Rotunda In The News
Philly Music Podcast - Dec 8 2017
Philly Music Podcast Episode 2: Gina Renzi of The Rotunda (Dec. 8, 2017)
Philly Music Podcast: We speak with Gina Renzi, the director of The Rotunda - an all-ages music and community event venue in West Philadelphia, about some of the cool things which have happened there over the years and what it's like running a community venue.
Billy Penn - Feb 17 2017
The 2017 Black Music Map: 21 more locations that changed Philly music
Another look at the places in our city that have shaped popular music in America.
This second round sounds good.
Last year, Billy Penn dug deep through reporting and research, and selected 28 locations tracking how instrumental Philadelphia people and places are in modern music. When folks reacted with (sometimes charged) feedback about the selections and pointed out omissions, it became very clear that a single post wouldn’t suffice. Hence the need for another take in what just might become an annual trend.
Fans and experts shared lots of excellent recommendations for our Black History Month Music Map. The updated map is now live for your browsing pleasure. The locations from the original list are in red; the new additions in this 2.0 update are in orange
The pool of tips this time around was jazz heavy, and yet even in this map’s second year, the locations still only scrape the surface of the genre’s legacy. That bodes well for next year, but it also raises the question: Why is Philly blessed with so much jazz?
The peak, according to experts, was from World War II to around the 1960s. Before those war years, jazz had already proliferated outside of its New Orleanian birthplace, and Chicago’s heyday had reached its denouement. New York was becoming the jazz center for the North, just as the Great Migration was changing the musical landscape in all of these cities. In 1920, Philadelphia’s black population stood at 134,000. That total skyrocketed to 375,000 by 1950. Venues blossomed in North Philly and near South Philly.
“Philadelphia was the proving ground for jazz artists, and its working class people fostered the talent by packing rooms every week from Tuesday to Saturday nights,” Rob Armstrong, who directed a documentary on Coltrane for the Preservation Alliance, explained to Hidden City. “The sheer number of clubs, musicians’ culture of sharing, strong instruction available at both the Ornstein School of Music, located at 19th and Spruce streets, and the Granoff Studios, located at 2118 Spruce Street, and the discipline and practice regimen of key musicians in the scene, gave young men like Coltrane a true Philly jazz education.”
Ninety miles south of New York, an abundance of places to jam, Philly was an optimal stop for artists who wanted to try their hand at fame in New York after they refined their musicianship.
Beyond jazz, out of the latest crop of locations, blues, soul, rock and roll, gospel, hip hop and R&B are represented. Here’s a guide, detailing each spot.
Recommendations were generously submitted by Tempest Carter, Alain Joinville, Jerry Zolten, Michael McGettigan, Joe “JoeLogic” Gallagher, Tony Abraham, Faye Anderson and Kimberly C. Roberts.
52nd Street YMCA
There is a bootleg floating around the internet of DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Cash Money, Grandmaster Nell (Meek’s uncle!) among other OGs spinning at the West Philly Y in 1985. It’s an artifact of top-flight turntablism and significant to Philly’s DJ culture.
Ballen Records/Gotham Records
Don’t let anyone tell you that the Delaware Valley didn’t play a considerable role in rock and roll history. Acts like Jimmy Preston and Dan Pickett laid the groundwork, and they recorded out of this historic label. Gotham recorded its share of gospel and doo-wop, including Lee Andrews (Questlove’s dad) and the Hearts.
Benny Golson’s teenage home
Jazz great Benny Golson moved around some growing up, but this was the house where he got his saxophone. He’s received numerous honors over the years, but perhaps the highest was when Howard University named their Jazz Master award after him.
Earl Young’s childhood home
It’s regularly cited that Earl Young was an integral part of MFSB, the house band on Philadelphia Soul’s classic records. People also often point out that he was part of the trio Baker, Harris and Young, the legendary rhythm section and production team, as well as local ensemble the Trammps. But what doesn’t get said enough is that his drumming might’ve ignited disco a genre. Yeah, he was thatinfluential.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
The mother church of Clara and Willa Ward, the sisters of the iconic gospel group The Ward Singers. During gospel’s Golden Age, they not only achieved national success, but introduced songs that would become standards. They did this while wearing more glitzy, secular dress, a move that was daring at the time.
This South Street nightclub, which closed in 2013, was home to Tasty Treats. Produced by Stacey ‘FlyGirrl’ Wilson, Tasty Treats is a storied hip hop dance party, not to mention Philly’s longest-running.
