Jazz Philadelphia

HOMETOWN HERO: PABLO BATISTA

 By Steven Bryant | Photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN

Latin jazz percussionist Pablo Batista has developed a reputation as one of most versatile and hardworking players in Latin jazz, modern jazz, and in R&B and funk circles. Born to immigrant Puerto Rican parents in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Batista honed his skills playing in school bands. But his main love was playing Afro-Cuban and Latin music, which he started at the age of nine with his mentor and master percussionist Miguel Candia, also a teacher of the renowned drummer Giovanni Hidalgo. 

While majoring in criminal justice and pre-law at Temple University in the early 80s, Batista continued to study music on the side. His first big break on the scene came from the fabled-Philadelphian Grover Washington. The opportunity came from a chance connection. “I had been working for a community summer program,” Batista related. “It happened that my supervisor Dr. Williams Keyes was friends with singer Jean Carne’s manager, Walt Reeder. Walt gave Grover a demo tape of Afro-Cuban drumming I made. The next thing I know, I was invited to a recording session for Jean. So my first-ever professional recording was a song called ‘Closer Than Close,’ which Grover produced for Jean and became a big hit.” Batista’s tenure with Washington started in 1991 and ended in 1999 with Washington’s passing. 

In 2000, Batista crossed genre lines and joined superstar Alicia Keys, whom he toured and performed with for the better part of 12 years. During his tenure on tour, Batista continued to expand his cultural knowledge, and received two Pew Fellowships to further develop an opera titled “El Viaje.” He also received a number of grants to travel to Cuba to study Afro-Cuban percussion, music, and folklore. Percussion masters he studied with included legends like Changuito, Tata Guines, and Miguel “Anga” Diaz. As a result of these studies, Batista became an adept on the sacred bata and honed his chops on congas, timbales, and other percussion. 

“In order to succeed in this art form, you have to develop discipline in all aspects of your life, both as an artist and as a professional. You achieve this goal,” Batista added, “you will enjoy the fruits of your accomplishments.” 

During this period, Batista was also playing with some of the top salsa groups in New York City. Along with fellow Philadelphian Papo Vazquez, Batista worked with the legendary group Manny Oquendo’s Libre and he toured and recorded with trombonist Jimmy Bosc. Batista’s skills and versatility made him a first-call percussionist on the R&B and soul music circuit where over the years he’s racked up a number of Gold and Platinum records performing and collaborating with the likes of Patty Labelle, Phyllis Hyman, Gerald Levert, Kirk Franklin, and Jeffrey Osbourne.

Batista has become a mainstay in Philadelphia’s jazz and Latin music circles, including giving back as an Latin-percussion educator for the last 17 years at the fabled AMLA music school. He’s also recorded Philadelphia artists and others at his own Slaphard Studios. In addition to staying true to his first love and playing routinely with his 10-piece salsa conjunto outfit Mambo Syndicate, he continues to stretch past musical boundaries, playing with eclectic groups such as Worldtown Soundsystem. 

“I believe that my success as a musician came as a result of my intensive study and practice,” reflected Batista. “In order to succeed in this art form, you have to develop discipline in all aspects of your life, both as an artist and as a professional. You achieve this goal,” Batista added, “you will enjoy the fruits of your accomplishments.” 

Immanuel Wilkins: In His Solitude

A young jazz impresario talks about his recent accolades, and the joy of sitting alone with music

By Bobbi Booker | Photo by Chris Longyne

A couple of weeks ago, Immanuel Wilkins, 23, was awakened at home in Upper Darby when his mobile phone buzzed with congratulatory messages lauding the selection of his debut album, Omega, by The New York Times as the #1 Best Jazz Album of 2020.  

It was a tiding of good news that buoyed the Philadelphia jazz community, which has been challenged during the months-long pandemic. As the world struggles to contain the coronavirus, performance venues have shut down in response, taking Wilkins and his fellow musicians off the stage.

“It’s actually been cool for me,” said Wilkins of his quarantine. “You know, I think the name of the game has just been to roll with the flow. I’ve been basically back home since March, and for the most part in Philly, and it’s been nice to just get the hang of my family and work on music in solitude, which doesn’t get to happen and it’s probably never going to happen ever in my life… I’ve actually just got time to just sit with music and not perform it, which is actually been good. I’ve been able to work on it and realize as much as possible. I’ve been enjoying it.”

I think the name of the game has just been to roll with the flow.

