Downtown is more than a grid system of streets and square miles. It is defined by something more. In this short series, new DPJ contributor, Colin Columna hones in on the five senses as his guide to explore what makes downtown Phoenix unique.
With our ears attuned to the nuanced sounds of downtown Phoenix, from the distinctive “ding ding” of an approaching light rail train, to the sounds of laughter from people on their bikes and a radio playing from the open window of a passing car, we begin. Our first stop on this downtown sensory tour is along Phoenix’s cultural highway, Central Avenue, at the intersection with Roosevelt Street. On the northwest corner stands the landmark Trinity Cathedral, spiritual home of the Episcopal congregation and secular home to the renowned Phoenix Chorale.
The Cathedral, completed in 1920, provides a graceful connection to Phoenix’s history, but visit during First Friday Art Walk and the space is filled with the sights and sounds of contemporary urban life. The Cathedral Center for the Arts provides the visual experience in the Olney Gallery and Phoenix Chorale’s Artistic Director Charles Bruffy conducts the surround sound of the Grammy Award winning ensemble during Open Rehearsals.
“I love our open rehearsals,” says Bruffy, “they allow us an opportunity to invite people who may be familiar with their own church choir but unfamiliar with what we do, to drop in and experience something new and hopefully surprising.”
At the center of downtown’s thriving Roosevelt art district, and easily accessible from Central and Roosevelt Metro Light Rail station, the free rehearsals add an element of accessibility to classical music while giving Phoenix Chorale serious “street cred.”
Bruffy explains the rehearsals allow for the audience to actively engage with the process. “Our singers have trained and perfected their gift and talent to sing from the heart. The casual atmosphere of open rehearsals allows us to not only sing but talk to our audience, answer questions, tell stories about the songs and tune their ears for the adventure of choral music. Our goal is make it possible for as many people to explore and enjoy the music and just as important to have fun.”
Choral music evolved from the earliest form of musical expression, telling stories through folk songs and devotional chants. Charles Bruffy plays a significant role in that evolution: appointed Artistic Director of the Phoenix Chorale in 1999, Artistic Director of the Kansas City Chorale since 1988, Chorus Director for the Kansas City Symphony Chorus since 2008 and an impressive list of other gigs around the country. His exhaustive schedule ensures that chorale music remain relevant and at the top of the charts.
Under his leadership the Phoenix Chorale and Kansas City Chorale have ten Grammy Award nominations and each garnered two Grammy Award wins. The latest Phoenix Chorale recording, Northern Lights, spent a lucky 13 weeks on the Billboard charts and of special significance to Bruffy, “We were named “Best Classical Vocal Album of the Year” on iTunes Best of 2012, how cool is that?”
Adding to the richness of the Chorale’s sound is the unique qualities of Trinity Cathedral. “Many of our concerts are performed in sacred spaces, like the Cathedral.” he says, “It may be that they are usually of older construction, of stone and hard acoustics that singers enjoy. But there is something very special that occurs when we perform in the sanctuary, a reverb is applied creating an added element to the performance, as if the voice is singing a duet.”
If location is everything, Bruffy believes he could not be luckier. “I love being in the ‘hood. Our city is so culturally rich and there are so many flavors and cuisines to sample downtown.
I can leave work, get to my apartment, go to one of my favorite places Cibo Urban Pizzeria for a meal and still make it to rehearsals on time.” After performances Bruffy is often spotted at a few of his other favorites, including St. Francis, Breadfruit and Hanny’s courtesy of the Light Rail.
The musical dynamo believes the trains add to downtown’s vitality, “When I see the light rail go by, listen to the tone of the bell, I hear the sound of a twenty-first century city.”
Asked to imagine a concert that captures the flavor of downtown Phoenix Bruffy quickly, and expertly, whipped up this selection and provided a few highlights:
“Phoenix” by Ola Gjeilo, the Chorale’s 2010 Composer in Residence.
“In the Beginning” by Aaron Copland. “This piece reminds me of the mythical bird, and our city’s namesake, the Phoenix, always able to surprise, evolve and reinvent itself.”
“Cloudburst” by Eric Whitacre
“Mountains” by Steven Chapman
“Anasazi Women” by Anne Kilstofte. “This piece is selected from our 2014/15 season, Desert Song concert. A musical celebration of the beautiful Southwest landscape in which we live.”
