Germantown Mennonite Church to benefit the Grumplethorpe house this weekend. He doesn’t know what songs he’ll be playing yet. He’s not even sure if he’s met the musicians he is playing with. But as a lifelong jazz musician, McKenna thrives on the spontaneity. “We all rely on our ability to improvise and hopefully it comes out pretty good,” says McKenna, a lifelong Olney resident. “You don’t know exactly what you’re going to do before you do it but when it turns out good, it’s always kind of a big kick.” The Grumplethorpe was built as the summer house for wine importer John Wister in 1744. Proceeds from the fourth annual “Evening of Jazz” concert will benefit Grumplethorpe’s arts and education programs for youngsters, such as its summer camp. Brooklyn, N.Y.-based pianist Bruce Barth will return to perform at the benefit for his fourth year since its inception. He says audiences can expect an intimate and swinging show rounded out by the talents of Mike Boone on bass and singer Susanne Brose. “It’s a real community event,” says Barth, who teaches a music class at Temple University once a week. “There’s a warmth and sense of community for all the people who have been involved with the preservation of landmarks.”
The band will perform selections from the American songbook of jazz classics roughly spanning the 1930s-1960s, and will include composers such as Duke Ellington, George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin among many others. They’re considered standard jazz numbers these days, but Larry McKenna recalls when those hits were still considered new in the 50s. “I probably know a thousand tunes but we don’t all play them the same way all the time. You can play these songs over and over again and each time they’ll sound a different way,” he said. “It’s always a challenge to be able to play that tune and make it sound different from the last time.” Saturday’s concert will also be the first time Larry McKenna and Bruce Barth perform together. “He’s such a lyrical player,” Barth says. “With jazz you have the chance to work with a wide variety of great musicians.” Saturday’s show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 and can be ordered here. Wine and light food will be provided.