The alto saxophonist’s impressive music career began in the Delaware Valley, where he started his trek playing in church and under the tutelage of jazz masters in music education programs like the Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts. 

In between music lessons, Wilkins recalled he would watch his mentors practice and perform at the Clef Club, which, he says, “was a pretty formative experience for me…it felt like a family.”

During those sessions Wilkins would listen to guitarist Charles Ellerbe, who frequently spoke of his time playing with Ornette Coleman. Naturally, Wilkins went online to check out the legacy saxophonist and discovered video of the horn man leading the Prime Time Band performing “Dancing In Your Head” during a concert in Japan. 

“That was my first intro to Ornette, and it ended up just changing my whole life. I remember listening to it and feeling like it’s way over my head, but I knew that Ornette was someone I needed to know,” reflected Wilkins as he laughed at the memory of the lessons learned. 

“I was in a gap between not liking it, but knowing that this guy is an essential worker. And so, I did the work and checked out a bunch of early Ornette and that taught me about contextual relevance. Sometimes, you need to contextualize a person for you to gain understanding, and therefore, enjoy.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in Music at Juilliard, he established himself as an in-demand performer recording and touring the world with Solange Knowles, Bob Dylan, Wynton Marsalis, and the Count Basie Orchestra. In 2017, pianist Jason Moran hired Wilkins to travel with him playing the music of Thelonious Monk. The musicians’ affiliation grew, with Moran returning to Blue Note records as a producer for Wilkins’ debut album featuring his long-time bandmates, pianist Micah Thomas, bassist Daryl Johns, and drummer Kweku Sumbry. Moran told Jazz Times: “Immanuel … blends traditions in a way that only his generation knows how to do.” 

From start to finish, Omega addresses racism in America. Opening with “Warrior,” and followed by songs titled “Ferguson – An American Tradition” and “Mary Turner – An American Tradition.” The 10-song collection offers a raw musical assessment of the past and present. 

“Honestly, I like to leave a little mystery in the music,” said Wilkins. “I was thinking about just the idea of what meaning is. Sometimes I find that, in a way, words can take away from what the inherent meaning of the music is. Sometimes there’s musical meaning in the actual music, you know? I don’t even know if there’s a specific thing that I want people to say about the record, yet, all our music has been about a kind of Blackness and Black identity. I think that has come across, especially during this time when it’s been magnified in our society right now.”

Honestly, I like to leave a little mystery in the music

Now, it’s Wilkins who is pondering how he’s going to pay it forward to Philly’s jazz lions and lionesses in waiting. 

“I am finding myself in a position where the tables are slowly turning,” says Wilkins. “There was a point where I knew all the young kids from Philly because they were my peers, and now they’re starting to become a younger generation of folks that look up to me, so it has been a nice opportunity for me to give back in that way and, and do what I can to help, although, at this point, it’s just me pointing them to older folks, telling them, ‘Y’all need to be checking out these cats.'”

This story is part of Jazz Philadelphia’s Community News Program. If you have tip or want to write for us (it’s paid!) please contact us. We’re looking for stories on the jazz scene in Philadelphia, first hand accounts of resilience and struggle during the pandemic from musicians and others, and thoughts about jazz in our city. Jazz Philadelphia is grateful for the support of the Independence Media Foundation for this project.

North Philly jazz tap dancer and business owner creates a livestream tap dance and jazz concert series

Community News: Community Resilience.

Pamela Hetherington, a jazz tap dancer who owns a percussive dance space in North Philadelphia, had to keep her space locked down for 23 weeks out of 2020. She used the time to produce multiple live-stream tap dance and jazz music concerts. In September, Hetherington created a live-stream tap dance and jazz concert series called “A Month of Sundays” (4 Sundays, 4 pm) for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. “It brought together my group choreography, improvised sets and audience requests,” Hetherington writes. “We were able to reach a lot of people who wouldn’t have seen our work otherwise, and what I was most proud of was that I offered gigs when there weren’t any.”

Have a story, fundraiser, or survival strategy to share? We would love to hear about it and feature it on our Community Resilience page. Submit here.

Local musician runs concert series aimed at bringing diverse people and creative genres together

Community News: Community Resilience.

