Jazz Philadelphia

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.”

Hometown Hero: Bobby Zankel

By Suzanne Cloud | Photo by Anthony Dean

Composer and alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel never expected to stay in Philadelphia when he blew into town in 1975. “I thought it was going to be temporary. I didn’t think I was going to stay here. I wanted to get back to New York as soon as I could.” Laughing, he said, “…I thought it was punishment from the gods at the time.”

A few years before the move, this young musician from Brooklyn had gotten the attention of the jazz world through his membership in pianist Cecil Taylorʼs “Unit Core Ensemble.” Zankel’s underground status in New York’s famed free jazz loft scene grew in 1973 as he performed with bassist William Parker, creator of the annual Vision Festival; trombonist Ray Anderson, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and saxophonist David Spencer Ware, as Zankel continued his apprenticeship with Taylor’s ensembles large and small. 

But family concerns soon took him away from the heady atmosphere of that experimental scene and he landed squarely in our hard bop town. Instead of a backwater, Zankel quickly discovered Philly represented a challenge, and it changed his life.

 “As soon as I got here [to Philadelphia], people were really, really nice to me, and things would just happen that made me feel really happy about being here. I got the chance to play in a variety of situations, different types of music. In New York, the city was so compartmentalized… The next thing I knew 40 years went by.”

“As soon as I got here, people were really, really nice to me, and things would just happen that made me feel really happy about being here. I got the chance to play in a variety of situations, different types of music. In New York, the city was so compartmentalized. I was part of Cecil Taylor’s world. But I wanted to do other things. Almost as soon as I got here, I started playing with Odean Pope and taking piano lessons with Eddie Green. I finally hooked up with Dennis Sandole. I’d always see guys from New York taking the train down to study with Dennis, and I’d think, ‘why should I go back to New York and then take the train back down here all the time?’  Dennis was intense and his approach became my life. The next thing I knew 40 years went by.”

Bobby Zankel’s alto saxophone playing, a soulful mixture of hard bop and free jazz, and his compositional work has received commissions from the Network for New Music, Relache, and more recently Jazz Bridge’s Vision Song for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. Zankel has won a fellowship from the Pew Center of Arts & Culture and has produced nine albums that have included many Philadelphia jazz artists.  In 2001, Bobby Zankel created the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, an organization dedicated to promoting new jazz through big band music, and this ensemble has collaborated with composer Muhal Richard Abams, saxophonists Steve Coleman and Dave Liebman, and hosted multi-instrumentalist Don Byron, and tenor saxophonists David Murray, Jaleel Shaw, and Odean Pope.

In 2018, Bobby Zankel was celebrated with Philly’s “Jazz Living Legacy” award and the Philadelphia Clef Club’s “People Choice” pick for top alto saxophonist. In addition to all his work with the glittering lights of some of the world’s best musicians, Bobby Zankel has devoted 30 years working with and sharing musical ideas with Pennsylvania prison inmates. 

“I love Philadelphia. I really feel honored and blessed to be here. I got to play alongside Johnny Coles. I even got to play with Hank Mobley! I’ve had a 45-year old relationship with Odean Pope as well as seen young musicians come up through the Clef Club like Jaleel Shaw and Emmanuel Wilkins. Those kinds of opportunities would not have come up in New York.”

And we are so glad you stayed!

New Music USA Listening Sessions in Philadelphia Will Help Create Opportunities for Jazz Artists

New Music USA supports and connects US-based music makers, organizations, and audiences by providing financial support through project grants, fostering new connections through programming, deepening knowledge and encouraging appreciation through an online magazine, and promoting funded projects and new music events. The good news: They’re coming to Philadelphia to listen to what the new music community needs now.

In June, New Music USA is also organizing discussion forums in different cities across the United States. Before COVID19 imposed restrictions, the organization had planned to embark on a national tour to meet diverse new music practitioners and engage them in a conversation about the pressing, long-term needs and opportunities across the new music scene. This feedback would influence how New Music USA planned to expand and leverage its financial, social, intellectual, and cultural resources in addressing those needs. Even though the in-person tour has been postponed, the team at New Music USA believes that these conversations are more important than ever, and are planning to have them online instead. The discussion forums for Philadelphia are planned for June 8, 9, and 10 via Zoom. 

