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Meet the Music Video Makers: On Canvas.

March 6, 2012

Text by Cary Carr. Image by Ashley Hall.

By intertwining musical performances with interviews and intimate biographical information, WHYY’s Emmy Award-winning program On Canvas breaks ground, creating thoughtful content that entertains as well as it informs.

“We like to think of it as a behind the scenes look, with interviews with the artist that you would maybe never hear anywhere else,” says associate producer Lisa Gray. “You might find out something interesting about them that they never told anyone else.”

Now in its fifth season, producer Steve Kwasnik and Gray, along with staffers Trudi Brown and Pete Scaffidi, are thinking of new, innovative ways to showcase artists performing at venues around the region.

Take for example their recent episode with jazz pianist and North Philadelphia native Jimmy Amadie. The well-known musician played for the first time in 46 years at a concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The episode, which took about one month to produce, shared Amadie’s intimate back story on his battle with tendonitis, told between footage of the emotional performance.

Although On Canvas features nationally recognized artists, the producers take pride in their Philadelphia musicians.

“Someone who is local and has gone out and made a big name for themselves, we of course have a special affinity towards,” Kwasnik explains. “We’re always like, ‘Well, if they’re from Philly, we have to be able to shoot them.’”

For the kickoff of On Canvas’ fifth season, they documented In the Pocket, a music project featuring a collection of Philadelphian music legends. The episode featured The Hooters’ David Uosikkinen, who leads the project in which they record the “essential songs of Philadelphia.” Former Hooters Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian were joined by Tommy Conwell, Jeffrey Gaines, Cliff Hillis, Graham Alexander and Richard Bush, among others. Proceeds from In the Pocket sales benefit Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School.

Other episodes have documented a wide variety of artists, from Buckwheat Zydeco to Ra Ra Riot, Dr. Dog to George Winston.

“I think once people see the show,” Gray says, “they’ll learn so much about the artist and what the person’s all about that once their name comes up again in conversation, they’ll have a lot to say.”

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