Erica Corbo hosts a monthly concert series called Warp Factor 9 (WF9) that has been running every third Thursday since March 2019 and pivoted to live-streaming on Facebook during the pandemic. The series gives Corbo and fellow musicians a place to play and shows to watch during a strenuous time, and creates a much-needed home for local avant-garde and jazz acts, solo pianists, and piano-focused ensembles. “With this series, I hope to bring all people and creative genres together, and to soften the divide between the avant-garde and other types of music,” Corbo writes. “I also like to showcase new compositions, and groups with unusual instrumentation.” Viewers and players can support through online donations on PayPal, Venmo, and CashApp.

Have a story, fundraiser, or survival strategy to share? We would love to hear about it and feature it on our Community Resilience page. Submit here.

Can Jazz Survive Without Its Clubs?

Stalwart Chris’s Jazz Cafe is among the treasures we have to lose, but there are bright spots

by Suzanne Cloud

Mark Deninno, chef and owner of Chris’ Jazz Café will freely admit that the club has been struggling through the pandemic. The historic jazz spot closed its doors on March 15, 2020. “I shut down the restaurant, gas lines, everything, and spent a month trying to figure out how I was going to protect my family and myself.” With city grants to retrofit the venue, he said, “I turned the club into a full blown tv studio to start back up again. I started streams in July for a Pat Martino benefit at 25% capacity but drew viewers from 30 different countries.” 

But it was still very difficult with a Pay What You Wish revenue strategy. “Online is not the same as people coming in and paying ticket prices. And we kept getting shut down as the COVID restrictions changed.” Many musicians have played for nothing to sustain the club, and Deninno says that 100% of any revenue goes into a general fund to fund the artists and tech people. Pianist Eric Wortham II will be performing on December 17 to raise money for the venue, and Deninno is hoping he’ll be able to “have 25% occupancy by late spring, and maybe a full house by fall 2021.” There is a GoFundMe to help the club, the musicians, and the employees. 

Across the city, other fundraisers and creative plans are trying to stem the tide of losses from the pandemic, with little to no support from the city.

On November 20, 2020, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a heartfelt commentary (“Philly Arts and Culture Scene May Never Recover from Latest COVID restrictions”) about the effects of the pandemic and the mayor’s response to it by Priscilla M. Luce, interim president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and Aalyah Duncan, leader of Philly Culture United. Understandably, both of these arts advocates were not happy about Mayor Kenney’s vicious cuts to main components of the Philly arts and cultural infrastructure such as the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. 

They wrote, “Ignore the thousands of jobs eliminated due to COVID-19. Pay no attention to the programs or performances, which have long served to bring people together in celebration of our shared humanity. Forget our work done for incarcerated populations, the homeless, and thousands of schoolchildren. What arts and culture is bracing for is the complete folding of arts and culture organizations, the closure of hundreds of neighborhood programs. . .” 

Ignore the thousands of jobs eliminated due to COVID-19. Pay no attention to the programs or performances, which have long served to bring people together in celebration of our shared humanity. Forget our work done for incarcerated populations, the homeless, and thousands of schoolchildren. What arts and culture is bracing for is the complete folding of arts and culture organizations, the closure of hundreds of neighborhood programs…

A new Op-Ed on December 15 echoed those sentiments, and called out the new Arts Task Force that has been created as not enough. While it’s nice, it’s not as nice as funding, argued Tu Huynh, former City Hall Exhibitions Manager for OACCE. “It cannot bail the City out with good PR to improve its image. The City needs to show that it can be trusted with public tax dollars after it basically abandoned the arts last June.” 

Sure, classical music critic Peter Dobrin gushed that the Mellon and William Penn Foundations were giving $8 million to the city’s arts and culture organizations to help them through the hard times, but alas, none of the money went to jazz organizations to help musicians who were thrown out of work or the small number of jazz venues that willingly live close to the financial edge to keep this particular music alive in our historical jazz town. 

A New York Times article took notice of the tenuousness of jazz. “Jazz Lives in Clubs. The Pandemic is Threatening its Future,” warned, “The concert world as a whole is in crisis, but perhaps no genre is as vulnerable as jazz, which depends on a fragile ecosystem of performance venues. . . In interviews, jazz musicians young and old expressed worry for the health of the genre, and their own careers, if the venue network. . . winds up decimated.”

So, Jazz Philadelphia asked me to take a brief look at how Chris’s and some other Philly jazz organizations and venues were fairing now that a vaccine is on the scene and things seem to be looking a bit cheerful. 

