America's First Queer Jazz Festival (Reviewed)

On September 21, 2014 I made it to the last event of OutBeat: America’s First Queer Jazz Festival. The festival had already been up and running for a few days, but this was the final crescendo. It was a 10 hour day full of back-to-back jazz performances at Union Transfer. Full disclosure: The festival gave me a complimentary ticket at a value of $40.

The intention of this festival was fantastic. The organizers created a space where the queer community could celebrate queer jazz musicians. In my last article I wrote “jazz definitely needs some queer Philly.” This was undoubtedly true. I cannot count the number of sincere thanks from the musicians to the audience about being there to perform.

Musicians are always grateful to audiences. There was something incredibly authentic about these performers talking about being out and proud in an art wary to celebrate them. Andrew D’Angelo had a very real conversation on stage between him and an audience member about the gender of his nephew’s significant other who is transitioning. It was a surreal, awkward, and honest moment; very appropriate for a jazz festival.

The festival suffered some problems in its execution. I found myself sneaking a coffee into the dark hall of Union Transfer at the end of the first set, I didn’t have it in me to hit the bar that early. The room was set with 200 chairs and at that time there were approximately 30 people enjoying the music. I sympathized for Mike McGinnis and the Splang-a-lang Trio to take that opening. They played like it was a full club and the audience appreciated it. The crowd work was a little awkward with so few people, so I was nervous about how the rest of the day was going to unfold.

Davis Coss was incredible and I wholeheartedly recommend him. I am so glad I saw him live. He is a great crooner that reminded me of Philadelphia’s own James Darren. He had John Chin on piano, and he was fantastic. I want to see him on his own.

In the last article I recommended Ben Flint to all of you. I must admit that I didn’t care for his performance. I found it to be a little too jazz fusion for my tastes. I missed one folks, sorry about that.

Jennifer Leitham was great. The double bass changed the tone of the festival for a set and I appreciated it. She did some of the best crowd work of all of the musicians. I felt for her at the end of her set, because she was competing with music from a second stage.

There was a second stage set up for local jazz musicians. I did not expect this, and it happened late in the day, but I thought it was a wonderful idea. I listened to one group and they were fantastic and a nice break from the main stage. The problem was volume. Stage 2 was near an opening that did not close and the main stage could hear their music. It was annoying to everyone trying to focus on the main stage performance.

I think the organizers struggled with a few things. The first was attendance. It was low. There were a lot of empty seats, and that is not for lack of publicity. The organizers fought one of the prettiest Sunday’s of the year. Union Transfer seemed like a black hole the entire day. The weather was perfect and the sun was bright outside, but the venue was dark and over air-conditioned. That’s not a knock on Union Transfer, it’s great for a show (Imelda May concert on 9/20 is a formal recommendation), but not for a day time festival.

I know that this is not Montreal’s International Jazz Festival, but one of the great parts of that festival is that it embraces the outdoors. Could Outbeat do that next year? Would Penn’s landing have been a better venue? I don’t know, but I would have liked to have enjoyed the sun.

Overall this was a great festival that the William Way Center hosted for all of us, and shame on all of us who did not support it. I hope that the organizers were not disheartened by the low turnout and are already planning more for next year.

To the organizers: iron out the wrinkles, do what you did this year, and congratulate yourself on making history. To the audience: commit to bringing 2 friends next year. To everyone who thought about going, but didn’t show up: buy a ticket on the first day they go on sale.

Originally posted at: http://phillygaycalendar.com/pages/col.php?id=953

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America’s First Queer Jazz Festival (Reviewed)

On September 21, 2014 I made it to the last event of OutBeat: America’s First Queer Jazz Festival. The festival had already been up and running for a few days, but this was the final crescendo. It was a 10 hour day full of back-to-back jazz performances at Union Transfer. Full disclosure: The festival gave me a complimentary ticket at a value of $40.

The intention of this festival was fantastic. The organizers created a space where the queer community could celebrate queer jazz musicians. In my last article I wrote “jazz definitely needs some queer Philly.” This was undoubtedly true. I cannot count the number of sincere thanks from the musicians to the audience about being there to perform.

Musicians are always grateful to audiences. There was something incredibly authentic about these performers talking about being out and proud in an art wary to celebrate them. Andrew D’Angelo had a very real conversation on stage between him and an audience member about the gender of his nephew’s significant other who is transitioning. It was a surreal, awkward, and honest moment; very appropriate for a jazz festival.