“We want to hear about what you can see, that we wouldn’t be able to see, when it comes to gaps in funding, opportunities for collaboration, and what Philadelphia’s music community wants from a national organization like New Music USA,” says President & CEO Vanessa Reed. “The Philadelphia region has an exceptional music history and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help facilitate current and future opportunities for its music community.”

The organization invites diverse new music stakeholders across genre, career phase, age, sex, geographic, race, ethnicity, content, music genres, and physical ability to share their insights and experiences to inform future programming and connect a community of folks who otherwise would not have been in touch. 

Reed says New Music USA is interested in jazz as an art form. “We are supporting the sounds of tomorrow by investing in and nurturing the creation, performance and appreciation of living music in all its forms. This includes jazz,” Reed explains. “We want to be relevant to all composers, music creators, improvisers and nonprofit organizations concerned with the creation of new work.”

In 2020, the organization launched a new program, supported by the Sphinx Venture Fund, to facilitate the co-commissioning of composers of color by consortia of national orchestras. It will also be running a film music fund and beginning initiatives that focus on the challenges for female artists in jazz. 

“We also strive to respond to emerging needs such as those created by COVID-19,” Reed says. “Recently we did this by helping an artist collective by running the New Music Solidarity Fund.” The fund supports 1,000 musicians with $500 emergency relief grants. For more on New Music USA’s programming and grants, visit their website or sign-up for the upcoming forums on Eventbrite.

Everything Hurts. Let’s Learn, Speak, and Unite.

The arts are our fortress, a place to renew and be refreshed.

It’s a place where we create beauty and magic. It’s a place that fortifies us with strength and certainty. Now that the outer world is increasingly in turmoil, art can be an inner world to find solace.

There are some in the outer world who want us to stay behind our walls. They want us to play, sing, dance, and draw. Make art. Leave public discourse to them—the experts. Be honest—in this rapidly chaining world, who can truly lay claim to expertise?

You are the only qualified expert on how you feel. You are the authority on your heart.

How do I feel? Everything hurts.

George Floyd’s words ring in my ear. As he pled for his life, those were among his final words, “everything hurts.” I may not have experienced the deadly, crushing weight of a knee on my neck, but I agree, everything does hurt.

It hurts to see brute force applied without conscience
It hurts to see black and brown bodies discarded
It hurts to see shattered glass and looted bounty
It hurts to see broken promises and stolen dreams

Everything hurts

What can artists and arts leaders do as we process the pain? 

Don’t be satisfied with what you don’t know, desire to know more. Ask questions. Listen. 

Share your feelings and thoughts. Being articulate doesn’t matter right now; be as clear as you can be now. We need your voice.

Let the arts be our fortress but not our hiding place
Let us gain strength and solace but not remain in solitude
Let the arts fortify us so we may dare to go outside our fortress walls 
Let the arts give us the courage to learn, speak, and unite. 

Be an ally to someone else who is hurting. You may not have experienced their particular brand of pain, but you have been hurt before. You can unite in empathy, compassion, and action.

With Love and Respect,
Gerald Veasley

New Music For A New Day: The Painted Bride Art Center announces jazz grants

The Painted Bride Art Center is awarding 14 grants to Philadelphia jazz composers to create new music during this time when artists and audiences have limited opportunities to occupy the same physical space. This initiative is supported by The Arthur Judson Foundation and will award grants to Arnetta Johnson, Brent White, Jack Saint Clair, Tom Lawton, Jason Fraticelli, Monnette Sudler, Marcell Bellinger, Bobby Zankel, Jake Kaplan, Craig McIver, Luke Carlos O’Reilly, Jamal Jones, Will Echevarria, and Sumi Tonooka.

Lenny Seidman, the Bride’s music curator for the last 30 plus years, selected the range of artistic voices based on previous collaborations such as the Philly Jazz Composer’s Forum, Fresh Cut, and Jazz on Vine. Laurel Raczka, executive director of Painted Bride Art Center, says “It is important to us to support local composers to have a positive impact on our community and city. It was also a priority to ensure women composers were represented in the group.”

“We were thinking about what is needed most right now,” Raczka continues. “Our focus is to support artists to create. Usually, we raise money to present the artists on stage, but since we are not allowed to come together, we decided to provide grants for artists to create music from their homes.”

