March 18, 2014

Penn IUR Hosts Sound and the City Seminar

On February 27, the Penn Institute for Urban Research hosted a 10th Anniversary Special Event as part of the Sound and the City Seminar series that involved a discussion of the intersection of cities, music, and urban culture in Philadelphia, and was followed by a series of live music performances. The event was made possible with funding from the Office of the Provost in celebration of the Year of Sound and was co-sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences’ Urban Studies Program.

Attendees heard introductory remarks from Kathy Peiss, the Roy and Jeanette Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. Nick Spitzer, producer of public radio’s American Routes and professor of American studies and anthropology at Tulane University in New Orleans, delivered a keynote lecture about Philadelphia’s incredibly rich culture and music history, from the long-lost jazz palaces and the musicians whose names adorned their marquees to the myriad artists of today with local ties, including Jill Scott, John Legend, and The Legendary Roots Crew. Spitzer then conducted a series of impromptu interviews with the musical guests followed by an audience question-and-answer session, and each band finished with a brief musical set.

Musical guests included Jimmy Heath, NEA jazz master saxophonist and leader of Philadelphia’s Heath Brothers; Sam Reed, jazz saxophonist and bandleader at the Uptown Theater in the ‘50s and ‘60s; Elaine Hoffman Watts and Susan Watts, mother-daughter, trumpet-drum klezmer duo; the Budesa Brothers with Lucky Thompson, organ trio; and Frankie and the Fashions, four-part, doo-wop harmony group.

The guests recounted stories from early days of performing to the delight of the audience. Jimmy Heath and Sam Reed shared stories from days playing jazz clubs like the Showboat, the Zanzibar, and the Uptown Theater. Frank Lafaro of Frankie and the Fashions described days when music was a great equalizer in the city and a common language that united different racial and ethnic groups. Elaine Hoffman Watts, the first female drummer at the Curtis Institute of Music, described how her family continues to pass down klezmer music from generation to generation, despite its fading from popular culture in the midcentury.

The event, which drew a crowd of around 150, was slated for two hours, but much of the audience happily remained for an additional hour-long reception to trade stories with the guests as the Budesa Brothers played on. 


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Deborah Lang
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