The best way to study jazz, said Joshua Lee, BYR ’16, ’19, is to learn from others. During his time at Temple, the baritone sax player found countless opportunities to watch the greats and get to know them. Now he’s come full circle, teaching a musical ensemble at the university once a week and mentoring young musicians across the city through his nonprofit Jazz Lives Philadelphia.
Learning from the greats
As an undergraduate, Lee commuted to New York City almost every week to see his professors—Terell Stafford, Dick Oatts and Tim Warfield, among others—perform in clubs. Occasionally, he’d perform with them, a fact that remains a point of pride for the musician.
“Sure, you practice often and always, and you study musical theory and history, but a lot of it has to do with getting your feet on the ground at venues—watching the greatest of the great musicians perform—and establishing relationships with them,” said Lee.
Being so close to the New York music scene clearly offers an advantage in fostering those connections in the jazz world, but Lee noted that Philadelphia also has strong, longstanding ties to the form.
“There’s a lot of history in Philly, and there are still some elders around that were really connected to that,” he said. “To learn from them is invaluable.”
Hitting the right notes
A Philadelphia native, Lee was always interested in attending the Boyer College of Music and Dance, but a scholarship he received through the Duke Ellington Festival solidified his decision. Since then he has earned his bachelor’s degree jazz studies performance and a master's in jazz studies.
Now, in addition to teaching and performing, he runs the nonprofit Jazz Lives Philadelphia, which he co-founded as an undergraduate with Temple classmate Sarah Leonard, FOX ’17.
The five-year-old organization seeks to showcase under-the-radar musicians in atypical venues, like comic book stores and barber shops. It also has a significant educational component, coordinating free performances and master classes for students in underserved schools throughout the Philly area.
Continuing a legacy
Since the coronavirus swept the globe, Jazz Lives Philadelphia has started holding weekly, educational interviews on Facebook Live that feature jazz musicians and enthusiasts from around the city. “I think that’s just as important as playing the music: learning how it happened, why it happened,” said Lee.
“We have to know the history so we know what has existed before,” he added. “So we can build upon it and make it better—make it our own thing.”
—By Lauren Hertzler, KLN ’13, and Dutch Godshalk