You won’t find their shows advertised on TV or hyped on radio.
A home or Facebook page is about as “public” as Philly concert presenters Ann Mintz, Jamey Reilly, and Jim Hamilton like to be in soft-pedaling their musical wares – weekly to monthly concerts with jazz, classical, blues, folk, and world fusion, plus a tad of dance and spoken word. All staged in cozy “living room” settings that are “about art and community, not commodity,” Hamilton says.
And, yes, that communal focus seems doubly welcomed in this season of familial get-togethers and sometimes searing loneliness. Having a casual hangout to mix, mingle, and be musically merry can wipe away the nonmusical blues. Say, with a Duke Ellington-arranged treatment of The Nutcracker (by saxophonist Chris Oatts’ South Philly Big Band) landing Dec. 17 at Hamilton’s Rittenhouse Soundworks in Germantown.
Or an Appalachian winter song-and-dance show (featuring the gay-lyric-infused young talent Sam Gleaves), which Mintz will host in her West Mount Airy home Dec. 2. Or a Brazilian-scored celebration with Minas on New Year’s Eve at Reilly’s new Jamey’s House of Music, a Lansdowne venue he calls “our living room on steroids.”
How valuable are these venues? Says Mintz: “A woman told me recently that the first place she wanted to go out to after suffering through the traumas of breast cancer surgery was one of our house concerts. Really did my heart good, that she felt welcome and safe and a part of what we do here.” Having a couple of pettable dogs working the living room doesn’t hurt, either.
Yes, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino was bragging last week on national TV: His global concert business has never been bigger – putting on 6,000 shows a day!
But growth has also occurred for salon presenters. Andrea Clearfield’s famously eclectic musical soiree in Center City – now in its 31st year and holding forth this Sunday night — was long the town’s most prominent “leave-your-shoes-at-the-door” showcase. “Now these things are popping up everywhere,”said Kenny Ulansey, a jazz/world/folk musician who has played the Clearfield salon often and performed last Sunday in the barnlike RSW facility with the Other World Quartet.
“West Philly is notorious for its floating [mostly punk] music parties,” said OWQ guitarist (and Drexel prof) Chris Farrell. “Ernest Stuart now has a hip jazz thing going at Tasker House, a 70-seat room in South Philly” (1520 Tasker Ave.). “I know [two] people in the ‘burbs who’ve built wings on their houses just so they can put on these shows, which they treat like parties,” Farrell added. “And well-regarded musicians who’ve built most of their U.S. tour around house concerts.”
“The whole paradigm has shifted as mainstream acts and the labels, performing centers, booking agents, and road managers became horizontally integrated,” noted Reilly. “In the process, most of the smaller artists got locked out. That’s where we come in. We’re like a port in the storm. The artists tell each other to contact us. Kind of like how hobos in the 1930s would put a mark on a doorpost to clue others where they could get a free cup of coffee from a friendly soul.”
Both Reilly and Hamilton served in the music trenches – the former working tour production “until I fell 2½ stories from a scaffolding,” the latter on the road drumming with such artists as Boyz II Men. (Hamilton’s father, a professional tap dancer, ran a dance studio in Kensington that threw house parties.)
Mintz cut her teeth as a folk DJ at WXPN (in its Penn-student-run days) and then as booker for the nonprofit Cherry Tree Music Co-Op, where she got to befriend such artists as Claudia Schmidt and the French Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan. He played her house this spring “the night after he headlined the Iridium” – a New York hot spot.
“These artists can make more money with me, even with a $20 suggested donation, than they do playing for a commercial promoter who puts them in a larger room and charges a higher admission,” Mintz says. “They’ll make $600 to $800 for a show here, vs. $500 from a club. Plus sell a lot of CDs” from the merch stand at her dining-room table. Also, they can have free digs. Her friends Hoyle Osborne and Jane Voss recently did a show and stayed a week and a half.
Because they often operate in residential zones, alternate venues must play by different rules. Hamilton keeps a low profile at the Rittenhouse Soundworks with no signage outside, save for house numbers on the door, but an amazing setup inside – with multiple large rooms carefully tuned and fitted for audio and video production.
Many of his artists are in the midst of recording a project there, he said. (Talents such as jazz legend Joe Lovano, the Partch Ensemble, and the electronic jam band Lotus have recorded there.) His L&I-granted right to put on musicades – most offering four acts doing 20 minutes each for a modest $10 donation at the door – is allowed “so long as we have a video camera shooting the event.”
Reilly staged weekly shows for 10 years in the Overbrook Farms house he shares with wife Suyun and children, initially operating under the name Psalm Salon and then as the original Jamey’s House of Music “with full support from the neighbors,” he said. Intimate yet fleshed out with a pro sound rig and lighting, “it was a best-of-both-worlds room,” noted Philly-based jazz guitarist Chuck Anderson, who recorded an album there. (We caught up as Chuck blessed the new Jamey’s with two sets Friday.)
But then one night in December 2013, after “anonymous” complaints about code violations, “the police raided us in full-flak-jacket array, a really crazy scene to see, and shut us down,” Reilly recalled. And it’s taken all this time “to find a suitable replacement spot we like” – this time with “a code-approved kitchen” (turning out Asian/American food), “plus separate listening and dining rooms,” seating 60 and 32.
While it is “a labor of love,” Reilly is hoping to persuade the city fathers of historically “dry” Lansdowne to grant him a liquor license that would improve the bottom line. “In the meanwhile, we’re a BYOB – and may start giving away beer.”