Sunday night I had the opportunity to see Henry Threadgill’s Zooid at the Christ Church Neighborhood House Theater in Philadelphia as part of ArsNovaWorkshop’s AACM festival. As with all great performances I get to experience it opened a floodgate of feelings, observations and ideas in my mind.
First off, the performances was absolutely magnificent and inspiring. It is such a wonder to see music performed that you don’t quite understand and would be hard pressed to analyze. During the 90 minute concert my brain went between fits of nerdiness and stretches of pure joy. The music resembled the groups recordings on Pi Recordings called This Brings Us Two vols. 1 and 2 although taking on a longer format in concert. Improvised moments were thrilling, creative, fluid and precise. And despite the amount of mystery behind the music the group was undoubtedly tight and together with not a single miscue.
My second thought regarding the concert was the lack of new faces I see at such events. Sure, there are a handful of people I don’t recognize, assumed open-minded patrons of the arts with whom I am not acquainted, but I speak of a different set. It is rare at these concerts that I see a full house of musicians that I may associate with in other locales. Henry Threadgill is an important figure in jazz and modern music history. As a musician curious about composing, performing and supporting original music, seeing someone like Threadgill perform should be a necessity no matter what your taste may be.
Hearing music like Henry Threadgill’s performed live feels absolutely essential to me. I admittedly perform a more “straight ahead” version of orignal music but find such thought-provoking and beautifully unsettling inspiration in seeing music that is “freer” than most. I have many friends and peers that would refer to this music as “out,” dismissing the music for its overall lack in college jazz program qualities. This deficiency, so-to-speak, has always drawn me to freer music. I also think that, as jazz musicians (with supposed educations), we must expose our minds to all things under the guise and umbrella of jazz at least once. Someone who studies American history isn’t expected to neglect a decade or two of time just because of taste. Their knowledge needs to have a general grounding that then expands into a level of expertise and understanding.
My last thought coming from this evenings concert has to do with awareness. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the reasons I was pushed into the blogosphere was to share my knowledge of concerts and other musical events with a potentially greater audience than just my close friends. It seems, to some, that I know what’s going on around town more than others. I’m here to tell you that learning about such concerts as Henry Threadgill’s is not a hard thing to do. All you have to do is pay attention and be open minded. I decided to list the bone-headed, simple things I do to make sure I don’t miss music I may appreciate.
1. Sign up for email lists
I know, no one likes spam in their inbox, but emails are a great way to stay informed of great things around town. Even if you just read the subject line, something is bound to sink in and appear on your radar. If you go to a show that you enjoy, sign up for the promoter/presenter’s email list as well as the performer’s email list. This way you won’t be out of the loop.
2. Step outside of your box
I love the work that ArsNovaWorkshop does for the city of Philadelphia. Those in the community that ignore their concert schedule are ignoring something that is truly unique to our city. I’m fairly certain that amazing, experimental music concerts do not happen with the frequency they do in Philly anywhere else in this country outside of New York City. That is a wonderful thing even if you don’t like “out” music. And guess what, ArsNova is not alone. Bowerbird is another presenter of fantastic experimental music concerts. They are currently presenting a Morton Feldman festival throughout different venues of the city. Reading around the internet about this festival, it is clear that both Bowerbird and ArsNova are doing amazing things that can only happen in Philadelphia due to their grand efforts.
3. Go out to hear live music (and not just for networking opportunities)
Attending concerts can feel like a dying discipline sometimes. Too often, from my observation, the social aspect of going out to hear music takes precedent over the music itself. Go somewhere where listening is a top priority, preferably somewhere that doesn’t serve alcohol. I love my craft beer as much as the next guy but for me, it isn’t a necessary component of listening to music. Nor is fraternizing, being on the “scene” and talking to my friends part of my enjoyment either. There is lots of great music in this city but little of it happens at a venue that offers the respect and attention it deserves. Support a respectful atmosphere for art and you will not only yearn for it yourself but help it grow around you as well.
4. (or 3a) Don’t be afraid to go alone
One time in high school I went to a movie by myself on a Friday night, choosing to forego the status quo of needing at date and just going to watch for my own enjoyment. To most the idea could be quite frightful but the truth is, if you want to do something, especially if you want to support the arts, don’t feel like you need your friends with you to do it. You don’t need to run in a pack to support the arts or be plugged in to a scene.
Going to a concert alone offers one an experience that I’ve found essential to listening to music. Listening to exciting and inspiring music is made all the better by the opportunity to not feel obligated to talk about it afterwards. Your mind is also spared the pollution offered up by others opinions and observations. There will never be an instance when a “killing” solo perverts my thoughts and emotions listening to music.
Some of these thoughts have given me a seed of an idea that I’ll present now and hopefully riff on at a later date. Would Philadelphia benefit from a monthly jazz newspaper a la the New York Jazz Record? CD and concert reviews, concert and club listings, articles about local musicians, ads from local clubs, schools, labels and institutions. Just a thought for now but please, leave a comment if you have any ideas or opinions regarding such an idea.