The sounds of smooth jazz filled the Art Sanctuary last Friday night, Jan. 27, with a live performance featuring bassist and composer Jonathan Michel as part of the organization’s monthly, live music showcase.
The Art Sanctuary in South Philadelphia provides live showcases on the fourth Friday of each month.
Last Friday’s showcase consisted of Michel’s compositions inspired by his Haitian heritage. He was joined by two of his band members, pianist Adam Faulk and drummer Khary Shaheed from his band The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Saxophonist and friend of Michel, Stacy Dillard, joined the band as they blended the sounds of their instruments for the crowd in the gallery.
Guests and Art Sanctuary members filled the room and sat closely to the performers with wine and listening ears.
The room, often used to display art and host various events, was transformed into a jazz club-like setting. Of those present was Florcy Morisset, an art gallery owner, who jumped at the chance to experience the live show.
“As a Haitian-American I was very excited to hear a Haitian band play jazz music,” Morisset said. “Art Sanctuary is one of my favorite spots in the city, and I love their new gallery space — it’s rich and both visually and musically stimulating.”
The event was sponsored by One Book One Philadelphia 2012 of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
One Book One Philadelphia is a program that promotes reading and encourages Philadelphians to come together by reading and discussing books. This year’s book is “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” by Edwidge Danticat.
The performers played a variety of pieces that ranged from slow rhythms to upbeat tunes. Michel, a Connecticut native, was introduced to music at the age of four when he learned to play the guitar.
At nine years old, his church needed a bass player, and his musical journey took off from there.
One of Michel’s pieces that he called “earthquake” was dedicated to Haiti’s earthquake devastation in 2010. Before playing, he explained to the crowd that he did not discuss playing this particular piece with the group beforehand, but was confident they would catch on.
Just before playing, the crowd watched as Michel quickly went over the notes with Dillard before Dillard confidently took on “earthquake” on the saxophone. This piece resonates with Michel because of how deeply he was affected by the devastation.
“I remember it was a Tuesday — I didn’t really think it was real when I first heard what happened,” Michel said. “The song is not so much about the earthquake, it’s about the change the earthquake brings.”
The audience clapped as the performers closed the show and Tarana Burke, managing director, thanked the performers and the audience for their attendance and engagement.
Burke was pleased with the turnout and the ability of the Art Sanctuary crew to transform the venue into a setting appropriate for the performance.
“We are super excited about the show and that we can share this with the community, and they can get a taste as to what it will be like every month,” Burke said. “It was really nice and very intimate.”
Michel appreciated the space because he knew the audience was really responding to their music.
“I love the small setting with listeners,” he said. “I play at a lot of venues where there aren’t real listeners — cocktailers, but not real listeners.”