I talked to drummer/percussionist Jim Hamilton, founder of the Germantown-based, non-profit Rittenhouse Soundworks, who prior to the pandemic, hosted a monthly “Musicians Gathering.” He nurtured the event as a community space that musicians could come and record, rehearse, or just listen and jam with each other. Once COVID-19 hit, the meetings ended. “We talked about going virtual but decided against it because it wouldn’t have had the same fellowship vibe.” Hamilton’s recording studio is still going and so is the film company associated with it. “We prepare the room, wipe everything down, and then use ultraviolet light to sterilize the space.” He said that singers can be a problem with COVID being airborne, but he said he actually recorded a choir that recorded with their masks on! “Let me tell you,” he said, “if Rittenhouse Soundworks were a business it would have folded, but it’s a vocation. My family built this to serve music and the community.”

If Rittenhouse Soundworks were a business it would have folded, but it’s a vocation. My family built this to serve music and the community.

Kim Tucker, program director at Jazz Bridge, emailed me that the organization had to cancel seven concerts last spring, so they reached out to the booked artists to offer them some financial assistance. “Some musicians accepted, some took half, and others wanted to pay it forward.” This fall, Jazz Bridge also began programming virtual concerts in partnership with PNC Arts Alive and WRTI studios. More concerts are planned starting in January 2021. Since Jazz Bridge’s main mission is to help jazz musicians in crisis, Tucker wrote me that they “gifted 12 microgrants of $500 each to musicians to help with rent/mortgage assistance, medical payments, health insurance payments, food, and utilities.” 

Lovett Hines, artistic director, and Philly’s most treasured mentor of music education at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and the Performing Arts, told me he went headlong into virtual education booking every Saturday from 9 to 3p.m. with 25 to 30 kids every hour once the venue closed. With noted musicians like Richard Hill, Monnette Sudler, Sherrie Butler, Alan Nelson, Bobby Zankel, David Fishkin, and Marcell Bellinger as teachers, the young and hungry future jazz stars didn’t miss too much. I asked Hines how the kids were managing Zoom. “Kids love music on Zoom. . . It has some real rewards too. No boundaries! We have students from California, Denver. The only difficulty we had was to find a way to replicate the sound, have young people playing together, so Berklee gave us Spire Studio. It’s a distance music producing tool. They can record the parts and come up with a finished product.” The relationships the Clef Club established pre-pandemic with the Kimmel, Settlement, Berklee, and Jazz House Kids have ballooned this year to help compensate. 

Trying desperately to get back on its cultural feet while dealing with the sale of their building, the Painted Bride Arts Center still took the time to recognize the immediate need for local, out of work jazz musicians and found money to dispense $500 microgrants to 17 musicians to continue their creative pursuits. Some of the lucky grantees were Arnetta Johnson, Sumi Toonka, Monnette Sudler, Jamal Jones, Luke O’Reilly, and Tom Lawton. Long-time art and culture programmer, percussionist Lenny Seidman told me they also have been presenting a virtual intergenerational series called Deep Roots: Bold Future Conversation Series, which features streamed exchanges between young and older artists. 

It was encouraging to discover how resilient the jazz community has been this year. Without the huge grants other arts groups received, musicians, venue owners, nonprofits, and fans found ways to support each other and adapt to the trauma without lots of money pouring in. I’m not saying that now we should forget our troubles and just get happy. But stories of musicians supporting the local clubs, clubs supporting the musicians, music mentors still finding a way to inspire and motivate kids, nonprofits digging deep to keep the lights on in many a jazz home, and everyone learning Zoom or chipping in to see a live Facebook stream, have helped us all deal with the trauma of 2020. We’re going to get through this. Jazz will survive, just like it did when New Orleans closed down during the flu epidemic of 1918. Seventeen-year-old professional trumpeter Louis Armstrong prevailed over the hard times to take his new sound to Chicago just a few years later. We will too. 

Music duo create virtual lesson series and raise money for new album through pre-sales

Community News: Community Resilience.

Brazilian music favorites Orlando and Patricia Haddad are keeping the music going through virtual concerts and lessons. They raised 70% for a new album among friends and fans and are looking to raise the rest through crowd funding and pre-sales. 

Have a story, fundraiser, or survival strategy to share? We would love to hear about it and feature it on our Community Resilience page. Submit here.

Where We Are, and Where Do We Want to Go?

