The Philadelphia Jazz Project, WRTI, WXPN and NPR’s Jazz Night in America teamed up to bring more than 20 area jazz musicians to the World Cafe Live in March to pay tribute to three of Philly’s most renowned jazz organists: Charles Earland, Shirley Scott and Jimmy Smith.
The show, “Home Cooking: Philadelphia Jazz Organ Tradition,” was sold out.
The event, however, was recorded and will begin airing online next Wednesday (April 15th) at 9pm ET at npr.org/jazznight. The radio version will beginning airing on WRTI April 16th.
First of all, as a lover of music, I must ask, what’s your favorite music out today? What new stuff is exciting you?
Because I’ve been working on the Sun Ra Mixtape, I’ve been listening to Sun Ra and Sun Ra related people for the last two months. I’ve been listening to Thundercat and Flying Lotus and Shabazz Palaces because we’ve been looking at developing a project, hopefully for next year, where we’ll be bringing in some artists to actually celebrate Sun Ra with us and we are interested in all three of those groups.
Where will you be holding this event?
We don’t know just yet. It’s a money thing. If we’re funded for that project then… we’re working with a couple other organizations to do this. So, if it falls into place, we’ll be celebrating Sun Ra with elders and young performers.
Are there any up and coming local jazz acts you have been excited about in Philly?
Oh my God. There’s so many. There are so many people here in Philadelphia, elders and young people.
For instance, we have been doing this series in collaboration with the producer’s guild at the Free Library through a librarian by the name of Adam Feldman and the series is called Mysterious Traveler. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to be able to check out artists who should be known and should be much more popular in the community, but they just haven’t had the kind of exposure that they really are due. Some of those musicians are Nimrod Speaks, Anwar Marshall, Dan Hanrahan, Wayne Smith, Jr., Michael Cemprola, Matthew Clayton, Vince Turnbull, Brian Howell, Jason Fraticelli; these are some amazing, amazing young musicians. These are free concerts at the library, we started in September, and the last one will be coming up on the 9th of April at the library. These young people exemplify and sense of the past merged with what is yet to be the future. So they’re not replaying old music, they’re revisiting old ideas and bringing a contemporary thought to it. So, when elder jazz fans come to see these folks their minds are blown because the music feels based in the tradition but very fresh too. Those are really some talented people and I’ve been very excited about working with them.
We also spent nine months last year working with a group of female vocalists called Diva Nation. They are really some talented folks and they are about to be doing some salons soon and they will be presenting their work. Some of the singers in that group are Ella Gahnt, Barbara Montgomery, Carol Harris, Liz Filantes, Gretchen Elise, and I’m missing someone else but there have been eleven people that have been a part of Diva Nation and it’s been a pleasure working with them and supporting the sense of community amongst female vocalists who work in jazz in Philadelphia. So, that’s just some of what we’ve been working on. We’ve been crazy.
How do you and the Philadelphia Jazz Project find these people?
It’s a tired saying but sometimes success really is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. For producer/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler, that right place turned out to be here, in Philadelphia.
After finishing school in 2000, Zeigler left Boston with the intention of working in music in some capacity. He had recorded albums for bands in Boston but he says that Philly offered a lower overhead, where you could spend more time focusing on what you really wanted to do, as opposed to just working to survive.
“This city, I’ve found, has – and it still exists – a lot more of a communal music vibe than there was where I’ve been before,” he says while sitting in Uniform Recording, his Eraserhood studio. “In Boston, everyone was more on their own and it was almost competitive. Here, I think people were just excited to have some new blood in the city.”
However, this isn’t to say that any of what would follow is chance or luck.
“It definitely took a while,” he says about getting started in Philly.
Without the outright specific goal of working as a producer in mind, Zeigler ended up forming Relay, a band that later would come to be known as Arc In Round. Not only was this the first project that Zeigler would tackle here in the city, it was also his first ever band.
“I didn’t even really start working on music until college,” he says. “I played guitar when I was younger but never really went anywhere with it.”
While in school, Zeigler took a recording class that afforded him the opportunity to borrow gear, if he needed it. Having picked up the guitar for a second time, he used the opportunity to start writing and recording.
“After awhile,” he says, “I was just like, ‘I should probably start a band, I guess. That seems like a logical move.’”
