Some good, long-lasting things begin in parking lots. The Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra, now celebrating its tenth year under the direction of Williamsport-area native Joe Bongiovi, is one of those entities.
Bongiovi founded the Jazz Orchestra with a couple of fellow music teachers intending to just keep students playing music during the summer months, without planning to play gigs at all. In that first year, parents suggested the band play a fundraising show at a Pizza Hut for the sole purpose of covering the cost of sheet music and other sundries over the summer. "The Summer Swing Fling Big Band" was born.
"The students don't play all summer, so Joe just wanted to keep the music going," said Bongiovi's mother Rae Ann. "The first concert was in Hamilton, New Jersey, in a parking lot."
The next year, Chris' Jazz Cafe, a major jazz venue in Philadelphia, called Bongiovi to take a replacement gig, and the band packed the place. That led to several more shows throughout the Mid-Atlantic, and eventually, the next season, to the group touring Greece; it was then that the awkwardly named "Summer Fling Big Band" became the "Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra."
This July, the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra is touring Europe, making stops at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival and in several Italian cities. In August, they will travel to Washington, D.C., for a performance at the Kennedy Center, and then they return to New Jersey for the second Jazz Week of the summer, a weeklong camp for secondary school musicians. Many of the PJO members assist in teaching other students the intricacies of jazz musicianship.
Some PJO members come back from college to play during the summer and have attended music programs at such schools as Berklee College of Music, the University of Texas-Austin, Cornell University and the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. Bongiovi has degrees from both Berklee and University of the Arts; many PJO members come from his award-winning jazz program at Princeton High School, where his studio band has recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra, Lenny White, Tierney Sutton and Wycliffe Gordan.
The PJO repertoire includes a number of big band standards, but Bongiovi also is an avid composer and so much of what they play is original material.
The band also has appeared at Zanzibar Blue, another big-time Philly jazz space, opened for Ravi Coltrane and this year's European tour is its fourth. A tenth anniversary concert is scheduled for Aug. 11 in Philadelphia.
Director Bongiovi and his cohorts certainly have kept the music going during the summer months and sometimes over winter breaks, too. This year, he will bring the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra to his childhood home for the first time, as New Covenant United Church of Christ, 202 Third St., hosts a benefit concert for Williamsport's Journey House at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3.
Rae Ann Bongiovi works at New Covenant U.C.C., and it's not a coincidence the PJO will be playing there.
"Joe always said if there was anything he could do for the church, to tell him," Rae Ann said. "I said that a benefit concert for Journey House would be really special."
Journey House, 225 E. Third St., is owned and operated by New Covenant U.C.C., and serves as a transitional home for families who are learning to live on their own, in their own home.
"Families are referred there and then they follow a program that teaches them how to make financial decisions, how to handle money," Rae Ann said. "It's families only - counseling is done by STEPS Inc., and some of our funding comes from the Lycoming County United Way."
Journey House's program is an intensive and long one, typically lasting one to two years with most clients. This November, the House will celebrate its fifth year of operation.
Tickets for the benefit concert are $20 for adults and $10 for 18-and-younger. They may be bought at New Covenant U.C.C. Call 326-3308 for more information.
Check out the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra's website at pjo jazz.com, follow the group on Twitter @PhilaJazz Orchestra or find them on Facebook.