As America grapples with who it wants to be as a nation, there is another reckoning on the horizon — around racism, sexism, and class disparities in jazz. The season of social unrest, ignited by the killing of George Floyd, has opened a long-closed door to substantive and much-needed conversations around race and social justice. Like the rest of society, the creative community struggles to process the brutality, protests, and riots they witness. On the heels of a pandemic that left stages dark and venues silent, artists also need platforms where their voices can be heard. 

The 2020 Jazz Philadelphia Summit welcomed the voices of over 250 participants, including 60 presenters, and served as a vehicle for conversations around equality and equity in jazz. Our keynote speaker, Terri Lyne Carrington, has been deeply immersed in social justice issues and is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Berklee Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice. She brought lived-experience as a female musician and expertise as an arts leader to an engaging conversation that set the tone for other critical Summit sessions. MacArthur fellow Vijay Iyer presented a provocative talk on anti-blackness in the music industry. Finally, Melvin Gibbs offered a compelling historical perspective on protest in jazz. Conversations were sometimes tough, but everyone agreed that we must keep having them.

The Summit also offered actionable solutions for dealing with the shock to our stages that the pandemic has wrought. Entrepreneurial artists such as Orrin Evans, Michelle Lordi, Emmet Cohen, Jazzmeia Horn, and Anthony Tidd shared their strategies for adapting to the new challenges, including innovative approaches to presenting and monetizing their music. Presenters of jazz events of varying sizes and from different regions offered their learned experience on live streaming and opening safely. The conversations revealed a commonality of challenges whether the venue was the Monterey Jazz Festival or Chris’ Jazz Cafe. 

With the 2020 Summit behind us, the work continues. Jazz Philadelphia gathers the jazz community throughout the year via our working groups. The Musicians and Artists Working Group participants have been willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations. Those discussions have led to a mutual agreement to embed issues around equality and equity in our programming, including the Co-op Program, Intergenerational Jazz Jams, and the future Philadelphia Jazz Festival.

In fact, the need to support the marginalized in our community has come up in nearly every conversation in our Working Groups. The sexist, and what many would define as patriarchal, history of jazz is not just limiting opportunities for women and girls to perform and study the music. It is restricting the development of the music itself. In our Education Working Group, we explore strategies to support women and girls in their aspirations to study and perform the music they love, including developing a mentorship program.

Jazz Philadelphia is unique in our role and responsibility in the community. We have built trust in the community as a neutral convener. We are the only organization created to improve the jazz ecosystem for everyone—and that’s exactly what we intend to do, by listening to the voices and lived experience of our community via our Collective Impact Work. 

Admittedly, this is deep work requiring commitment from all participants. Thankfully, our Working Groups have leaned into this painstaking process, one that does not yield the immediate satisfaction of a concert performance or a student recital. It’s critical work nonetheless.

For this work, there are no tickets sold, and there is no applause. Nonetheless, these discussions are leading us to solve problems at a systemic level. We are grateful for our community partners and funders who recognize the value of a long-term investment of time and resources. We are grateful to you for your trust. 

I hope you’ll offer thoughts of your own, whether in comments on Facebook posts of this article, in blog comments, or in personal correspondence to me. I look forward to hearing from you.

With Appreciation,

Gerald Veasley
President, Jazz Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s Jazz Family Grows

An Interview with Jess Porter of The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation

The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation is a partner of Jazz Philadelphia and this year’s lead sponsor of the Jazz Philadelphia Summit in partnership with PECO. Jazz Philadelphia shares MAAF’s values, namely that they believe, “art is essential, that it has the power to transform individuals and communities, and that so doing helps define our society. Excellence, integrity, service, inclusion, and engagement are fundamental tenets of its commitment to the arts.”

We recently talked with Jess Porter, Program Officer, Performing Arts, who heads up programming for jazz. We were happy to hear from her that she believes, “The Jazz Philadelphia Summit is a model for jazz communities throughout the region.” She talked about programs to support musicians, her favorite parts of their Living Legacy Jazz Awards, which have moved to Philadelphia, how the pandemic has affected their work, and why they’re investing in Philadelphia.

JP: What are a few of MAAF’s programs that support jazz musicians?
Porter: MAAF has two distinct jazz programs—The Jazz Touring Network and the Jazz Living Legacy Award. Jazz ensembles are regularly supported through MAAF’s USArtists International program, receiving funding to travel and perform at festivals outside of the United States. Presenting organizations in the mid-Atlantic region are also able to take advantage of subsidies to present jazz musicians through many of our touring programs like Mid Atlantic Tours, ArtsCONNECT, and Special Presenters Initiative. MAAF is also pleased to partner with South Arts to provide support to mid-Atlantic musicians considering an application to the Jazz Road Tours program.