The idea of logical moves comes up often when talking with Zeigler. It’s a thought process that has roots in nearly everything that he’s touched in the last decade. The first bands that he started working with were friends or their friends.
“It grew at a reasonable, organic pace,” he says. “Being in a band and dealing with other like-minded bands who were all kind of into the same stuff, it just sort of made sense.”
As his recording commitments increased, Zeigler continued to make music with Relay. He also took on tour managing and soundboard duties with bands such as Frightened Rabbit and Twilight Sad. Somewhere in between working on his own music and overseeing tours, Zeigler worked on albums for both The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile.
“I would work on records for half the year and then tour manage and do touring sound the other half,” he says. “So, it was like constantly working on the road and then coming back and having to start recording records right away.”
Eventually, Zeigler decided to take a break from the road.
“It just made sense to me to try and do the studio stuff full-time,” he says.
In the time that has passed, he’s recorded, produced, mixed or engineered a slew of albums by local acts such as Purling Hiss, Lantern, Nothing, Amanda X, Steve Gunn and, of course, The War on Drugs. While that range of artists may seem varied to most sets of ears, in each instance Zeigler always finds a thread. While he describes it as mostly just keeping things “true to what makes sense for a given band,” those who have worked with Zeigler find that there’s more.
“Jeff has great ears and an uncanny ability to utilize and create space in his mixes,” says Christopher Smith, from the record label Paradise of Bachelors, who worked with Zeigler on Steve Gunn‘s 2014 release Way Out Weather. “He gets the material right away and absorbs and processes it as his own art. That care and ability is rare.”
Smith wasn’t the only person who was quick to offer praise.
“What it comes to down is Jeff really knows his shit and he has a great personality,” says Josh Agran of post-punk outfit Cassavetes, whose 2014 record Oh So Long was mixed and recorded by Zeigler. “The whole process ended up feeling like we were just hanging out and making a record.”
These days, Zeigler is back to the juggling act, balancing his time on the road with the time in the studio. In September, he and harpist Mary Lattimore released an album together, Slant of Light, and then headed out on tour in support of the record.
While both have been highly visible members of the city’s scene for years, the pair didn’t really know each other until they both found themselves on the same touring bill. Zeigler was doing sound and tour managing for Kurt Vile and Lattimore was playing in Thurston Moore’s band.
Shortly thereafter, Lattimore came to Uniform Recording to work on her 2012 solo album, The Withdrawing Room.
“She’s pretty open to collaborations and had wanted me to help with processing and tweaking out what she was playing as she was playing,” Zeigler says. “I had stuff set up for that and I also had a synth set up. She asked if I wanted to play on a piece and I was like, ‘Alright. Let’s try it.’ We improvised for a half hour or so.”
That initial exploratory jam would end up becoming the first half of The Withdrawing Room.
“I completely trust Jeff’s musical aesthetic and ears and didn’t want my harp record to be too same-y,” Lattimore says. “I trusted that Jeff would add something interesting texturally to enhance the piece.”
Following those sessions, the duo began playing shows together.
“After the solo record, I wanted to keep playing music with Jeff, so we started playing improvised shows,” Lattimore continues. “It was natural to make a record after that, so we recorded some ideas in early 2014.”
With everything going on – a full recording schedule and a new album out, Zeigler sounds like a guy in need of a vacation. He recently traveled to Amsterdam but that was for a few weeks of recording. He’s now planning a more proper European vacation.
At some point, a solo album will see the light of day, Zeigler says. He describes it as coming from the world of “early New Order” and influenced by Krautrock. The album will include contributions from former Arc in Round bandmates Mikele Edwards and Matt Ricchini, as well as drumming from Chris Ward of Pattern is Movement. Zeigler anticipates having a band together by spring for live shows.
Looking even further down the road, Zeigler also has plans to pursue a hip-hop-based beat project.
“Part of me feels like I’ll just end up doing that for the rest of my life,” he says with a laugh. “It’s so fucking fun.”
For someone, who has spent so many years behind the scenes of much of the city’s most celebrated music, it just might be time for Jeff Zeigler to step out and spend a little time in the spotlight himself.
The crowd at the Electric Factory on Saturday April 4th talked about the DJ Shpongle, Simon Posford, like an illusive, revered presence before he even walked on stage.
