Ars Nova Workshop at 15: New spaces, new audiences for new music

    Mark Christman is the founder and director of Ars Nova Workshop. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Mark Christman is the founder and director of Ars Nova Workshop. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Jazz has a long legacy in Philadelphia. These days, the main outpost for contemporary jazz, as well as  improvised music of all kinds, is the program offered by Ars Nova Workshop. Now entering its 15th season, it’s been a labor of love of founder and director Mark Christman. 

    Rather than create a club or single performance space, Ars Nova presents concerts all over the region, sometimes in unexpected places and with seemingly unlikely partners. 

    “The story of Philadelphia as an important jazz town is disappearing. This is the city of John Coltrane and Sun Ra, and there really aren’t many dedicated spaces for this work to be presented,” he noted.  “Instead of creating one space to present the work, we’re going into dozens of communities, even using spaces that have no history of arts presenting.”

    An example is the show that saxophonist Steve Coleman will give on Sept. 20 at Bartram’s Garden. “Many of his compositional practices have to do with the lunar cycle,” said Christman. “So we’re presenting him close to the full moon and the autumnal equinox, and connecting him with John Bartram’s ideas about the heavens and the earth. Providing Steve with an opportunity to engage with a space, deep in West Philly, with a very specific history in Philadelphia.”

    The season opener is Tyondai Braxton, the son of iconoclastic jazz composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton, who will give a solo performance on modular synthesizers and samplers at Johnny Brenda’s Friday night.

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