The festival suffered some problems in its execution. I found myself sneaking a coffee into the dark hall of Union Transfer at the end of the first set, I didn’t have it in me to hit the bar that early. The room was set with 200 chairs and at that time there were approximately 30 people enjoying the music. I sympathized for Mike McGinnis and the Splang-a-lang Trio to take that opening. They played like it was a full club and the audience appreciated it. The crowd work was a little awkward with so few people, so I was nervous about how the rest of the day was going to unfold.

Davis Coss was incredible and I wholeheartedly recommend him. I am so glad I saw him live. He is a great crooner that reminded me of Philadelphia’s own James Darren. He had John Chin on piano, and he was fantastic. I want to see him on his own.

In the last article I recommended Ben Flint to all of you. I must admit that I didn’t care for his performance. I found it to be a little too jazz fusion for my tastes. I missed one folks, sorry about that.

Jennifer Leitham was great. The double bass changed the tone of the festival for a set and I appreciated it. She did some of the best crowd work of all of the musicians. I felt for her at the end of her set, because she was competing with music from a second stage.

There was a second stage set up for local jazz musicians. I did not expect this, and it happened late in the day, but I thought it was a wonderful idea. I listened to one group and they were fantastic and a nice break from the main stage. The problem was volume. Stage 2 was near an opening that did not close and the main stage could hear their music. It was annoying to everyone trying to focus on the main stage performance.

I think the organizers struggled with a few things. The first was attendance. It was low. There were a lot of empty seats, and that is not for lack of publicity. The organizers fought one of the prettiest Sunday’s of the year. Union Transfer seemed like a black hole the entire day. The weather was perfect and the sun was bright outside, but the venue was dark and over air-conditioned. That’s not a knock on Union Transfer, it’s great for a show (Imelda May concert on 9/20 is a formal recommendation), but not for a day time festival.

I know that this is not Montreal’s International Jazz Festival, but one of the great parts of that festival is that it embraces the outdoors. Could Outbeat do that next year? Would Penn’s landing have been a better venue? I don’t know, but I would have liked to have enjoyed the sun.

Overall this was a great festival that the William Way Center hosted for all of us, and shame on all of us who did not support it. I hope that the organizers were not disheartened by the low turnout and are already planning more for next year.

To the organizers: iron out the wrinkles, do what you did this year, and congratulate yourself on making history. To the audience: commit to bringing 2 friends next year. To everyone who thought about going, but didn’t show up: buy a ticket on the first day they go on sale.

Originally posted at: http://phillygaycalendar.com/pages/col.php?id=953

Review: Suspended

I started out the 2014 FringeArts Festival by seeing dicks, abs, and acrobatics with Suspended by Brian Sanders’ JUNK. Sound good, right? I love all three of these things, but melding the three into a single cogent performance may have been an impossible undertaking.

Let’s start with the good. The show starts with 3 very hot and very naked men. And folks, I am talking about real dicks and real abs (though there is a funny bit with fake dicks later in the show.) And for those interested in the feminine physique the women of this permanence will not disappoint. Basically, everyone on that stage is smoking hot.

The performers’ athleticism and memory for choreography was wildly impressive. I found the women to be excellent dancers, and I am sorry not to know their individual names, as some of their performances were great. The choice for using some alternative props was also interesting. An example is that the aerialist used a tube, rather than a rope or silk for his performance.

What didn’t work for me? Nothing actually gelled in this performance. The entire show seemed to be a cross between Gunnar Montana’s choreography and the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, and as amazing as that sounds, it didn’t work. I was never sure if I was in awe of the tube aerialist’s performance or intrigued by the fact that the hanging tube might actually have been his penis (or was he screwing it, I’m not sure.)

Another routine was some pseudo-glass bottom boat action. If you do not know what a GBB is then you need to urban dictionary that immediately. (The more you know.) Thank any god that wants to receive it, that I was not chosen as one of the audience members to lie underneath the table for the chocolate pudding (presumably?) wrestling match that was happening on top of the table.

I didn’t understand why there was a master of ceremony with a Gandolf staff and payots. If he was comedy relief, I didn’t laugh. The problem with the show for me was a feeling of distraction I had during the entire performance. Every time the audience was about to be awed by a feat of dance or acrobatics, we were distracted by something incongruently erotic.