To sample more of the Phoenix Chorale visit their website: www.phoenixchorale.org or call 602-253-2224.
Photos courtesy of Phoenix Chorale
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
DOWNTOWN “SUPER PUB” SHOWCASES LOCAL ART, CHANGING DOWNTOWN
The original cover art depicts a bustling Saturday morning at Phoenix Public Market, in an increasingly vibrant and walkable Downtown.
Local artist Justin Queal, whose artwork can be seen all over Phoenix, most notably at CityScape’s Squid Ink Sushi, was commissioned to paint one of his favorite places in Downtown Phoenix for the new Downtown Phoenix Dining Guide & Directory, which hit the streets this week and represents the most ambitious publication Downtown Phoenix Partnership and Downtown Phoenix, Inc., have ever produced.
Queal’s painting is a colorful representation of what Downtown Phoenix has become—a place where people not only work but live, shop and play. Our community is diverse, artistic, passionate and strong.
Similarly the artistic “super publication,” which for the first time combines the popular annual Downtown Dining Guide with the traditional twice-yearly Downtown Directory, was made stronger by an expanded coverage area that includes the Roosevelt Row Arts District. The expanded coverage resulted in 125 new listings for a whopping 411 total businesses featured.
The Downtown Dining Guide & Directory, the must-have resource for visitors and urban explorers, is distributed throughout Downtown and Valley-wide and features a pullout map, expanded dining editorial, local photography, information about Downtown’s emerging music scene, and a walking tour that encouraging pedestrians to explore Downtown’s historic buildings and public art.
You can download the Downtown Dining Guide & Directory here or stop by and grab a copy at the Downtown Ambassadors Information Center, located at 101 N. 1st Avenue, Suite 190.
For more information about Downtown Phoenix please visit www.downtownphoenix.com.
As summer moves toward autumn, don’t miss a final opportunity to catch Actors Theatre’s very funny two-play repertory before it slips away. Presented at the Helen K Mason Performing Arts Center, The Cottage by Sandy Rustin continues through August 10, while The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarías ends its run August 17.
By scheduling performances throughout June, July, and August, Producing Artistic Director Matthew Wiener deliberately bucked a common misconception about Valley audiences. “There used to be this kind of prevailing wisdom that everyone left Phoenix in the summer…that’s why no one did anything,” says Wiener. “And that’s just not true. I mean, a lot of people take vacations and holidays but they don’t go away for 12 weeks.”
“Actors Theatre is trying to actively reinvent after leaving the Herberger, which was a shock to our system,” he continues, “and I think this summer program is one way that we’re trying to stay vital and relevant and exciting and important to the community.”
According to Wiener, the strength of the company’s performances lies in strong casting. “They’re just marvelous performers,” he says. “I was actually trying to cast both shows together…the characters seemed to line up…and so I started kind of making up my fantasy football.” Wiener laughs. “It was like fantasy casting, and I pretty much got my first choice — my first draft.”
He explains, “I was really looking for actors who are very flexible, who could manage the language — because the language of both plays is pretty challenging — and people who I thought would get along well for 10 weeks.” Weiner continues, “These are very long contracts for the actors…and it was important to me that we work with all local people.” He adds with a smile, “I think I just got really, really lucky.”
Both plays feature Maren Maclean, who’s performed for Phoenix Theatre, Southwest Shakespeare Company, and Verse Theatre Manhattan. Joseph Kremer, who starred in a potent Actors Theatre production of A Steady Rain last season, joins Angelica Howland — familiar from performances with Phoenix Theatre, Stray Cat Theatre, and Childsplay — and Tyler Eglen, an actor-educator with a diverse background in theater and science. Ian Christiansen of Southwest Shakespeare, Stray Cat, and Phoenix Theatre rounds out the cast with recent ASU graduate Alexis Green.
“I think they’re all lovely,” says Wiener, “and they all have different moments.” He points out, “Maren, who plays Ana [in The Book Club Play] — she really has to run the gamut of emotionality. And we actually worked on that, because…you want it to be emotionally truthful, but by the same token you don’t want it to get so deep and horrifying that you can never work yourself out of it.” Wiener smiles. “Because after all they have to live happily ever after — it’s a comedy.”
