March 17-23, 2005
It's a Quintet
Mark Christman on Ars Nova's first five years of nomadic jazz.Q&A: Jazz
This month marks the fifth anniversary of Ars Nova Workshop, the West Philly-based Philadelphia nonprofit dedicated to presenting jazz and experimental music. Since 2000, ANW has produced over 150 events in a variety of settings, from the Penn campus to Tritone to St. Mary's Church. ANW's unofficial anniversary celebration presents Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians co-founder Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre tonight at The Rotunda, and a duet show with Henry Grimes and Marshall Allen at Slought Foundation on Friday. We asked director/founder Mark Christman to take a look back.
City Paper: What drew you to this music in the first place?
Mark Christman: As a teen, I consumed pop music hip-hop, rock, hardcore, et cetera at a pretty fast rate. The potential to discover something "new" continually motivated a pursuit. The trajectories of John Zorn, Tim Berne, Nels Cline clearly intersected with rock music, and listening to their ideas for the first time was an exciting moment. And to discover how innovative improvisation can be was absolutely remarkable.
CP: What led you to start ANW?
MC: Ars Nova began organically. In the late '90s, Philadelphia had a healthy scene, but no one was vested enough to maintain any level of consistency or curatorial identity. I had some experience and much interest in the music industry, albeit the fringe, [and] I was disenchanted by my job prospects. A close colleague encouraged and facilitated my first collaborative relationship with the Plays & Players Theater. Simultaneously I partnered with Craig Baylor, who became instrumental in the development of the organization.
CP: What do you look for in a venue?
MC: I'm interested in intimacy and a certain degree of formality. I like to offer the musicians a clean palette, a sense of ownership of the space, and the opportunity to interact with the audience without distraction.
CP: How do you go about building an audience?
MC: It has been a constant challenge, but highly motivational. I build with consistent and creative programming, through collaborative projects, rigorous grass-roots promoting, and word of mouth. But and I guess it goes without saying my current constituency represents only a fraction of the exposure I seek for this music. My feeling is that we have a comparatively robust live-music scene that, ironically, not enough folks support.
CP: Future plans?
MC: I think you will see more project-oriented programming and packaging as well as more conceptual and experimental projects. My interest is not only presenting Philadelphians with unique options, but to curate peculiar or exceptional projects in general.