Raczka says she hopes these grants will help artists pay their bills while they continue to create and survive during the pandemic. “We hope these grants inspire them to take their work on new directions. To take risks. To keep creating.”

From composing, layering, and producing to creating a large trombone choir piece or a suite of children’s jazz music, there is a broad range of projects being supported by the Bride’s initiative. Monnette Sudler is working on a composition and arrangement entitled “Birdsong for a Naked Lady” based on the artist Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture/installation etant donne at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Bobby Zankel is composing a four-movement suite for an octet entitled “The Mutual Possession on the Ten Worlds,” exploring a Buddhist concept that life at any moment manifests one of 10 basic conditions on the interrelationship with the environment. Luke Carlos O’Reilly is continuing to work on his new Black Lives Matter suite and Will Echevarria is working on a video series entitled “Estudios a manera de homenaje,” which consists of original compositions using different Puerto Rican rhythms.

“Artist voices are necessary because they inspire, heal, and bring joy,” Raczka explains. “For change to happen, we need new systems and new ideas; we need to think and act in new ways and make new connections. The creativity and passion that artists bring will help us not only to get through this time, but also to envision and build new systems.”

To find out more information on the grants and grantees, visit the The Painted Bride Art Center website, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Hometown Hero: Hailey Brinnel

By Bobbi Booker | Photo by Zamani Feelings

Trombonist, vocalist, and educator Hailey Brinnel has been steeped in music her whole life. She was born into an entertainment family and grew up traveling throughout New England with her father, singer David Brinell. At age 10, she picked up the trombone, becoming serious about it in high school.

Now 24, she has honed her chops in performing popular songs and jazz standards and has played and recorded alongside many of today’s top jazz artists, including Ken Peplowski, Jimmy Heath, Ann Hampton Callaway, Jon Faddis, Luis Bonilla, Wycliffe Gordon, René Marie, Maurice Hines, and with The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, led by Sherrie Maricle. 

“I really developed my creative style and voice from a younger age and then once I got older and started playing more jazz and improvisational music on trombone, I was starting to realize that singing and trombone were kind of informing one another,” Brinnel recalls. “I was getting ideas from my singing and was taking those ideas and trying to put them on the horn. Any instrument can be challenging, but some of my really diligent vocal practicing may have come out of frustration on the trombone. That really pushed me to want to sing more.”

She decided to continue her education in Philadelphia, finding a place in the Temple University Jazz Band led by acclaimed trumpet player Terell Stafford.

“Philly really does have a great combination of a tight-knit community, but also a wide array of killing players that give you that community feel.”

“I really felt like I found a home within the Temple University Jazz Program, but then the Philadelphia jazz community as a whole,” Hailey noted. “From talking to jazz musicians that set up roots elsewhere, Philly really does have a great combination of a tight-knit community, but also a wide array of killing players that give you that community feel.”

In early 2020, she released her first single, “Easy to Love,” from the debut album of her eponymous quartet. Brinnel continues to deepen her roots in the education community in Philadelphia and is currently is on faculty at The University of the Arts, and she remains inspired by the musicians that continue to ply their craft in the region. 

“The Philly jazz elder community is made up of really strong people that were either born and raised or have just been playing here for a long time and are really supportive of the younger generations, for the most part. Working at UArts—especially because pretty much all of the faculty live or work in Philly primarily—it’s really cool seeing the faculty being able to support students that are up and coming into the community.”

Hailey added, “I am not in a hurry to leave that.”

Hometown Hero: Eric Wortham

By Bobbi Booker | Photos Provided by Musician

Eric Wortham II was fascinated with music at an early age. As the son of a preacher, Wortham initially participated in the youth choir, with a desire to play drums before finding his voice with the piano.

“Naturally, most musicians start off being drawn to the drums because it’s the easiest way to express musical ideas, because every aspect of musicality has a percussive nature,” said Wortham.

By the time he entered the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) he’d discovered his passion for jazz and was especially informed by Chick Corea’s work. As Wortham’s innovative and soulful technique was honed, he started collaborating with other Philly-based musicians such as Vivian Green, Kindred The Family Soul, Music SoulChild, Bilil, Jeff Bradshaw, Laurin Talese, and the Grammy award-winning Jill Scott.