“I told everyone I was going to church this weekend because I’m seeing Simon,” a woman in the crowd said, her face painted like the ‘Shpongle Mask,’ a mascot with wavy, tentacle-like extremities and three sets of eye balls.
“I drove seven hours to see Simon,” the man next to her said in response.
“SHPONGLE, SHPONGLE, SHPONGLE” the packed Electric Factory chanted and then burst into a roar when Posford finally stepped out on stage. He’s tall with a goatee and he wore a feathered hat and a smile on his face as he greeted the crowd.
“This is the last night of the tour,” he said from behind a giant DJ booth, otherwise knows as the Shpongletron 3.1, which in fact was so much more than a simple DJ booth that even referring to it as that just feels wrong. “Thank you all so much for coming out to watch our weary asses. Let’s get Shpongled!”
He played for more than two hours to a more than willing crowd, mixing new and old tracks live on stage. Putting Shpongle in a musical category is difficult – it’s very psychedelic, not quite trance, definitely electronic. It’s loaded with samples (most of which he records himself with various musicians) and crosses over a huge range of world music genres, from Latin American to Indian.
The Shpongletron 3.1, the massive white structure that housed Posford and his equipment, came to life through out the set as complex visuals that synched with the music were projected onto it.
“I can’t think of a better place to end the tour than Philadelphia,” Posford said before ending the set with crowd favorite “Around the World in a Tea Daze.” “You’ve been so good to us. We really love you guys. You are me and I am you. Philadelphia, you touch the bottom of my heart.”
With the logic of capital devouring the subculture bike market (to the point that fixed-gear bikes have become a punch line to the trust funders who buy their personality at “that store” in Rittenhouse), there is a new way of thinking about bike culture that is both meaningful and exciting, and that recycles and refurbishes bikes, not ideas.
At center stage of this new way of thinking sits the Philadelphia Bike Rescue and its owner Dave Kazarov. The shop is gaining momentum as it emerges as an authentic voice in Philadelphia cycling and, as of recently, a strong supporter of the underground music scene.
This small shop located in East Kensington’s Viking Mill building is the perfect place for a bike rescuer/music promoter to operate. The space that the shop occupies is as much a reflection of the ideology of the shop as of its business model.
To visit the space, you to have to take either an old freight elevator or an old set of wooden stairs to the third floor, all the while passing exposed brick, drywall and random artistic residue throughout the halls. Surrounding you on all sides are non-descript doors that house intellectuals and artists in residence. There is even a recording studio down the hall, hammering out new artists and ambient noises. In truth, the environment is quite electric. When you find your way into the shop, you confront a hand-picked collection of old bikes that hang from the ceilings, a beautiful sight for any bike enthusiast to behold.
Last summer, the shop made a splash in the music scene when it started its collaboration with local bands by hosting shows in an undisclosed warehouse down the road. The frequent shows were the result of a partnership with the recording label Magic Death Sounds. These events included bands such as Banned Books, Exar Kun, Tygerstrype and Son Step, among others.
“Dave just has a community-oriented mindset,” says Tony Montagnaro, co-founder of Magic Death Sounds. “I know for Dave, this is about fostering the incubation of community.”
This has been a fruitful partnership for the shop and Kazarov plans to continue to cross promote with more local bands, artists and of course local brewers, year round.
Unlike what some have critiqued as “exclusive” house shows, what is important to Kazarov is how the music engages the community as a whole and brings a diverse group of people together. When chatting about why music and community has been so important to his vision, Kazarov spoke directly to the scene in Kensington.
“It’s different in Kensington compared to the other neighborhoods in the city,” Kazarov says. “It has been a mind-opening experience. I still have a place in my heart for say South Philly but what’s happening down there is what I would call dry gentrification, or a kind of soulless gentrification. It just seems hermetically sealed in that area. We are a little off the beaten path – maybe even a little more dangerous. It may be that it’s that feeling that attracts young people and artists who are more accepting of the existing community.”
What has emerged from his vision is apparent. Kazarov is redefining boundaries of what owning a bike shop means, while creating a soundtrack that speaks directly to the positive aspects of the scene building in Kensington as a whole.
One leaves the shop with an understanding that the bikes are not just used objects and events here are not just shows.
