Tom Warner: Honoring the Legacy
AAJ: Then there's the Merck Education Center on the second floor. Once, I attended a very nice panel discussion with Paquito D'Rivera reminiscing about Dizzy Gillespie, and on another occasion, Sue Mingus recalled her late husband Charles Mingus and his work, when the Mingus Big Band performed in Verizon Hall. Do you plan to keep the panel discussions active or possibly expand them?
TW: The Education Center has a very active jazz component. We have several really good teaching artists for our educational program, and pretty much every year since we opened we've had the Kimmel Youth Jazz Ensemble, a big band of 17 or 18 kids who audition when the school year starts and then work together for a year as a group, performing two or three times at the Kimmel Center. Some of our concert musicians will do master classes with them, which is a great opportunity for these kids. We also have jazz classes through the year, and we have a jazz camp in the summer. Kids, parents, and teachers can all contact our education department about our two-week jazz camp in the summer. The kids get to spend all day long for two straight weeks with a lot of local jazz musicians like John Swana, Mike Boone, and Marc Johnson, who are top notch in their field.
The nice thing about our educational program is that we often have high profile musicians doing concerts for us, and they sometimes do master classes. Most of our kids start here when they are in middle school, but often go on to college and conservatory to study jazz and become professional musicians. Justin Faulkner, the drummer, was in our program and is now playing along side the likes of Orrin Evans and Branford Marsalis. It's amazing to see the growth of these students.
AAJ: To change the topic a bit, we're going through an economic recession. I wonder how that affects the arts, and in particular the Kimmel Center, and also what ideas for funding you might have in a time of economic downturn.
TW: There are several prongs to the answer to your question. First, there is definitely an effect on the arts and the Kimmel Center. As a not-for-profit organization, the Kimmel Center has a mission, which is to transform the lives of people through the arts. We're definitely not going to back-pedal on our mission. So, knowing that that is our mission, we have to find a way to make it work. Now, we do understand that people are spending less these days. So sometimes selling tickets to particular concerts is a bit more difficult, and we do have to advertise a bit more and get out there on the street to spread the word. And we will do so.
But we also see a lot of people buying tickets to concerts because everyone's goin' through the same thing right now, and concerts are such a communal experience. People want to be together, and they want to experience some terrific live music or theater or dance, so we're seeing very interesting fluctuations of the audience, but it seems like people are really wanting this right now. So when the audience does decide to spend their money, which is much appreciated, we want to give them the best.
As a non-profit organization, we are in a position to look to the community, both businesses and individuals for sponsorships and donations. That's actually the toughest part of this industry right now, because companies and individuals understandably have to watch their dollars so closely. We're doing our best to convince people how important our work is especially right now, but it's tough.
AAJ: I agree with your sense that people do come together around music. Recently, I learned about a culture in the Pacific where they don't talkthey sing everything. There is a deep connection between music and human interactions and community. And when jazz musicians are playing, it's like a conversation between them and with the audience.
TW: Wow, what a concept. That's great.
AAJ: Philadelphia has many concert and nightclub venues. I think of the Annenberg Center, the World Cafe, Chris' Jazz Cafe, Ortlieb's Jazzhaus, the University of the Arts, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the Oak Lane Jazz Festival, the Philadelphia Clef Club and so on. How do you see the Kimmel Center vis-a-vis the overall musical life of the city? And do you interact with these other venues?
TW: We do in fact talk with the organizers at these various concert halls, festivals and clubs. We know them and are very happy to work with them on all different levels. We're right here in Center City and are fortunate to be able to do a lot and bring in terrific artists of all the various genres. So we see ourselves as a leader in the city, but we also see ourselves as a neighbor.
For example, the Oak Lane Jazz Festival has its yearly concert on the same weekend that we have our Summer Solstice event. We could compete, but the fact is that there's something for everyone, and we've even talked with them about marketing the two things together, as well as providing transportation back and forth between the two festivals. It is to the good if we all work together rather than fight each other. There are also certain artists who may have outgrown a certain organization, and it's the right time for them to move to a slightly bigger stage. Or if a performer has been here several times and they want to play somewhere else for a change, we all talk about it. So we try to make sure the whole community is in communication with each other.
AAJ: That's a good thing. There is a jazz community in Philadelphia, although sometimes it seems fragmented to me.
TW: Well, I think that's inevitable to some extent. We all want to do more than we can take on, but when we can, we try to help out the other groups. When performers inquire about our availability for them, if we aren't, I'm happy to refer them to another venue around town.