Maybe I am old fashion, but if I want to see 3 guys simulate bottoming for 3 women, don’t add a bungee run element to it. It’s distracting. Too much energy went into this performance trying to be edgy. Is nudity still edgy at a fringe festival, I doubt it. Is simulated scat wrestling edgy? Maybe, but the execution, just had me hoping nothing would get on my pants while seated in the crowd.

While I watched the show, I kept thinking about Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and that scene with the Marina Abramovic character. I am sure the artists behind this performance will assume I just didn’t get it, but I cannot fathom how any explanation would enlighten me. So maybe I didn’t get it, but if you want my recommendation I would pass on this one.

The $35 ticket included 2 beers; the beers were served slightly cooler than the very hot room. Admittedly, I hadn’t known about the beers, so that was a pleasant surprise. However, the price is high for a show that lasts 45 minutes and the drinks aren’t cold.

Yes, Suspended had elements that alone, entertain me to no end. Yet, they never came together to form a truly great show. I respect attempting to fuse these different art forms together, but it just didn’t work.

Originally posted at: http://phillygaycalendar.com/pages/col.php?id=949

America's First Queer Jazz Festival

On September 18-21 Philadelphia is hosting OutBeat: America’s First Queer Jazz Festival.

When you think jazz, do you think queer? Probably not, I know I didn’t. Do we really need a queer jazz festival? When I saw the advertisement for OutBeat my first thought was “really?” Can we do anything with straight people anymore? I feel like there is a queer alternative to almost anything these days and it is exhausting. Our fair city already has the Philadelphia United Jazz Festival and the Center City Jazz Festival. Do we (in the most royal sense) really need our own jazz festival?

I sat with the question for a few days before I wrote this post. I was doing some research trying to locate the Venn diagram of jazz and queer and things were actually looking pretty grim. The music is full of machismo, homophobia, and the inevitable heterosexism. Jazz seems to be an art form that evaded the march toward acceptance of queer people. The answer turned out to be that queer Philly may not need its own jazz festival, but jazz definitely needs some queer Philly.

If that is our charge then let’s queer this thing up. Do you like jazz? Then you should go, I shouldn’t need to sell you on the fact. Philadelphia doesn’t just have an important jazz history, but it is critical to the very history of jazz. Do you not like jazz? Meh, I doubt it. You’ve probably just listened to a lot of crappy elevator jazz over the years. The absolute best way to listen to jazz is live and Outbeat gives everyone in this town ample opportunity to sample.

Some of my picks to see are Drew Paralic, Ben Flint, and the indelible Patricia Barber. She knocked the jazz community on its ass with her recording of Paul Anka’s love song “She’s a Lady” on her Modern Cool album in 1998. Needless to say, girl-to-girl songs had not been well represented to that point.

Have I heard all of the musicians that are going to be playing at Outbeat? Of course not, and that’s what makes a festival like this one spectacular. One of the really great things about jazz is discovery. I cannot wait to listen to some of these folks.

If you are new to jazz, then settle in and be patient. This festival should be a crash course for all of you newbies. Listening to jazz is not easy at first. I love this stuff and there are still plenty of pieces I hear and think “what in the hell is going on here?” So start listening now. A song played twice never quite seems the same. Every time you listen, you’ll find something new to dig into and enjoy.

You are probably thinking that listening to jazz sounds like a chore. Sure, club pop is easy to enjoy. It is candy, and candy is simple, sweet, and easy. Jazz is wine. There is good, there is bad, but if you ever want to appreciate it you need to drink a lot of it.

And let us not end this without discussing the old mistress that is Philadelphia. Jazz and this town go way back. One of the most famous jazz musicians of all time, Dizzy Gillespie, played a jazz altering set at the DownBeat in 1942. This town has hosted some of the most important moments in jazz history, so it should be lost on no one that the first queer jazz festival is happening here.

I ran across this quote by the brilliant jazz singer, Betty Carter. She is quoted as saying “If it wasn’t for hustlers, gangsters and gamblers, there’d be no jazz. Wasn’t middle-class who said ‘Let’s hear Bird tonight.'” There are few quotes that apply to the fight for queer rights so directly. I can almost hear Larry Kramer (or RuPaul) saying “If it wasn’t for drag queens, rioters and sex workers, there’d be no queer. Wasn’t middle-class who said ‘Out of the closets and into the streets.'”

And that’s what I really like about the idea of Outbeat. The ideas of jazz and queer are truly sisters in arms. Neither are conventional, sometimes both make the status quo uncomfortable, and each come from the streets. That is why we need to take great pride in this event.

