Dear Painted Bride Art Center,
I know, I know … It’s been a little while, but I still love you. You were my first Philadelphia crush. Little did I know how much love you would return back to me.
We met when I was 17 and you were 31. The age difference made you more attractive, like I was finally maturing because I was into something that others 17-year-olds weren’t. I wasn’t really looking for anything exclusive, but you kind of became my go-to.
That first date, you stood me up — or at least I thought you did, but it was really my fault. I was so excited to see Elvin Jones. Yes “the” Elvin Jones, as in John Coltrane’s drummer. So excited I showed up for the concert a day early. But you impressed me so much with your sparkly skin and that one-of-a-kind light inside that finding you the next day was easy and natural.
The second date, I volunteered to stuff programs, remember? Since then I’ve had many an interesting conversation around your conference room table — sipping leftover wine and meeting new people. Thanks for all the people you’ve introduced me to: Isaiah, Warren, Gerry, Laurel, Gabby, Anthony, Lenny, Lisa, Lisa, Karen, Hamida, Maori, Darren, Gabe, Phil, LaNeshe, Dan, Dan, Andrea, Madison, Jenny, Siobahn, Cheryl, Sean, Judy, etc. The volunteers: Stan, Pat, Ira, Pearl — probably a couple hundred other people I can’t remember the names of right now.
Third date was cool. I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. There was a cabaret, slam poetry, a little breakdancing, and then — Brian Sanders walked out in a diaper, strapped a gigantic elastic hammock to the ceiling, started bouncing around, and performed the most glorious, acrobatic, magical dance that could ever be performed. So I knew we had something going on. That was kind of like our first kiss.
I mean how many times have we hung out now over these past 13 years I’ve been living in Philly? It would be hard to get an accurate count, but the minimum number would be at least 50. I’ve seen so many shows standing up I can’t really sit down in the theater anymore. Let’s see, highlights have included several personal jazz trumpet icons: Tom Harrell, Alex Sipiagan, Hannibal, Dave Douglas, and Cuong Vu. I’ve seen some real heavy hitters in the jazz/world-music scene: Elvin Jones, Zakir Hussein, Cyro Baptista, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Sam Rivers. I saw one of the first stateside performances from Elio Villafranca who later became a teacher and mentor of mine.
You know I would mostly volunteer to see music performances. (You introduced me to every kind of Latin, Indian, and non-western musics I know about.) That’s where my interests lie, but you exposed me to so many different kinds of performances. Mark Bemuthi Joseph blew me away the first time I saw him. During the Live Arts Festival I got to see 11 performances of Thaddeus Phillips Flamingo/Winnebago. I’ll forgive you for that one, and the 24-hour African dance party — fun but tiring. You made up for it with the two Danes that took off their clothes and video projected it back onto themselves while listening to Italian Tarantella chants.
Remember the time I had to carry the guy who was having a heart attack out of the theater to the back alley? Luckily the EMTs said it was only complications from his chronic digestive condition and he was fine. You did kind of throw that one at me, though. It was a little tricky to pull off during Hua Hua’s silent Chinese puppetry performance.
Oh, and there was the time we saw the Dave Holland quintet on my birthday and I was selling his merch: “Sorry Mr. Holland (you’re a personal icon of mine), I can’t find the $50 bank you gave me to start with (oh wait here it is — coming out of my wallet). I guess I’ll buy your CD’s some other time. Happy birthday to me.” I lost 50 bucks from Dave Holland! Luckily the only other rough times have been the ones that started with “It’s a rental.”
I think the most special times have been the holiday parties. What a great family you have. The traditional attempt at an acapella version of “In The Still of the Night” haphazardly put together by Lenny or an impromptu performance by Ursula Rucker or some other insanely talented person who just happened to stop by. The diversity of people that know and love you is envious and insane.
Now I’m starting to get to see classmates from college doing their thing with you. I got to see my friends Nicole and Doc have their wedding reception under your roof. It’s been amazing. I know I haven’t been around to say “hi” in a little while, but this relationship is not over. I just need some time to do my own thing, find my own way, give back to some of the awesome Philadelphians you’ve already known about for awhile now. You’ll always be sparkly in my eyes.
Martin Brown is a Maryland native and a musician turned ice cream maker. He lives in South Philly.
This was first published in the blog Philly Love Notes.