Generalized, Jazz, Music, Philadelphia

This Brings Us To…

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.


10 thoughts on “This Brings Us To…

  1. Hey Mike – one thing I’ve wondered is where are all the college kids? Aren’t they supposed to be checking out cool music? I feel like there are hundreds of jazz students specifically that should be learning about the AACM (and probably aren’t) who don’t come to these things.

  2. Wayne Bognar says:


    Count me as among the “non-regulars” on the Philly scene as my wife and I traveled all the way from Pittsburgh to hear Henry Threadgill and Zooid. We had a chance to talk with Henry before the show which certainly boosted our enjoyment. We also met another nice couple who drove down from Princeton NJ to bask in the music. This is testament to the man himself.

    The concert itself was wonderful. My understanding is that the group is named after an amorphous organism that changes shape and direction. That seemed to be the perfect metaphor for a night of sublime music.

    It is a shame that Francis Davis could not have conducted his pre-concert talk with Henry. For more adventurous music, I think it always helps to hear the artist’s perspective and gain both an appreciation and better understanding about what is being conveyed. This was a great night of music. Philly should be proud to be host to such a cultural event.


  3. Thanks for your replies everyone!

    @ Nick – I’ve spent much of my 20s wondering the same thing. I’ve had a personal relationship with this type of music through my own curiosity and while in college, would try to instill such an appreciation in others. Most of the time it didn’t work out. I know from my own experience that learning about such groups as the AACM could only come from my own study and not from an institution. My own experience but still very sad and true.

    @ Wayne – it’s so refreshing to know that you made the trip all the way from Pittsburgh to see such a wonderful concert. Your effort really frames my idea that we have a wonderful opportunity here in Philadelphia to see forward thinking music but it is not always supported by the local concert goers. Cheers to you for making the effort! Hopefully you’ll make it here again and we’ll get to meet.

    @ Feldie – believe me, I have a lot of ideas about the scene here in Philly. Given the opportunity, I hope to make a lot of it heard. What are your thoughts on the jazz newspaper/magazine?

  4. Great Post Mike,
    I got to see Henry last time he was here and once in NY at the Texaco festival featuring a rare Big Band double bill with Butch Morris, both were unbelievable and inspiring!
    Unfortunately the going out to concerts seems to mirror going out to eat, when I worked at Carman’s Country Kitchen, a place which in no ways caters to anyones expectations of breakfast except Carman’s own and the menu is in a weekly state of flux, meaning you can’t eat what you loved last week. People would get insanely bent when they could have their cheese eggs (Carman would call these “white trash eggs”, poached eggs (she would suggest that these folks were drinking from the tit a little to long, or babied when they were sick) or anything not on the menu, which always was weird and wonderful.
    I always wondered why, considering we eat several hundred breakfasts a year, do we need that comforting sameness every meal?
    For me as an improviser, one who will miss you on Friday!, I love the experience you described, other worldly sound which I can’t explain yet are still familiar. Most people are not very comfortable stretching and experimenting with their tastes, yet it may be what we were best created for adaptation and change. I still love my first visit to Korean BBQ, when I looked down and said “how the F*** do I eat this!?” when was the last time I did that, when I was a baby?
    Same feeling when I saw Walt Dickerson & Andrew Cyrille at the Village Vanguard 20 years ago, Cyrille suddenly laid out on the drums, I thought he had just died, but then he started percolating all these muted rhythms. Became one of my favorite drummers then, and lead me to hundred of players like Archie Shepp & Leroy Jenkins, who he played with.
    We are not in control of inspirations and they are found through pushing are boundaries and senses!

  5. I wanted to process this a little more before responding for real. I’m particularly interested in your comments (and Nick’s) about the audience, an issue I’ve definitely thought a lot about. I’ve been amazed at the lack of awareness of ANW’s programming among, at least a certain set of, UArts & Temple jazz students. But what you’re talking about regarding the audience for ANW events goes the other way too. How many of ANW’s “regulars” do you see around town checking out what PHILADELPHIA musicians are doing? Avant Ascension, Bobby Zankel’s monthly shows, certain shows at Chris’ (which, of course, has its issues but contrary to what some think still does have some top-notch music), etc. One of the most glaring recent examples of Philly’s “audience problem” is Orrin Evans’s Captain Black Big Band. It boggles my mind how someone can call themselves a jazz fan (or musician) in Philadelphia and have never checked out this band (which has now been in existence for close to 2 years), but, trust me, there are many who haven’t. I’m optimistic, though. We need to continue to be good examples, spread the word about the shows we are interested in, and try to bring people with us and push them beyond their comfort zones.

    As for the newspaper/magazine idea, I’ve thought about doing something like that. I think, if done right (read: inclusively), it could be great. I’ve wondered whether it makes sense to do a print publication (as opposed to an online one), and I actually think there’s something to be said for print. I’d love to talk to you about it at some point.

  6. I enjoyed the concert very much and had many of the same impressions as you – i hope this does not appear self serving but there is really exciting fresh music being made made in philadelphia-this dance music project is 3 years in the making —
    June 12th, at Christ Church 20 N. American Street , Germaine Ingram, Bobby Zankel, and John Dowell will present the latest version of the collaboration commemorating the nine African Americans enslaved by President George Washington in the President’s House, the first American “white house” shows: 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Location:Tickets $20 are available-jazz bridge/

  7. Hi! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa?
    My website goes over a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other.

    If you happen to be interested feel free to shoot me an email.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by
    the way!

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