September 20, 2016


This weekend, we welcome Philly’s own The Forerunners to kick of our fall season of programming. The ensemble of homegrown jazz legends convene for a tribute to the trailblazing jazz bassist, Jymie Merritt, on September 24th at 8pm.

The origin of Forerunner dates to the early 1960s in West Philly, when Jymie Merritt performed original music at the Tuskegee Alumni Clubhouse. At the time, he performed with a collective of musicians under the moniker “Jazz Bikini.” Jymie sought out ‘free-thinking’ jazz musicians, players capable of avoiding rigid forms and cliches within the genre. From those sessions emerged an original system of chord inversions, harmonics, and cross-rhythmic styles. Jymie brought the Forerunner “system” to life as a complex language, as musical space that lived between free and composed jazz.

Later on, Jymie joined the Max Roach band (in addition to his ongoing work with Art Blakey), and the Forerunners went through periods of inactivity and fluctuation. Pianist Odean Pope (tenor sax) was a founding member, while Warren McLendon (piano and percussion), Alan Nelson (drums), and Colmore Duncan (piano), and Terry Lawson (tenor sax) joined in later iterations.

While The Forerunners morphed and changed over time, Jymie’s son Mike was coming into his own as a bassist. He studied double bass with Eligio Rossi at Settlement Music School and credits Warren McLendon with teaching him much of what he knows about jazz. Now, among many projects, Mike is the house bassist of Conan O’Brien’s Late Night on NBC and the bassist for the Forerunners. With the troop reassembled, Mike carries on the Forerunner tradition of innovation and mastery. In January 2016, the band played a tribute concert at World Cafe Live. Mike is planning to record and release more of Jymie’s compositions in the near future.

All members of Forerunners hold a deep respect for Jymie, and consider him an unsung heroes of American Jazz. However, none are more reverent than Mike, who considers his work with the Forerunners a kind of homecoming. “I feel like it’s time for me to turn around and come back and revisit where I came from and what got me started,” he told NPR in their recent profile. “My origins as a player begins with [Jymie’s] music.”

The Forerunners play Painted Bride Art Center on September 24th at 8pm. Tickets on sale now—$15 in advance, $20 at the door. Click here to purchase.