For Kazarov, they are two sides of an ideological move toward community building that stand against the stale hegemonic mainstream consumer culture.
Despite the overcast weather and their killer hangovers, the members of local emo band Marietta remain cheery and upbeat while sitting beneath the mounted deer head hanging in the living room of frontman Evan Lescallette. The guys have been friends for a long time now. In fact, bassist Ben Johnson and drummer Andrew Weigel were bandmates before the formation of Marietta in their high school pop-punk band, The Putdown.
“We were pretty bad ass. Check us out on Bandcamp,” laughs Weigel in a jokingly cocky tone, followed by chorus of “Oh mans” from the rest of the group.
Marietta started as a three piece until Johnson came out to see Weigel’s new band with Lescallette and guitarist Ethan Willard, fell in love and “snuck his way in.” Now, they call Johnson “band dad” and swear he’s the one who keeps them on track. Like many Philly bands, they got their start in sweaty, packed basements that reek of old beer. Now, they’re playing larger venues with green rooms and free alcohol, alongside big-name bands like Braid and A Great Big Pile of Leaves.
“We had to actually think of what to say on stage,” jokes Johnson, referring to the most intimidating aspect of tour.
They all agree that it is definitely a different environment than playing house shows.
“There’s just a different mentality about the band,” says Lescallette. “If you’re watching a band on a stage you’re like, ‘This is the band.’ If you’re in a basement, you’re on the same level and you’re like, ‘Here’s that guys who’s going to be upstairs drinking a beer later.’”
Through these experiences, the band has made various connections within the Philly music scene. They recorded their first full-length album, Summer Death, partially in Michael Jordan House and partially in a place they call “Ron’s House.” Michael Crino of Soft Speak Records liked their album so much that he personally contacted them and asked if he could press it on vinyl. In October, they pressed Summer Death for a third time. Marietta is finishing up recording their new album at Sleepless Sounds Studio in Germantown. The album will be released early next year.
“Marietta wouldn’t be where we are today had we not started in Philly,” says Lescallette.
Marietta records its music by tracking the individual instruments first and leaving the vocals for later, as opposed to recording live. They write the lyrics at the very end of the process and record vocal as the last step. Johnson and Weigel don’t know what their songs actually sound like until they’re mastered. When they listen to a new album, it’s almost like hearing new music to them too. It is a process where the bandmates joke that they are “Marietta’s biggest fans.”
Lescallette says he feels confident that the new record will reveal a more realized Marietta.
“I think we’ve really settled into our writing styles,” adds Willard.
The guys describe their new sound as more “party rock” and less progressive and “twinkly” than Summer Death. “I just hope we get big enough so that I don’t have to have a real job,” Lescallette jokes.
Marietta has come a long way in the last four years. They swear, despite Summer Death’s popularity, that they had no idea what they were doing in the beginning. Now, they’re planning a national tour, releasing a new album and settling into their individual styles.
“I just like playing music with these guys so if I could base my life around this band that’d be so awesome,” says Johnson. If it doesn’t work out however, the guys have a back up plan.
“We have a bunch of stand-up on Netflix,” Willard says with a shrug.
Leading a never-faltering hardcore punk sound into the future are South Philly punk band FTS, which the band jokingly says can mean anything from “Financially Tight Situation” to “Five Terrible Scumbags.”
This powerful group of self-proclaimed social wastoids have been gaining praise from under the radar for three years now. FTS commands a loyal legion of super fans who regularly turn the mosh pit into a warzone within the first note of their set. Senior members Will “Scabiez” Moran (guitarist) and Zaya “Distraught” DeNut (vocalist) describe what it’s like being a part of the ever-changing Philadelphia punk scene.
What kind of themes do you touch upon in your lyrics?
Distraught: There’s a theme?
Scabiez: There’s a fuckin’ theme. The theme is misery. Lots of misery, but surviving through that misery and ways to have a different mindset. You just worked a shitty job, you walked home through shitty fuckin’ weather, you’ve got holes in your shoes and you’re fuckin’ freezing. I dunno. Fuckin’ life sucks.
Do you feel like you represent Philadelphia?
Scabiez: Absolutely. Philly has always had a lot of great punk rock bands in it and it’s never ever gotten acknowledged. So I feel like now is the time to really actually say, “We’re from Philly. Philly has a great fucking music scene.” That’s what we’re really trying to get out there.
