Ars Nova pays homage to jazz legends

Ars Nova Workshop, the Painted Bride Art Center, and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound presents a special double-header in celebration of Ornette Coleman’s 84th birthday. — Photo/ANW

In recent years, the experimental music loving portion of Philadelphia has had a huge assist from Ars Nova Workshop (ANW) live music initiatives.

Founded in 2000, ANW has programmed nearly 500 unique events in diverse settings, many located in the underserved area of West Philadelphia. Performances have included some of the most significant contributors to jazz and experimental music over the past 50 years such as Cecil Taylor, Pauline Oliveros, Tony Conrad, Merzbow, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bill Dixon, Fennesz and Anthony Braxton, in addition to exceptional Philadelphia-based ensembles and emerging artists from around the world.

Because of ANW’s unique programming and tireless efforts to cultivate a viable community for innovative music in Greater Philadelphia, the organization has been the subject of several articles in the local and national press, includingThe New York Times, Spin Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. In 2006, ANW received ASCAP’s Adventurous Programming Award as well as the organization’s fourth Philadelphia City Paper Choice Award. This spring , ANW has teamed up with the Painted Bride Art Center, Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, and the Philadelphia Jazz Project pay homage to these jazz legends during the “STILL THE NEW THING!” concert festival series.

Ars Nova means “New Art,” and ANW founder Mark Christman is on a continued mission to promote new music in interesting venues while honoring the standard bearers of jazz and experimental music makers.

“We will be honoring these jazz giants — Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman — all of who have had a direct impact on (“Still The New Thing” curator) Bobby Zankel and his life and work. And, not only Bobby, but millions of people as well. So, we are going to be celebrating all of their birthdays, which all happen right around the same time. Sun Ra would have turned 100 this year, obviously he has passed. Cecil and Ornette are still with us, so we are trying to celebrate them while they are still here with tons of local musicians and tons of non-local musicians and some really particular collaborations are going to happens. For an organization like Ars Nova, which has been around at this point for over 13 years, and in comparison to the Bride, which has a much longer history of course that even informs the works of Ars Nova, it’s nice for these two organizations at this point to come together and collaborate and for our curatorial agenda to sort of merge. This is certainly going to just kick that potential off.”

In keeping with Philadelphia’s rich musical history, ANW “acts as a facilitator between artists and their audiences, while working to inform, inspire, and challenge listeners in order to elevate the role of jazz, improvisation and experimental music in contemporary culture.”

“This festival is connecting artist, composers, jazz musicians to unique spaces throughout Philadelphia,” Christman said. “Spaces that don’t have a history of jazz necessarily or even music presenting. It is a way to really think about the city of Philadelphia and think about this work. We are living in the home of Sun Ra, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrain — and there is one active jazz club in the whole of Philadelphia. So, thinking about space and the history of the city and the history of the music and how jazz and improvised music have changed over time. There are a lot of interesting opportunities here.”

To celebrate the 84th birthday of Ornette Coleman, the artist who coined the term “Free Jazz,” two unique ensembles will be presented. The first, the Denardo Coleman Group, is led by the saxophonist’s son (who first recorded with his father as a 10-year-old boy) and will feature members of the elder Coleman’s unique current quartet. Additionally, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, best known for his work in Ornette’s Prime Time ensemble, will perform with a group hand-selected for this special night. Coleman’s 84th Birthday Celebration will be held tonight at 8 p.m. at the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St.

The series will culminate in a double-header celebrating not only the work and lives of Ornette and Cecil, but also Sun Ra, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. Two big bands with extraordinarily rich Philadelphia histories will be featured: the Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen, and “Still The New Thing” curator Bobby Zankel with his Warriors of the Wonderful Sound. “STILL THE NEW THING! — Celebrating Cecil, Ornette and Sun Ra” takes place on April 19, at 8 p.m. at the Painted Bride Art Center.

For more information about these and other events, and to purchase tickets, visit the Ars Nova Workshop’s website:


Contact Tribune Staff Writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or

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