by Carole Verona
Composer and guitarist Colton Weatherston, 44, lives one block east of Germantown Avenue, right behind the Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy, with his wife, Kristine, and their son, Coltie, 4.
So when Weatherston applied for a coveted jazz residency at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, he looked no farther than Germantown Avenue for inspiration. The Kimmel Center was searching for artists who could produce new work that focuses on Philadelphia history or culture. In a press release, Anne Ewers, president & CEO, said the jazz residency program was asking musicians to tackle some of today’s most controversial issues.
In December, The Kimmel Center announced that Weatherston was one of three artists chosen for the 2017-18 jazz residency program, alongside Luke O’Reilly and Doug Hirlinger. Weatherston explained, “They asked each artist to come up with a theme and plan of work. I thought about what I wanted to accomplish with my compositional goals and would be valuable to the community. I wanted a theme that would resonate. I walked down the street near my house and asked, ‘What is this all about? How can I express this musically?’”
On the Kimmel Center’s website, Weatherston defined himself as a Quaker who plays jazz and lives in East Mt. Airy. “My project is about how it sounds when Quakers, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, black, brown and white people perform jazz together,” he wrote. “I believe jazz provides a format for people to express different ideas about community, individuality, peace and justice. These ideas are essential to my neighborhood, which is connected to other neighborhoods that share space along Germantown Avenue. My project will explore life along this avenue as a window into the soul of jazz music in Philadelphia.”
Colton found a correlation between the rich cultural diversity along the avenue and the ancestry of jazz. “Jazz music comes from the interaction of people from different backgrounds creating art. I wanted to explore how jazz can speak to the idea of cultural diversity, specifically in Germantown, Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill and North Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a patchwork of neighborhoods, and the demographics change, neighborhood by neighborhood.
“There’s a strong African American presence, but there’s also a lot of diversity around the white population and diversity and complexity within each group. Religious identify also has a way of adding to this story. There’s a large Muslim community in Germantown, and there’s a large Jewish synagogue in Mt. Airy. There’s also the historic Quaker and Mennonite communities.”
While doing his research, Colton was looking for the common ground in jazz that allows people to hear things outside of their culture of origin, to find meaning from that experience and then bring it into their own practice. “Germantown Avenue,” Weatherston’s composition, is 30 minutes in duration and consists of several chapters, each with a different theme.
“Chapter One’s theme, for example, contains three melodies that interweave with one another. I have a theme for William Penn, a theme for the Lenape (Indians) who lived around Germantown Avenue, and a theme for Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME),” he said.
Chapter Two features an instrumental duet between the voices of Frederick Douglass and Lucretia Mott, leaders in the abolitionist movement. Both of them spoke at different churches along the avenue. Chapter Three, which brings in industrialism and immigration, introduces elements from klezmer music, with strong clarinet themes. Chapter Four explores themes of Islam and radical traditions in the African American community.
The public will have an opportunity to attend a free workshop of “Germantown Avenue” on Saturday, March 10, 6 p.m., and a free work-in-progress performance on Saturday, March 24, 8 p.m. The world premiere will take place on Friday, May 4, 8 p.m. Tickets for the world premiere are $15 general admission. All performances are at the SEI Innovation Studio at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. To make reservations for the free performances or to purchase tickets for the world premiere, go to www.kimmelcenter.org/community-programs/jazz-residency-program/.
A Detroit native, Weatherston has a Graduate Certificate in Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television from the Thorton School of Music, University of Southern California; a Master of Music degree, Jazz Studies, from Wayne State University in Detroit; and a Bachelor of Arts, Liberal Arts, from the University of Michigan.
Throughout his career, he has produced recordings for ad agencies, performed as a guitarist and singer with many jazz groups, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Michigan Opera Theater Orchestra. In 2011, he worked as music producer for the feature film “Hit and Run,” written and directed by Dax Shepard.
To see Colton perform with the Model T’s at Paris Bistro, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=npl9mBx0Ktg.