Distraught: Philly has always had one of the hardest working scenes. It just sucks – there’s so many amazing bands that never made it past those first couple of tours from Philly and they just die off. Every year, you can go through a list of amazing bands who were around and alive and then just done.
Do you believe that there is a rift in Philly punk between the different scenes?
Distraught: There’s always been something between everyone in Philly because everyone likes different things and everyone always has a different thought. That’s also one of the cool things about Philly. You have so many different people with overlapping ideas. That’s one of the cool things, there’s always different ideas hitting each other. Without any kind of conflict, none of us could ever find a real way to grow.
Scabiez: Yeah, of course. But even with people that come here who aren’t from here, when they see the amount of things they can go to, they kind of realize, like, “Holy shit. I’ve just really dived into a city where, A). it’s already cheap to fuckin’ live here, and B). there’s so many great things happening in my fucking back yard.”
Do you see a younger group of kids coming in trying to change things?
Distraught: It’s cool, I’ve been around for a little over a decade now in the street punk/hardcore/DIY punk scene, and there’s always the different trends that come through. Like right now, you see a little more of the Oi and street punk coming through at the same time with D-beat style hitting really hard.
Scabiez: I’ve only been in the Philly scene for like what, four years? Five years? I got started up with Kryovax and shit and that’s how I got introduced into the whole entire Philly punk scene. I completely missed the Halfway House days. But there was still a huge street punk scene. Then I don’t know. From what I saw, things started getting not like, darker, just, like, more heavy. A lot of the bands started getting just more of a heavier sound. It was almost like they just had more anger and wanted to have more aggression in their music. Things got a lot more rougher, at least in South Philly. Things got a lot more intense.
Down a ramp into Bill McKinney’s cold garage in Kensington is what looks like a giant wall of black boxes, roughly eight feet tall, stacked on top of each other and open in the front. Upon closer inspection, they’re massive speakers.
This is The West Kensingtons’ sound system, something they’ve been driving all over the country to collect. The act of building a sound system grew out of reggae music from the Jamaican DIY scene. It gives anyone a way to share new music with the community.
“There isn’t a solid club scene for reggae in Philly” says McKinney, guitarist for The West Kensingtons. “Why should that stop us from doing what we do? We’ll just throw our own party! That’s how things get done, not being dependent on something being made for you.”
McKinney, back from the garage, sits on a couch in his living room and checks his phone for messages from the rest of the crew. He’s wearing a red T-shirt from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. While waiting for other members to surface, he starts explaining The West Kensingtons.
“We consider our music to be in the reggae-soul world,” McKinney says. “We work with that moment in time when soul music was influencing reggae musicians. Reggae and soul were melding.”
The West Kensingtons came together when three longtime friends, each accomplished musicians, found themselves living within a few blocks of each other in Philadelphia. The group then formed what they call the Reggae Club, a concept that stems from their love of music, desire to support the local reggae scene and showcase the talent within it.
“We all come from different paths and different styles,” says Hur. “I played a lot of ska and punk in the ’90s.”
The members all bring pieces of their musical pasts with them to the group, some having spent time playing stoner and hardcore rock and others even producing hip-hop beats. In the present, they are united by their love of reggae and soul music.
“When we were getting started, we thought, ‘What if we lock ourselves in as a rhythm section and provide the foundation for other things to happen on top?’” McKinney recalls.
Originally consisting of McKinney, bassist Quincy Bright and drummer Michael McDermott, they quickly added Hur. Drummer Julio Apollo XII stepped in when McDermott left the group. In addition to the steady line-up, they also invite musicians into the Reggae Club and feature them on different tracks interchangeably. Members of the Reggae Club range from horn players to vocalists.
“It’s frustrating if you always have to write in one direction to work the strengths of the band,” McKinney explains. “But with a big pool to draw from, it allows us to showcase musicians’ strongest points. We can expand or contract as needed based on the music that’s being made.”
There’s a unique quality about their band in that they’re always considering what they can give back to the community.
“You have to build systems that allow people to work together while maintaining their own identity,” McKinney says. “This is the musical version of that. We want to use this as a vehicle to create other things. We might be the shittiest band in Philly in two years and that would be awesome because that’d mean that people created other things out of it.”