Wortham’s reputation as a gifted pianist introduced him to a global audience, where he earlier accompanied pop singer Adele on her global tour and is currently touring with singer and songwriter Seal. He has graced the stages of the Grammy Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, the Marian Anderson Awards, and has performed on The View, Good Morning America, Live! with Kelly and Michael, The Ellen Show, The Jimmy Kimmel Show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Saturday Night Live.

When he is not captivating audiences around the globe, the piano virtuoso gives back to the music community by encouraging up and coming artists to explore beyond perceived limitations.

“You got to follow your internal voice,” Eric advised. “Be an individual and follow your path as its laid out to you. Just be creative and create.”

“You got to follow your internal voice,” Eric advised. “Be an individual and follow your path as its laid out to you. Just be creative and create.”

He recalled his Philly roots and how the region’s venerable jazz venues once served as his training ground.

“When I got on the big stage, it felt like a small stage because I’ve done it so many times and it felt like playing in my living room. The beauty of having these places is to get the chance to really hone your skills — and we need a place to really hone in our skills. We’re performers, so we need performance spaces, and not rehearsal spaces.”

Wortham added, “Philadelphia is that space—and always has been.”

Jazz in the Time of Corona

By Steve Bryant

When news of a possible pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus arrived in the U.S. this spring, no one could predict the extent to which this outbreak would affect society overall. One casualty of the pandemic has been the performing arts. With the imposing of social restrictions, organizations that depended on audience revenues were immediately devastated. From large venues like the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts to the small community arts groups, everyone has been affected. Most organizations face series budget shortfalls that will result in major cuts or total dissolution. A new proposed city budget would completely eliminate arts funding.

The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & the Performing Arts has been in a similar dilemma as most of the cultural arts organizations in Philadelphia. It is known both for presenting concerts by internationally renowned jazz artists and its highly regarded music education program. As with other cultural organizations, the Clef Club has been forced to develop alternatives in lieu of presenting live concerts and teaching students. 

But the organization has been able to develop systems to maintain its educational programs, which includes a working partnership with the world-famous Berklee College of Music in developing a Music Production curriculum. The Clef Club now presents all of its classes in a virtual setting, which includes instrumental lessons, and classes in theory, composing, and improvisation. Artistic and Educational Director Lovett Hines is pleased with the way faculty and students have been able to switch from live to virtual interaction. “The students have shown the ability to handle this crisis situation,” stated Hines. “Since we made this change we have been able to keep student level, as well as increase the number of participants.” Hines is the recipient this spring of a leadership award from the Arts & Business Council. The awards ceremony will also be online.

The Clef Club is finding it more difficult to replace its concert series, which is a major piece of its programs. The pandemic shutdown caused the cancellation of two potential blockbuster sets featuring Pharoah Sanders, James Carter, and Steve Turre. Hines indicated that he and the production staff have been working on some possible alternatives to live performances. “We have been exploring ways we can present the music,” declared Hines. “We have been looking at live-streaming concerts, holding Master Classes with some of our more renowned alumni, and even broadcasting videos of previous concerts. Right now we are looking at all the possibilities.”

The historic Settlement Music School has made similar adjustments to the pandemic shutdown and pivoted to online learning on March 13. In addition to offering distance learning in a variety of ways to students, Settlement’s Marketing Director Megan Looby says the School is streaming three, free online classes each week, in addition to waiving registration fees for new students interested in a four-week online individual lesson package. “We realize that now is the time that our students likely need arts the most,” Looby said. “So we want to be able to provide an outlet that will help keep them engaged, connected, and hopeful.”

Jazz producer Leo Gadson is facing an entirely different set of problems for his programs. For 45 years Gadson has been bringing some of the great talents in modern jazz to the West Philadelphia Community as the architect of the  Lancaster Avenue Jazz festival, as well as a successful concert series at the Community Education Center (CEC). “Our main problem,” Gadson stated, “Is that our programming entirely consists of live performances. When the City ordered the shutdown of all performance venues, our first dilemma was the total cancellation of our concert series. So we have had to consider alternatives to our regular mode of operation.” Gadson’s options really depend on the degree to which the City will lift restrictions on performing venues. 

