“Singing Nina: a cultural festival and conference,” is a one day, multi-location event being held in the Germantown section of Philadelphia on Sunday, May 19, 2019. Presented by Germantown Arts, the mission is to celebrate the life and music of the cultural icon, Nina Simone.
— A screening of the documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” followed by a panel discussion featuring former bandmates, writers, and cultural scholars to discuss Nina Simone’s impact on society through music and social activism
— A garden party at the historic Wyck House in Germantown with a performance by DJ Rich Medina, who will spin contemporary music that includes samples of Nina Simone’s music, giving an appreciation for her music through a modern lens
— A VIP event at the Germantown Historical Society, featuring an intimate solo performance of Nina Simone’s music, along with further discussion
The day concludes with the main event concert, “Dear Nina,” an evening-length program of Nina Simone’s music performed by Rootstock Republic, a string ensemble comprised of string quartet, bass, harp, piano, and voice.
They will perform original arrangements of Nina Simone’s music arranged for this classical ensemble, a nod to Nina Simone’s dream of becoming a classical pianist. To further acknowledge Simone’s classical background, the ensemble will be augmented by alumni from the Curtis Institute of Music, to shine a light on the honorary degree given to Simone by that institution.
The event’s organizers are David Rose, Brendan McGeehan, and Jim Hamilton. David Rose is principal curator at Sally Blagg, a Germantown-based creativity agency with a focus on connecting conglomerates to the communities that they serve for maximum growth and impact. Jim Hamilton is a Germantown-based musician, sound engineer, record producer, entrepreneur and owner of Rittenhouse Soundworks & Filmworks. Brendan McGeehan is a recording engineer, educator, record producer, arranger and session musician who produces concerts and teaches sound design.
The Philadelphia Jazz Project spoke with the Singing Nina festival co-organizers David Rose, Brendan McGeehan, and Jim Hamilton about the collaboration and what’s coming up.
PJP: Can you briefly describe your musical direction?
David Rose: The overarching idea is to shed light on the arch of inspiration for Ms. Simone; the deepest intent is to breathe life into the artists’ inspiration that stemmed from classical composition on the piano. In artistry, as in life, we tend to attempt to place people in boxes but jazz is unboxed. In that spirit, we have taken what began as a conversation about Ms. Simone’s rooted inspiration in the classics (Bach, Brahms, Beethoven) and placed it at the center of our vision board. Everything else closed from that central point.
PJP: What is the Nina Simone conference about?
David Rose: At core, this conference is about the community that already exists around Ms. Simone. Think of it as a family reunion; our team is just on the guys and gals on the grill.
Brendan McGeehan: It’s important to us to try and shed light on Miss Simone as an artist and as a person. Her influence goes beyond any one genre, and beyond music into culture and politics. That’s why we plan to show the edifying documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone,” followed up by a panel discussion about her life and music. Then, attendees will stroll down Germantown Avenue to the historic Wyck House for a garden party, with a DJ spinning tunes that sample Ms Simone’s music. The festival ends with “Dear Nina,” a program of Miss Simon’s music arranged for string orchestra and voice.
PJP: Who is taking part in it?
Our confirmed sponsors and partners to date include:
• Sally Blagg, LLC
• Historic Germantown
• Curtis Institute of Music
• Rittenhouse Soundworks and Filmworks
• The Wyck House & Garden
• Uncle Bobbies Books & Coffee
• Germantown Espresso Bar
Projected Performers include:
• DJ Rich Medina
• Rootstock Republic
PJP: Why is this theme/concept so important? Can you explain your process and the steps that led to this festival?
Jim Hamilton: Brendan and David were talking over coffee and said “what if.” Then, they asked me and the three of us said let’s do it. One of the things that got us excited in the planning stage was using the event as a way of bringing our Northwest community together. It’s only through shared cultural experiences that we can truly bring our community together.
PJP: When listening or participating in the festival, what advice would you give the audience to assist with greater understanding and enjoyment?
David Rose: Be present in mind, body and spirit!
Brendan McGeehan: We want this event to be nourishing to the mind and soul, and we hope our events reflect that. We wish for the audience to be welcome and open to the experience.
PJP: We at PJP know how difficult taking on this important work can be. There’s always something else to do. What kinds of support can the community give to help with the effort and its ongoing success?
Jim Hamilton: Provide funding
Brendan McGeehan: We’d love for people to get involved with our Kickstarter campaign, or to grab Pre-Sale Tickets to the event.
PJP: Why jazz? When you could be doing anything else, why jazz?
Jim Hamilton: I guess the question means any other kind of music other than jazz. Jazz is not a kind of music; it’s more like a language. Nina Simone is put into a jazz category because there’s nowhere else to put her. We’re just trying to honor her artistry and her memory specifically because she has such a strong Philadelphia connection. We also feel that it’s very important for Philadelphia to claim it’s own history and celebrate it.