The Book Club Play delves into the dynamics of a long-running book club, with plenty of shocking revelations and laughably realistic interplay. “I think it’s fun when they talk about the ‘homoerotic undertones of Moby Dick,’ [and] making fun of Twilight,” says Wiener. He explains that the play began as a more satirical, hard-hitting piece until Zacarías — the experienced, award-winning author of The Bare-chested Man, Looking for Roberto Clemente, Mariela in the Desert, The Sins of Sor Juana, and an adaptation of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents – reworked it.
“I think it’s a testament to the writing, and the fact that it’s been rewritten several times,” he says. “Karen is a very careful writer — the language is very specific. And I just have an amazing ‘A’ team up there.”
The Cottage, on the other hand, is pure farce written by actress Sandy Rustin, who created the Off-Broadway sketch comedy musical Rated P (for parenthood). “It has some of the style of Nöel Coward,” says Wiener. “It’s informed by that kind of English aristocracy or English wit.” He adds, “It’s not an earth-shattering piece of theater, but it’s pretty damn funny for an hour and a half.”
“Right now there’s a fair amount of dialogue in the theater industry about the lack of women’s plays being produced,” Wiener continues, “and it’s something odd going on that we’re so far away from parity. But Actors Theatre has traditionally done a lot of plays by women.” He says with a laugh, “Maybe there’s just something about the voices that I enjoy — I grew up in a house filled with women; I live in house filled with women.”
Actors Theatre also presents That’s Life: From Sinatra to Sondheim on August 10, featuring Kristen Drathman, Rusty Ferracane and Craig Bohmler performing standards from the Great American Songbook and Broadway, including tunes by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Stephen Sondheim, and more.
Look for a future DPJ story previewing Actors Theatre’s upcoming 2014-2015 season, which includes Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar, Sharr White’s Annapurna, Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.
If you go:
- Troupe: Actors Theatre at www.actorstheatrephx.org or 602-253-6701
- General admission
- Venue: The Helen K Mason Performing Arts Center, 1333 E. Washington
(nearby free parking available)
Human beings rely on all kinds of tools to survive in our complex world and a good map is one of our most basic tools for understanding where we are and where we want to go. Maps help us get our bearings, step confidently into unfamiliar territory, and discover hidden byways and shortcuts through the larger landscape.
In an urban environment, a good map is a welcome mat inviting us into the unique neighborhoods that make up the specific landscape of that city. Public transportation and easy-to-use destination maps make perfect partners for pedestrians who want to experience the true spirit of a city.
Recognizing this, Valley Metro developed new destination maps, which were installed at light rail stations in late spring. Hillary Foose, Valley Metro’s Director of Marketing & Communication, spearheaded the initiative by partnering with the City of Phoenix, Artlink, Inc. and Local First Arizona to provide a unique level of local neighborhood-specific detail that would communicate the rich destination options just steps beyond each station.
She was looking for what urbanists refer to as the “fine grain” elements of the city to provide a richer sense of place for residents and visitors alike.
“We wanted destinations to be very local,” said Foose. “That’s what makes our system interesting; we can point people to the local gems that they can walk to from each station.”
The new maps are easy to read, and each station features a “you are here” circle showing the destinations within a five-minute walk of that station. And the plan is to update the maps twice a year. Very cool.
In addition to these station maps, Valley Metro has gone the extra mile to link residents and visitors to the many arts and culture destinations accessible from the system.
The Valley Metro Arts & Culture Destination Guide was published in March and features fifty destinations between Phoenix and Mesa.
Each page of the guide features a simple map highlighting each station stop and the major cultural attractions within easy walking distance. There are photos, venue descriptions and contact info that make it easy to use and more valuable than a compass for those who want to explore all of their arts and culture options.
Savvy visitors from around the Valley and beyond can use the station maps in combination with the Arts & Culture Destination Guide to explore, shop, eat, and experience what makes our corner of the world so special.
Next time you use the light rail, take a minute to download an Arts & Culture Destination Guide and scope out the station destination maps before you step off the platform and venture out into the hood. You’ll be amazed at the urban treasures you’ll discover in your own backyard.