Granoff School of Music
Where singer Billy Paul, bassist Percy Heath, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist McCoy Tyner and saxophonists Odean Pope and Coltrane famously studied.
Pep’s Musical Bar
John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef both recorded here. Along with the Showboat, which was a stone’s throw away, this was one of those Philly venues that boasted sparkling line-ups in the post-war era. It was “an exceptional hole in the wall room,” Jerry Zolten, a music historian and Penn State professor, recalled in an email.
Power 99 has been playing urban music since 1982. What a time to make a switch like that. Serious question: Where would R&B and hip hop culture in the city be if the station never existed?
You know this building— it houses the Merriam Theater. It was home to songwriters’ offices, comparable to the Brill Building in New York. Gamble and Huff, when they were young musicians in mid 1960s, met in the elevator here.
The Showboat was a cherished jazz venue. As the concert space was actually a hotel basement, the historical marker outside will tell you that Billie Holiday regularly dwelled there. When it later became the Bijou Cafe, big names still came through, like Prince.
Sid Booker’s High-Line Lounge
Currently a popular shrimp restaurant, this location was a hip club where new talent in the city honed their skills. The spot, which has also been called Stinger and Club La Pointe, opened in the ’60s. Kimberly C. Roberts, author of Joy Ride! The Stars and Stories of Philly’s Famous Uptown Theater and an entertainment reporter at the Philadelphia Tribune, called it the “premier showcase for Philly’s young, up-and-coming artists,” adding, “Stevie Wonder and Earl Young had a legendary drum showdown there.”
This venue, opened by local entrepreneur Nat Segall in the late ’30s, was the first racially integrated nightclub in Philadelphia. According to Hidden City, The Downbeat was victim to police raids due to its mixed crowds. Segall eventually buckled under the pressure and sold the place. In the decade that he operated it, though, it was major bebop destination. “Benny Golson and John Coltrane were too young to get into the Downbeat, so they stood outside on 11th Street listening to the bebop sounds coming out of the second floor window,” Hidden City contributor Jack McCarthy wrote.
The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts
We know it as an iconic venue and school now, but lest we forget, this club started from a union: Local 274, the American Federation of Musicians. Let’s look at just some of the notable members of this union, shall we? Nina Simone, Clara Ward, Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Philly Joe Jones.
A Philly institution. The Gathering is a weekly meet-up for all of hip hop’s elements. It first began in 1996 and holds the esteem of being the oldest hip hop event in the city.
RECORDED AT THE STUDIO.
MFSB alum Larry Gold (and “hip hop’s go-to string arranger”) founded the Studio in 1996. Under his leadership, it became a homing beacon for the city’s neo-soul scene. Today, it’s currently Milkboy the Studio, where top acts continue to record.
Treegoob’s Department Store
Experts argue that Philadelphia soul started with a group called the Castelles in 1949. They didn’t sound like the Delfonics eventually would; you’d likely associate their sound more with doo-wop. But in a moment when city was looking to distinguish itself through cornerside harmonies, the Castelles lifted a model from the Dixie Hummingbirds, the hometown gospel kings. They were unabashedly tenor-heavy and solidified that Philly would be known for sweet, falsetto-led ballads for decades to come. Treegoob’s, a department store and the home of Grand records, was where they first recorded their music.
RECORDED AT VIRTUE.
Virtue Recording Studio
A recording studio and a label, Virtue made its mark capturing early rock and roll and early Philadelphia soul on wax, breaking a path that Gamble and Huff could follow. It was operational “from the 1960s through the early 1980s,” noted Roberts.
Webb Department Store
This record store has been called a neighborhood landmark. In its heyday, after opening in 1972, it was a place where famous musicians were known to stop by to browse and shop. In the Death of Rhythm and Blues, author Nelson George praised store owner Bruce Webb as an example of an independent retailer who was savvy with record labels, directing the flow of good music to the community.
WHAT honed in on black audiences from the ’40s to the late aughts. They broke a lot of ground during that time span. We’ll share just two notable facts. It was a home for Jocko Henderson, the disc jockey whose fluid, rhythmic announcing style has caused listeners to look back and view him as a forebear to rap. Generocity reporter Tony Abraham pointed out that it’s where Lady B, one of the first female MCs and a longtime DJ, began her career in radio in 1979.
Zanzibar was only open for 10 years and change. But the Bynum brothers didn’t need much more than a decade to establish a sterling legacy in the jazz world. The ambience, the brunches, the appearances from national and local legends— people still talk about it.
Here’s the whole list of locations on the map, with new additions in bold.
