First-year students Jennie Matte and Davis Butner will write a special column this semester documenting their musical exploits in Philadelphia.
For the average freshman entering the University of Pennsylvania, transitioning to such an urban college environment may seem rather daunting. While initially adapting to college level academics, students living in a sprawling historic campus nestled just across the Schuylkill River from center city suddenly find Philadelphia at their fingertips. Eager to take advantage of the cultural hotspot now known as ‘home,’ freshmen Jennie Matte and Davis Butner are using music to scratch the surface of Philly’s unique melting pot of ethnic history and culture, venturing to weekly concerts and music events throughout the year. In addition to attending fascinating academic seminars in topics from gospel music to jazz, while taking full advantage of student subscriptions to the Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society, Jennie and Davis are committed to learning more about the abundant musical opportunities in the city of Philadelphia. By exploring many diverse performances throughout the semester, we hope to share with you our cultural findings and experiences, switching off between our different perspectives, as we discover the city of Philadelphia through music.
I have grown to know the subway system quite well over my first semester at Penn. It seems like almost every Friday or Saturday evening, while most students tend to migrate towards frat row on 40th and Spruce, I’m hopping on the 7:30 train at 37th street station only to pop up at 15th, smack dab in the middle of Center City. Normally it’s just a brisk 5 min. walk to reach the doors of the Kimmel Center on Broad Street, but this weekend Jennie and I had another address in mind. It’s amazing what a Google search brings up when you type in “Jazz concerts in Philly”… My destination tonight was 1421 Sansom according to Google Maps, the site of Chris’ Jazz Café. Nestled in a seemingly deserted alley, its sole marker a neon “JAZZ” sign, I began to have second thoughts as soon as we turned onto the nearby street corner. Of course, Jennie, the braver of us both, decided to stroll on in the small wooden door and our ears were instantly filled with a wave of conversation and clanging silverware. The setup was simple, a close line of booths and tables, each with flickering candles led up to a cozy
alcove in the back where the band set up. Packed around the sides of a baby grand, Saxophonist Tim Armacost and his quartet chatted away with their instruments, floating just above the murmur of surrounding dinner dialogue. Sinuous melodies introduced on the sax echoed in the wild responses of versatile pianist Jonny King, whose eloquent scales and innovative polyrhythms filled the room with a refined, yet unpredictable energy. Matched in the articulate tropes of bassist Kenny Davis and drummer, Billy Drummond, Jennie and I found ourselves immersed in a rich musical discourse reflective of the sounds of Philadelphia. This impromptu experience introduced us to the diverse language of this bustling city that will shape our lives for the next four years.
Performed compositions included “Catharsis” by Jonny King, “Slowly, Slowly” by Tim Armacost, “I Wanted to Say” by Victor Lewis, and “Invisible” by Ornette Coleman.
Tim Armacost Quartet
Tim Armacost (sax)
Jonny King (piano)
Billy Drummond (drums)
Kenny Davis (bass)