Uncertainty lies ahead for all arts organizations, and advocacy efforts have started all over the city to help save the Office of Arts Culture & Creative Economy and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, which has been a grantor to some of these organizations. You can make your voice heard by contacting your City Councilperson and if you’re in need of resources to help navigate the pandemic, please visit our crisis resource page.

Hometown Hero: Anthony Tidd

By A.D. Amorosi| Photo by Dimitri Louis

“The way I look at it, ‘jazz’ is a lineage,” said London-to-Philadelphia transplant bassist, composer, and teacher-mentor Anthony Tidd. He’s reflecting on the fact that he’s as known for collaborations with nu-jazz masters Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, and Roy Ayers as he is working within The Roots and playing alongside hip hop greats such as Common, Ursula Rucker, and Black Eyed Peas.

“What I do is ‘creative music.’ For many, jazz is a genre, as opposed to an approach. The masters of black creative music have inspired me.” That means, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, and Bob Marley to start.

Improvised music is where excellence and self-expression reign, where culture and community meet—of African, Cuban, Jamaican, Brazilian, and Trinidadian descent—the latter of his own roots. Where diverse rhythm meets the road is also a part of his heritage, as he grew up in England, studying classical music at university, exploring European ways-and-means, but also living and learning the streets of London’s Caribbean subcultures, and that rich diversity. Think Shostakovich meets Lee Scratch Perry, perhaps.

Starting on violin, Tidd wound up on bass as a matter of circumstance (the M-Base ensemble he formed in his UK youth, Quite Sane, needed four strings), and quickly mastered it, naturally, as if it was another appendage. Influenced by Level 42’s Mark King, Stanley Clark, and James Jamerson, Tidd’s signature sound is free, flexible, and funky. He has evolved the bass, as well as his own curly compositions, the more his “obsessions” grew from his youth. “I played with my dad’s 4-track recorder as a kid and learned all the instruments to utilize that. When I was about 12, I started wondering what was ‘major’ and what was ‘minor,’ what musical structure meant, why what fit and what didn’t.”

Tidd “re-engineered” his own music, found approaches of his own devising, and came up with his own conclusions. Stumbling onto Public Enemy, Stavinsky’s theory of forced relation, and Steve Coleman, Tidd made theory into reality. “All of the theories that I apply to playing, I can turn into a program,” he said.

“Philly was the ultimate melting pot with a bubbling music scene on fire when I got here. I stayed because I became part of the community, integrated.”

Meeting Philadelphia’s The Roots during their time in London in the late 90s—“then getting a plane ticket from Questlove to come and play in Philly”—didn’t just change Tidd’s address. “Philly was the ultimate melting pot with a bubbling music scene on fire when I got here,” he said. “I stayed because I became part of the community, integrated.”

The move to Philadelphia changed his musical outlook, his aesthetic and personal life, and his own quest toward education, mentorship, and entrepreneurialism. “When I was 17 in London, the first American I played with was blues guitarist Jimmy Dawkins, and the next was Greg Osby, then Steve Coleman—they came from a lineage, one of mentorship, but more exactly, orature.” These players listened and copied what they saw and heard—on the bandstand or the rehearsal floor—and learned to personalize, to improvise, through working hand-in-hand, experientially, with the masters-mentors. They actualized what they had learned, internalized it, and mixed in other genres—think “the Lego bricks” of hip hop, reggae and grime on a “cellular level”—and let it rip.

“In turn, the obligation to pass on what one has learned to the next generation is paramount to jazz culture,” Tidd said.

Along with paying it forward by connecting to Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts  where he curates “Sittin’ In Jam Sessions,” and serves as director of the Creative Music Program, Tidd has gone beyond education, and into entrepreneurship and the communal with ACT4Music. The cloud-based gig portal—created pre-COVID-19—is a “virtual venue” that Tidd that can tend, one where Philly-friends (like Tim Motzer and Eric Wortham) can experiment, and where Tidd can offer creative musicians an on-line festival setting for curated-from-home video-music performances. With that, ACT4Music is the next most important thing to Tidd, a cumulative amalgamation of his talents and ideals. 

“This is the future I’m trying to create, a platform that leans toward the creative side and allows artists to be supported by audiences.”