by Stacia Friedman
If attending concerts in a private home strikes you as a bit offbeat, remember that this is how Mozart got his start, as well as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and John Coltrane, among others. Before they made the Big Time, almost every famous vocalist and musician performed at intimate gatherings, passing the proverbial hat. However, here in Northwest Philly and the adjacent suburbs, you can catch not just rising stars at local house concerts but internationally acclaimed headliners.
Case in point. On Sunday, Sept. 10, legendary jazz vibraphone player Tony Miceli is hosting an afternoon concert in his Germantown home. While only a limited number of music lovers will fit into Miceli’s living room, a few days later he’ll perform the same program before thousands (in South Korea) along with the Miceli Quartet, featuring vocalist Joanna Pascale, Lee Smith on bass, Chris Farr on sax and Dan Monaghan on drums.
“I put the Quartet together specifically for this tour,” said Miceli, 57. “We play in different groups, and this is the first time we are performing together. So this house concert is actually an opportunity for us to rehearse before we fly off the next day to perform at the Daegu Jazz Festival in South Korea. We arrive there Tuesday night, and we will perform Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It’s fun how we’ll arrive back in Philly the same time we departed Korea due to the 12-hour time difference.”
If you want to skip the 18-hour flight to Korea and catch the Miceli Quartet on home turf, visit www.germantownarts.com for ticket information. Future house concerts at Miceli’s home will include drummer Elliot Zigmund on Sunday, Nov 4. Zigmund has performed with musical greats such as Bill Evans, Dionne Warwick and Stan Getz.
For Mt Airy residents Anne Mintz, 70, and her husband Clifford Wagner, 62, hosting house concerts isn’t about performing; it’s about creating community. “We’re not musicians, but music has always been central to our lives,” said Mintz.
Growing up in Hudson-on-Hastings, Mintz lived in Greenwich Village in the late 1960s when it was the center of the folk scene. “When I moved to Philadelphia in the 1970s, I discovered that there weren’t any venues for my talented friends. Places like the Main Point only wanted headliners like Tom Paxton and Buffy Saint Marie.” In response, Mintz founded and managed the Cherry Tree, a popular folk music venue in University City. She also hosted the weekly Cherry Tree radio show on XPN from 1975 to 1985.
Meanwhile, Mintz had a “day job,” first working with Buckminster Fuller, then with the Franklin Institute, where she served as Director of Communications and later as Director of Special Projects. “That where I met my husband Clifford 32 years ago.” she said.
Since her radio show was in the distant past, Mintz was caught off-guard when she received a call in 2011 from a musician friend asking if she hosts house concerts. That call launched an ongoing series of eight to 12 house concerts a year. “We don’t advertise,” said Mintz. “It’s all completely by word-of-mouth and social media. We do take reservations and ask for donations, and 100% of the money goes to the musicians.
“Hosting house concerts strengthens the fabric of the community,” added Mintz, who recalled a woman who had come to a concert following cancer surgery. “This was the first time she ventured out, and I felt so honored that she chose to be with us.”
Mintz and Wagner never know how many people will show up, except for their annual Valentine’s Concert featuring vocalist and guitarist Phyllis Chapell with Ken Ulansey on sax and clarinet. Upcoming concerts include Poor Man’s Gambit, an energetic trio of Irish musicians, on Saturday, October 14, 8 p.m. More details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eight years ago, when Rodger Lowenthal of Wyncote decided to host house concerts with his wife, Ellen, his primary goal was not to create a venue for musicians. “I write poetry,” said Lowenthal. “My thought was that people are willing to pay to hear music, so why not to hear poetry along with the music?”
However, poetry isn’t the only thing that makes Lowenthal’s events unique. “I always serve a bottle of top shelf Scotch,” he said, “and people bring their desserts.”
If you have a taste for Scotch, poetry and the blues, consider Lowenthal’s upcoming house concert in October featuring jazz guitarist Jim Dragoni and Germantown poet Yolanda Wisher, the 2016-17 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia and formerly the Poet Laureate of Montgomery County. For more information, contact email@example.com
The longest running area house concert, though, is Underground at Ron’s in Wyndmoor. For 20 years, percussionist Ron Kravitz, 53, has presented five Saturday night concerts per year, transforming his basement into a cabaret theater, drawing 50 to 70 people for a pre-concert jam session and potluck dinner, followed by a performance.
Kravitz studied West African drumming with the great Babatune Olatunji and also offers African drumming classes and voice improvement workshops. His next concert will feature Ananda’s classical Indian music on Saturday, Sept. 23. More details at www.musicinthemoment.com/events.
While attendance at house concerts varies, what happens if there are only two people in the audience? That was the dilemma facing musicians Phyllis Chapell and Ken Ulansey. “We had donated our services, offering a house concert, at a charity auction. The winning bid was $600. When we showed up at the home of the recipient on the scheduled evening, we expected a large crowd. No one was there! Just the couple who owned the home,” said Chapell. “They treated us to a steak dinner, and we performed just for them. It was a little awkward at first but it turned out to be lovely.”