JP: How has the pandemic affected your work?
Porter: The pandemic has affected my work significantly. A large part of managing grant programs is providing support and assistance to artists and organizations seeking funding and including general assistance to navigate the arts funding landscape. During the pandemic, the nature of those conversations has changed dramatically—artists and organizations are facing unimaginable circumstances, the systems that we are all used to navigating together have changed and I often find myself listening to emotional testimonies about difficult decisions artists and organizations have been forced to make. At the same time, I’m constantly inspired by the resilience, creativity, and peer support that exists in the arts and culture community, specifically in jazz. I try to translate what I am hearing from the community into meaningful action and program changes. I do feel the pandemic has forced MAAF and its funders to reconsider existing limitations and requirements. As a Program Officer, I am excited about the potential to reimagine some of our existing programs in ways that will better serve artists and organizations.  

I’m constantly inspired by the resilience, creativity, and peer support that exists in the arts and culture community, specifically in jazz.

JP: What’s your favorite part about the Living Legacy Jazz Awards program?
Porter: I really enjoy the behind the scenes process of the Living Legacy Jazz Award Program. Through the selection process, I am able to engage a wide variety of jazz musicians, educators, and advocates as both nominators and panelists. Working closely with those musicians, I am constantly learning about new projects and hearing new stories about our legendary jazz musicians—all while having candid conversations around program practices, equity, and MAAF’s service to the jazz community. It goes without saying that spending time and sharing space with past Living Legacy Jazz Award recipients has been an unexpected life experience and a true honor.    

 
JP: What kind of feedback does MAAF solicit from the people it supports?
Porter: Recently, MAAF hosted a series of Listening Sessions with Philadelphia-based consultant Dragonfly Partners. The goal of these sessions was to hear from our constituents—how MAAF can better deliver on its strategic priorities around equity. Programmatically, we solicit feedback from grantees and panelists. As part of MAAF’s new strategic plan, we will be exploring ways to expand our existing feedback loops and foster learning communities around our work. It is crucial that we provide more opportunities for our community to offer feedback, particularly when things are changing so quickly.

Engaging in strategic partnerships in the city and supporting organizations like Jazz Philadelphia will help MAAF connect directly to local artists and organizations that we hope to serve through our programs.

JP: Anything you’d like to say about why MAAF is doing more work in Philadelphia?
Porter: Philadelphia is an important place in the cultural landscape of the mid-Atlantic region. Engaging in strategic partnerships in the city and supporting organizations like Jazz Philadelphia will help MAAF connect directly to local artists and organizations that we hope to serve through our programs. These partnerships also help MAAF stay current and aware of what factors are influencing artists and communities and what new opportunities may exist. A robust arts sector and thriving jazz scene in Philadelphia is good for the entire mid-Atlantic region.

MORE INFO ON MAAF 

Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation develops partnerships and programs that reinforce artists’ capacity to create and present work and advance access to and participation in the arts.

As one of 6 Regional Arts Organizations, MAAF primarily supports organizations and artists in the mid-Atlantic region including Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia with the goal of promoting and supporting multi-state programming. Over time MAAF has expanded its programming nationally and internationally through programs like Performing Arts Global Exchange and USArtists International.

More Art Not Less: City Council Testimony by Gerald Veasley, President, Jazz Philadelphia

June 9, 2020
Re: Testimony on Bill number 200307
Gerald Veasley
President, Jazz Philadelphia

Good afternoon members of City Council; thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony on Bill number 200307 and the proposed budget which would defund the Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy. I recognize the difficult decisions you must face in balancing the needs of our city in a time of crisis. However, as a musician, arts leader, and proud lifelong Philadelphia resident, I am deeply concerned about how this defunding will impact our great city.

I submit now is the time to invest in the arts; we need more art not less. The arts will play an essential role in our city’s economic and emotional recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and from social upheaval. 

The administration’s priorities in the proposed budget are sound: keeping Philadelphians educated, healthy, and safe. In fact, the arts play a central role in all three categories. In my nearly 40 years of experience as a musician and educator, and in my role as President of Jazz Philadelphia where we are committed to advancing our arts community, I have seen how the arts make students intellectually curious, keep adults emotionally healthy and help to create neighborhoods that are not only safe but vibrant places to live.

We need more art not less.