- 52nd Street YMCA
- Ballen Records/Gotham Records
- Benny Golson’s home as a teen
- Blue Note Club (yep, Philly had one)
- Creative and Performing Arts High School
- Dell Music Center
- Dunbar Theater
- Earl Young’s childhood home
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
- Five Spot
- Granoff School of Music
- John Coltrane House
- Lee Andrews and Questlove’s former house
- Lisa “Lefteye” Lopes’ childhood home
- Marian Anderson Residence Museum
- Metropolitan Opera House
- Paramount Records
- Patti LaBelle’s childhood home
- Paul Robeson House
- Pep’s Musical Bar
- Philadelphia International
- Phily Joe Jones’ childhood home
- Pop Art Records
- Power 99
- Royal Theater
- Schooly D’s childhood home
- Schubert Building
- Settlement Music School
- Showboat/Bijou Cafe
- Sid Booker’s High-Line Lounge
- Sigma Sound
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe House
- Solomon Burke’s birthplace
- Standard Theater
- Sun Ra Arkestra House
- The Downbeat
- The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts
- The Rotunda
- The Studio
- Tindley Temple United Methodist Church
- Treegoob’s Department Store
- Uptown Theater
- Virtue Recording Studio
- WDAS (West Philly location)
- Webb Department Store
- Word-Up Records
- Zanzibar Blue
University City Review - Feb 8 2017
Super Philly Chili Bowl At The Rotunda
By Kristyn Green
UC Review Intern
On February 4th the eve of the Super Bowl, many Philadelphians gathered at the Rotunda for another bowl, the Super Philly Chili Bowl. Carmella Lanni and Carlo Giardina presented the Super Philly Chili Bowl to the community.
Lanni and Giardina are the owners of V Marks the Shop, an online vegan store. They plan to use the funding from the event to start an all vegan grocery store, which they hope to open in 2017.
“We try to give back when we can,” said Lanni, which is why they donated proceeds from ticket sales to Tamerlaine Farm Sanctuary. Green and Grains and Tamerlaine Farm Sanctuary sponsored the Super Philly Chili Bowl.
There were 21 competitors who came out for this healthy competition. They were allowed one helper to assist them in the competition. The crowd migrated from table to table-sampling chili, not once, but several times over. Music played, while MC Dustin Harder the host and creator of Vegan Roadie YouTube channel entertained.
The competitors had several rules to follow, but first among them was the requirement that their recipes must be vegan. They were to refrain from using any meat, dairy, honey, or products derived from animals.
The competitors were to have a visible printout of the ingredients included in their recipes. The restrictions also included sugar, which was required to be char free.
The competitors had to prepare a minimum of 250 samples.
Although chili samplers placed their votes for who should get the title of the best vegan chili in Philly, the Judges had the ultimate say.
The judges included: Demetrius Bagley, producer of Vegucated Vegan Mash up and Vegan Travel Club, L. J. Steining, the grand Champion of Philly Mac-Down which was a vegan mac and cheese competition hosted by V Marks the shop last year, and she is also the founder of Philly vegan lady gang, and Andy Tabar, the owner of Compassion Company and co-host of Bearded Vegans podcast.
The competitors ranged from scientist Rajmish Dave who conducts A.I.D.S Research in his professional life and cooks at home as a hobby, to Jason Basmajiam who previously worked in the food industry for ten years and now runs a studio out of his home dabbling in song writing, music production and guitar playing, to Joshua Black who arrived at the competition with his niece who has a YouTube channel entitled Urban Black Vegan which was created to inspire and uplift a healthy life style.
Kristen Eissler, owner of Kawaii Kitty Café, and Head of Kitchen, Joe Ranca took First Place with their chili entitled Mr. and Mrs. Tinnerman’s Chili (a play on South Park). A recipe that was modified over the course of fifteen years, and is served at their Kawaii Kitty Café on South 4th Street, inspired their recipe.
Second Place was given to Eric Belfi and Karen Belfi. “Everyone seems to like it,” said Belfi when he was asked what motivated him to join the competition. Taking second place affirmed that everyone indeed did enjoy his chili!
Sarah Hane took 3rd Place and Philly’s Choice went to Ricky Jordan.
Most Original went to Terrence and Brittany Roche who called themselves The Plant Power Couple with their 3 Bean TBP Chili with their optional coconut bacon salt. “We come to every one of Carmella and Carlo’s events. They are doing a great job of bringing the Philly vegan community together,” said Brittany Roche.
