Ahmir "?uestlove” Thompson has been performing professionally since age thirteen, but he explains how his Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) performance was a whole new experience for him.
"Tonight might mark the first time I'm nervous about a performance," he told the audience. He dazzled the crowd last night at the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall, as he played the drums with a collaborative ensemble of classical musicians and French singer Keren Ann.
To show solidarity with the beloved "?uesto," he asked the audience to howl like wolves. They obliged and ?uestlove settled in. "Welcome to Philly-Paris Lockdown,” he exclaimed.
"My only job I felt was to be the traffic cop," he said in a brief interview afterward. "And that's it. Like to bring everybody together. To keep the rhythm and then go home. But, next thing I know, I found myself doing a solo."
The concept, he said, was inspired by his first experience in Paris in 1994 while traveling with The Roots. He said that the duration of time spent in Paris that year turned The Roots into men.
The music was loud and soft -- classical, hip and urban fused into a unified sound that echoed throughout the hall.
Keren Ann, ?uestlove and a group of 18 collaborators, including David Murray on the saxophone, interpreted nine piano compositions by Stravinsky, Debussy, Satie and Ravel. They created new arrangements resulting into a jazz, classical, hip hop fusion, conducted by Andrew Cyr.
The musicians practiced via Skype, email and via other electronic communications for months beginning in 2009 preparing for tonight's performance, but this was first time they performed live together.
"Because we have such an eclectic group of people and we are all operating as a team," ?uestlove said in the interview. "Sort of like you know the transformers. I'm talking about voltron when they all form together and form one giant beast."
An 81 foot Eiffel Tower replica with more than 6,000 lights stood tall in the Kimmel Center lobby, the perfect backdrop for such a performance.
PIFA continues through May 1. The festival featured 135 events, 1500 artists in 25 days.