If we want our city’s youth to be better educated, invest in the arts. Students involved in the arts perform better academically, have lower dropout rates and higher SAT scores. The OACCE reaches thousands of youth throughout our city. Now’s not the time to disinvest in our youth.

We need more art not less.

If we want people in our city to be healthy, invest in the arts. After battling a pandemic in fear and isolation, people will need the arts to help restore their emotional well being. Armed with songs, stories, and images, artists will be the next wave of “first responders” tending to damaged souls.

We need more art not less.

If we want a safe city, invest in the arts. The arts give voice to the voiceless. We are witnessing a generation that has grown impatient with our institutions’ capacity to hear them. The arts represent a constructive medium of self-expression. OACCE takes art to the underserved and to the voiceless. Invest in it.

 We need more art not less 

Finally, as you think about investing in the arts, consider the return on that investment. The arts have a $4.1B impact in the Greater Philadelphia region. The arts sector is at the heart of a thriving ecosystem: restaurants, hospitality, tourism – are all touched by art. 

Other cities continue to invest in the arts, even as they grapple with the same crises and shrinking revenue. But if you examine the proposed budgets of cities like Boston, Nashville, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Houston and you will see cities that remain committed to the arts. Even when there are budget cuts there is not another major city that has completely defunded its arts and culture office.

We are indeed a great city and as such we must not be tempted by the challenges of the present to disinvest in our future. I implore you to restore funding to the Office of the Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Invest in our city, in its neighborhoods, in the underserved, in communities of color, in our youth. Let’s remain committed to the education, health, and safety of all Philadelphians. Invest in our future – we need more art not less. 

Thank you.

Hometown Hero: Reggie Workman

By A.D. Amorosi | Photo by Frank Schindelbeck

Reggie Workman is a busy man, just as busy now at age 82 as he was when he was 22 playing on records by Donald Byrd, Eric Dolphy, or his fellow Philadelphian, John Coltrane. Or 42, when he began leading his own group, the Reggie Workman Ensemble—the tip of the iceberg when it came to free solo and band leader projects. Or 62, around the same time when the bassist, composer, and educator was gifted with the title “Living Legend,” by the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum in his hometown.

Even during the pandemic, he holds court online with his New School College of Performing Arts (COPA) students (with guests such as Amina Claudia Myers and Sonny Rollins). Workman is a page-turning textbook in history that never ceases to be fresh, whether it is his newly composed music, made with a Guggenheim grant, or his continued goals in higher education. “I wake up with them, go to sleep with them,” said Workman of his endless stream of ideas. “They’re always there and take a considerable amount of concentration.” So concentrate he must.

While documentaries and books of his life are soon to come, and with a children’s book and compositions for his Montclair Academy of Dance and Laboratory of Music to follow, Workman considers his work, from past to the future—from Coltrane and Art Blakey to recent creative music collaborators Geri Allen, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer—as a rich, free continuum, all of which commenced in Philly.

Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Sonny Fortune—all were Philly saxophonists, all were Workman collaborators. “They were part of a community. That’s important,” said Workman. “Philadelphia was a big city with small pockets—you had a pocket in West Philadelphia. You had a pocket in North Philadelphia. South Philly. Germantown, Nicetown, Tioga. Each one of those pockets yielded their own types of music and experiences, all highly individual, developed, and personal. Philly isn’t the only city that had this, but it is unique. Plus, it was just miles away from New York. That was important coming up.”

“I didn’t come to or connect myself to free music. I am it. I grew to that space. I grew with that language and it grew with me. It’s not even free. It’s not before its time as in ‘avant-garde’. It is of its time.”

Talking about the migration of African-American people and music from the South through Philadelphia and to New York City, Workman knows how their histories intertwine and in his teaching, he explores the intersection of art, life, freedom, and spirituality that spring from those roots. Within that confine, finding one’s own sound in the role of bassist, one integral to the responsibility of harmony and rhythm (“that’s crucial as part of my evolution as a bassist up to the present”), is as important as finding one’s own self. “You have to have your hands on the reins,” Workman says.

Ask him about his choices and instinct when it came to free music or free jazz, whether it is his own compositions or his work with fellow masters of the creative field music, such as Dolphy and Shepp, and Workman is both sly and sharp. “I didn’t come to or connect myself to free music. I am it. I grew to that space. I grew with that language and it grew with me. It’s not even free. It’s not before its time as in ‘avant-garde’. It is of its time.”

X