Is $40 steep for a Sunday afternoon? A little, but you get a lot for the price. You get 8 fantastic musicians and you do your queer civic duty. Supporting our queer brothers and sisters is important, and if Outbeat helps crush homophobia in the jazz community than please take my $40.

Need more information about the OutBeat Festival? Check out these links:

outbeatjazzfestival.com

facebook.com/outbeatjazzfest

twitter.com/waygay

instagram.com/outbeatjazzfest/

Originally posted at: http://phillygaycalendar.com/pages/col.php?id=947

America’s First Queer Jazz Festival

On September 18-21 Philadelphia is hosting OutBeat: America’s First Queer Jazz Festival.

When you think jazz, do you think queer? Probably not, I know I didn’t. Do we really need a queer jazz festival? When I saw the advertisement for OutBeat my first thought was “really?” Can we do anything with straight people anymore? I feel like there is a queer alternative to almost anything these days and it is exhausting. Our fair city already has the Philadelphia United Jazz Festival and the Center City Jazz Festival. Do we (in the most royal sense) really need our own jazz festival?

I sat with the question for a few days before I wrote this post. I was doing some research trying to locate the Venn diagram of jazz and queer and things were actually looking pretty grim. The music is full of machismo, homophobia, and the inevitable heterosexism. Jazz seems to be an art form that evaded the march toward acceptance of queer people. The answer turned out to be that queer Philly may not need its own jazz festival, but jazz definitely needs some queer Philly.

If that is our charge then let’s queer this thing up. Do you like jazz? Then you should go, I shouldn’t need to sell you on the fact. Philadelphia doesn’t just have an important jazz history, but it is critical to the very history of jazz. Do you not like jazz? Meh, I doubt it. You’ve probably just listened to a lot of crappy elevator jazz over the years. The absolute best way to listen to jazz is live and Outbeat gives everyone in this town ample opportunity to sample.

Some of my picks to see are Drew Paralic, Ben Flint, and the indelible Patricia Barber. She knocked the jazz community on its ass with her recording of Paul Anka’s love song “She’s a Lady” on her Modern Cool album in 1998. Needless to say, girl-to-girl songs had not been well represented to that point.

Have I heard all of the musicians that are going to be playing at Outbeat? Of course not, and that’s what makes a festival like this one spectacular. One of the really great things about jazz is discovery. I cannot wait to listen to some of these folks.

If you are new to jazz, then settle in and be patient. This festival should be a crash course for all of you newbies. Listening to jazz is not easy at first. I love this stuff and there are still plenty of pieces I hear and think “what in the hell is going on here?” So start listening now. A song played twice never quite seems the same. Every time you listen, you’ll find something new to dig into and enjoy.

You are probably thinking that listening to jazz sounds like a chore. Sure, club pop is easy to enjoy. It is candy, and candy is simple, sweet, and easy. Jazz is wine. There is good, there is bad, but if you ever want to appreciate it you need to drink a lot of it.

And let us not end this without discussing the old mistress that is Philadelphia. Jazz and this town go way back. One of the most famous jazz musicians of all time, Dizzy Gillespie, played a jazz altering set at the DownBeat in 1942. This town has hosted some of the most important moments in jazz history, so it should be lost on no one that the first queer jazz festival is happening here.

I ran across this quote by the brilliant jazz singer, Betty Carter. She is quoted as saying “If it wasn’t for hustlers, gangsters and gamblers, there’d be no jazz. Wasn’t middle-class who said ‘Let’s hear Bird tonight.'” There are few quotes that apply to the fight for queer rights so directly. I can almost hear Larry Kramer (or RuPaul) saying “If it wasn’t for drag queens, rioters and sex workers, there’d be no queer. Wasn’t middle-class who said ‘Out of the closets and into the streets.'”

And that’s what I really like about the idea of Outbeat. The ideas of jazz and queer are truly sisters in arms. Neither are conventional, sometimes both make the status quo uncomfortable, and each come from the streets. That is why we need to take great pride in this event.

Is $40 steep for a Sunday afternoon? A little, but you get a lot for the price. You get 8 fantastic musicians and you do your queer civic duty. Supporting our queer brothers and sisters is important, and if Outbeat helps crush homophobia in the jazz community than please take my $40.

Need more information about the OutBeat Festival? Check out these links:

outbeatjazzfestival.com

facebook.com/outbeatjazzfest

twitter.com/waygay

instagram.com/outbeatjazzfest/

Originally posted at: http://phillygaycalendar.com/pages/col.php?id=947