This past week, the Philadelphia artistic community was treated to the inauguration of a new series in the city’s Old City Gallery Row section. J. Michael Harrison, radio DJ, musical activist, and arts supporter joined forces with gallery owner and curator Florcy Morisset to bring visual and musical cultures together. It was a great evening—a veritable ear and eye feast.
It’s no wonder that these two dynamos could create such a stir.
Mr. Harrison’s long-running program “The Bridge” on WRTI can be heard on Friday’s 10. pm to 2. am. Philadelphia jazz lovers can experience improvised music from an “Afrological” viewpoint from across the globe. The show is a local treasure, bridging bebop and hip-hop, terms that address the perceived divide between pop-oriented (get up and shake it) and art-oriented (sit down and listen) jazz worlds. I’ve always enjoyed and certainly agree with Harrison’s embracing perspective, an idea about post WWII black music that I detail in my book Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop (2003).
Ms. Morisset’s gallery, the Vivant Art Collection at 60 North 2nd Street is recently celebrating trios ans de vie (three years of living). This space and the philosophy behind it can also be seen as a bridge in the visual world. While many of us are acquainted with theories that claim sonic connections among cultures of the African Diaspora, Vivant practices the same claim about visuality. In Morisset’s view, visual cultures of the Black Atlantic (Africa, the Caribbean, U.S.) are joined by conceptual and formal qualities. Vivant is a wonderful, open space lined with the brilliant colors and figurations of Disaporal, Mexican, and Middle Eastern artists. (I didn’t notice any abstraction, but that question is a reason to return!).
The band was led by Philly legend Leonard “Doc” Gibbs, a percussionist with a long list of credits bridging genres, including Grover Washington, Anita Baker, and WyClef Jean. Keyboardist Jason Shattil and Jason Long (bass) rounded out the intimate trio. They played standards showcasing a delicate and precious approach that drew listeners into their highly communicative versions. Mr. Shattil has chops for days and a robust
harmonic sensibility that made standards like “Speak Low” and “Gentle Rain” less a routine and more of an adventure. I’d love to hear him in a concert setting behind a proper grand piano, though no slight meant here to the wonders of electronic instruments. This is about bridges, after all.
What I really dug about the event is how it brought together worlds that during the “high years” of the Black Arts Movement (circa 1967-1975) would have been a natural fit and not a special series. During that time, musicians, artists, and poets joined forces for the cause of social equality and aesthetic freedom. The synergy at Art-Live! was palpable as I’m sure it was back in the day. Buzzing around the standing room only crowd were artists, other gallery owners, curators, art business types, and local activists, such as: songbird Carol Riddick, Randy Thomas (marketing representative from Universal Music), Raymond King (sculptor and musician), and publicist Monica Montgomery (Urban Momentum Network), to “name-drop” only a few.
Curators Harrison and Morissett have a good thing going here with Art-Live! Because of his WRTI show, which regularly features musician interviews and promotes their latest—usually independently produced projects—musicians should line up to get in the series. As the recession has hammered most jazz venues and original art sales around the country, it will be up to ideas like this one to keep the music flowing and the oil spilling on canvas. And I’d be remiss not to mention that for some strange reason that I have not been able to figure out, experimental musical environments tend to be dude-heavy and hopelessly stag. Maybe it was the visual art culture, maybe not, but the ladies were out in full force supporting this venture. If you can appreciate a more inclusive art world, you should come out to the next show in this exciting new series.
Next up: Jamaaladeen Tacuma, December 8.