As I ambled around the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival on Saturday it became evident that this was more than just a celebration of music—it was a celebration of the neighborhood itself. I parked on the 1900 block of 72nd Street and made my way up to Ogontz Avenue. The smell of barbecue was thick. The sounds of jazz grew louder as I moved closer to the avenue.
My main objective was to photograph everything I saw—the food, the crowd, the performers. I collected images to illustrate what the festival looked like, hoping to also convey what it felt like. While I photographed some of the energizing and entertaining acts on Saturday, some of my favorite images are of the people in the audience and the community members who elevating the festival into a gigantic block party. I met Inez Satterthwaite, of West Oak Lane, who was singing loudly along with Doo Wop group The Persuasions. Gary Young, of Mt. Airy, was also in the audience lending his voice in concert with the a cappella group.
I made my way over toward the ShopRite Stage where I found more enthusiastic fans. It was there that I came across Sheryl Hicks, whose home was a mere few hundred feet from the main stage. She invited me to have a seat as she flipped ribs on the grill and told me that this was more than a festival for West Oak Lane—it was a chance for neighbors, friends and family to gather in celebration of a rich cultural heritage she filed neatly under the umbrella of Jazz.
In addition to photographing the festival, I also collected audio samples of the music, the din of the crowd and the musings of a few individual audience members. Musically, I recorded the Persuasions, the Central High School Jazz Band, and the Philadelphia Jazz Heritage Ensemble. I hoped the audio would help to better capture the thoughts and feelings of the neighbors who live along Ogontz Avenue and surrounding streets. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, surely some audio snippets are worth a thousand more.
I walked back to my car on the 1900 block of 72nd Street, a few blocks removed from all the commotion of the festival, to grab another bottle of water, and came across Karen Shinholster. She had music blaring from her front lawn and a huge smile on her face as she cooked chicken on the grill. She told me that she was having a Father’s Day party for her husband and other family members and that they would join The Big Party up the street later in the evening.
An event such as the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival is something that is best enjoyed in person. But, if you were unable to make it, I hope the audio slideshow above and my top photo picks below are able to give you an over–the–shoulder view of all the fun.