The prizes were ribbons for placement, and a super crock trophy for First Place a beautiful gift basket full of goodies and a year of bragging rights.
V Marks the Shop plans to make the Super Philly Chili Bowl an annual affair. Next week V Marks the Shop will be hosting Philly Vegan Pop-flea-Love Yourself Valentines Market also at the Rotunda Sunday February 12th from 12pm to 6pm. The purpose of the event will be to meet and support local businesses and supporting the vegan community. V Marks the shop can be contacted on Facebook at Marks the Shop on twitter also @ V Marks the Shop and also on their website Vmarkstheshop.com.
The Philadelphia Inquirer - Apr 26 2015
Jawnts: From Russia, with protests
Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2015, 1:09 AM
In February 2012, five members of the anarchist punk collective Pussy Riot stormed into the hugely symbolic Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The women, dressed in neon balaclavas, screamed out a few lines of profanity-studded lyrics before they were kicked out.
It wasn't the first time the women brazenly demonstrated their feminist, anti-Putin politics, but this time the authorities cracked down. Three of the women were arrested and received prison sentences of two years apiece.
Their case garnered great sympathy in the West, and far more media attention than the rest of the country's opposition movements. Celebrity musicians mistook Pussy Riot for an actual band and rallied support. In Russia, their cause was often viewed less sympathetically, as their case overshadowed the dozens of other activists locked up around the same time. And Vladimir Putin played up their actions as an assault on the church, rather than against him. Nonetheless, the Pussy Riot case has become emblematic of an increasingly repressive Russia.
The story is told in Natasha Fissiak's 2013 documentary Pussy Riot: The Movement.
"I'm from Moscow, I go there every summer, and I follow the events, but I've never been really exposed to it so much," says Fissiak, who moved to the United States from Russia 10 years ago. "You can see with Pussy Riot that they are these very young, bright university students. I couldn't believe the unfairness, the harshness. It just blew my mind away. You hear about these cases, but it was just happening before my eyes."
Fissiak and producer Carole Keeney Harrington gathered a team and went to Russia to interview family members, other dissidents, and academics who studied the event. They visited the prison where Nadia Tolokonnikova was held, and interviewed Katia Samutsevich, who was released early. Original footage is laced with archival footage.
"Any type of human-rights movement starts with just a few people and slowly grows," says Fissiak. "They've changed my perspective on a lot of things in Russia. I think they made me braver. I think it will just take time."
Pussy Riot: The Movement will be shown at the Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., Tuesday at 7 p.m. Entrance is free and Fissiak will answer questions afterward.
CBS Philly - Jul 26 2014
Young Women Learn About Music and Electronics in Hands-On Workshop (performance at The Rotunda)
By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Fishtown nonprofit that teaches girls confidence through musical self-expression held a concert this week.
The instruments were simple. One was a contact microphone soldered to a cable connected to the bottom of a cardboard box.
“Any object that they put inside the box and then played on that surface, the contact mike picks up the vibrations from that object — that’s how you make themusic,” explains Suzanne Thorpe.
Thorpe (conducting, at left, in top photo) is one-half ofTechne, a musician duo that’s holding rock-and-roll summer camps along the east coast. Their goal: to get more girls involved in music technology.
“They’re learning about basic signal flow and basic circuitry, and basically how sound and electricity are related,” Thorpe says. “Their process of exploration and creativity seems to be boundless.”
The girls spent the summer in Girls Rock Philly’s summer music institute, and the workshop — titled “Electronic Music Powered by Girls” — took their learning to the next level.
“Not only are they playing an instrument, but they are learning the process of how to create it and how sound works,” said Diane Foglizzo, director of Girls Rock Philly.
The girls put their instruments to work at a concert at the Rotunda performance space, 40th and Walnut Streets. They performed as part of a new and experimental music festival hosted by the Philadelphia-based experimental music group Bowerbird.
“When you start a new instrument that you don’t know much about, you can do a bunch of random things that sound very good,” says Tracy Gresham, one of the ten young ladies who took part in the workshop. The 17-year-old plays flute, guitar, piano, and bass, and was one of eight girls who took the stage.
“It was really cool,” she says. “I put rubber bands on a box and I stretched them out and learned the different pitches. I really learned the inner workers of guitar.”
“I’ve played guitar, keys, drums, and clarinet,” says Kayla Henry, 13. But did she think she could make an instrument out of these throwaway material?
“Not at all, but I really enjoyed doing this,” she said.
And from the sounds of all the applause, the audience really enjoyed listening to the end result.