Images courtesy of Valley Metro
The education and performance venue, named after Phoenix-born jazz drummer Lewis Nash, is owned and operated by the non-profit Jazz in Arizona, familiarly known as Jazz in AZ. Board vice president Jeff Libman became involved with the organization as soon as he learned about plans for The Nash.
“The places I lived before are Chicago and New York City and then here,” says Libman, “and this place needed a jazz club — and bad.” He points out the wide range of musical experiences available at The Nash. “If this is going to be the one jazz club in Phoenix, we want everybody to have something they can appreciate here.” Libman adds, “And then, of course, we want to reach the people who said, ‘Hey, I had no idea that I like jazz…but I like this, and I discovered it here.’”
The Nash offers concerts through the summer on Friday and Saturday nights on the Contemporary and Mainstream Jazz series, as well as the occasional special event. Says Libman, “We wanted to say, ‘we’re open to different interpretations of jazz,’ because this ‘what is jazz?’ conversation is still going on in very interesting ways.”
He continues, “There does need to be some kind of boundary…we have a mission. This was supposed to be a jazz oasis in the desert…so one of the questions I ask about something that’s on the border is ‘Is this jazz-inspired? Does it have improvisation? Does it have swing? Are some of the musicians…jazz musicians who sometimes do other things, and this is their different side project?’” Libman smiles. “I think we get into trouble as an organization if we get too snooty or too particular about what [jazz] is.”
At Arizona State University Libman teaches jazz guitar and Jazz Lab, directs the Jazz Repertory Band, and coaches combos. He’ll complete his PhD this fall while maintaining an active performance schedule, playing on his own and in a contemporary jazz group called Running From Bears and regularly hosting jam sessions at The Nash.
The venue includes three back rooms for break-out sessions and workshops, as well as a recording booth. A tiny lobby leads into the open seating and stage area, where a curtain serves as the simple backdrop. The Nash’s gallery-lit walls carry themed art installations rotating every few months, and the sounds of downtown are faintly audible.
In its default table-seating configuration, The Nash holds 75, although without tables it can hold an audience of 120, allowing some groups to play without amplification. “If your jazz club gets too big it starts to feel like a concert hall; it’s not as intimate any more. So there’s a sweet spot of size,” says Libman. Without an elevated stage, the piano can be easily moved and the audience enjoys close proximity to the performers. “One of the reasons is sometimes we have a big band in here,” Libman adds, “and sometimes we have a big big band in here, and there’s somebody in the audience sitting here” — he pulls forward a chair in the front row– “and there’s a baritone sax player sitting here” — he gestures a few feet away. “So this allows us the flexibility.”
“If you want this visceral thing about being there and feeling connected with it more than perfect sight-lines, then this is the kind of room for you,” says Libman. “And I like that. There are trade-offs with everything.”
The Nash offers year-round private and group lessons, jam sessions every Saturday, and a wealth of affordable educational opportunities including workshops for all skill levels and instruments. Recent multi-week workshops featured “Singing Standards” — learning repertoire from the Great American Songbook — and “Playing on Changes,” a four-week introduction to improvising over chord changes.
Saxophonist Adam Roberts teaches “Electronics for Horn Players” on August 2 and the notation software workshop “Finale for Jazz Musicians” on August 9. Not every participant needs to be a performer; Libman himself led an “exposure” session on music history, appreciation, and listening.
The Nash’s 200 performances each year include the Catch a Rising Star series, which presents talented young artists and sometimes helps launch careers. First Fridays mean special free shows. “To be on the street is very powerful,” says Libman, “because this is a burgeoning arts district — we have 1500 people come in and out of the door on a First Friday.”
Libman particularly appreciates The Nash’s attraction for young listeners. “[It’s] one of the few places that I can think of where people who are under 21 years old are like, ‘We’re gonna go to jazz shows regularly.’”
The venue often welcomes all ages, but also holds a BYOB certificate, which allows patrons to bring a limited amount of alcohol for a small corkage fee, an arrangement which may change next year. “But we won’t do anything that makes it so you can’t be under 21 and come here on a regular bases,” Libman assures me. “There are some compromises we’re unwilling to make.”
“We feel like this whole artistic energy in Phoenix is starting to coalesce and grow,” he says, “and we just want to get in and be a part of that.”
If you go:
Visit: The Nash
Address: 110 E. Roosevelt St.
For more: thenash.org – 602-795-0464