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Homer Jackson On New Songs - Open Road

Homer Jackson 1

In celebration of poet Walt Whitman's 200th birthday, artist/curator and director of the Philadelphia Jazz Project, Homer Jackson presents New Songs Of The Open Road: a special project consisting of a series of four “singing” walks which take place in different neighborhoods of Philadelphia. As Whitman was an avid walker/hiker, Jackson and his team will facilitate four audience participation events that consist of singing walkers. These walks will take place in different locations and communities in Philadelphia including North Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, Center City and Germantown. These walks are simultaneously influenced by Whitman's poem,"Songs of the Open Road" and inspired by civil rights movement freedom songs. Featuring choir members and additional vocalists, these walks encourage the public to join in walking and singing songs of affirmation.


Walt Whitman 1

Whitman at 200

Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday on Friday, May 31st, 2019 provides an important opportunity to reassess his estimable contributions to American life at a time when our country is so polarized. Organized by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries Kislak Center with major support from The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, this region-wide series of cultural events consists of four new artistic commissions plus a multitude of innovative exhibitions, performances, and programs initiated in conjunction with partner organizations across the Philadelphia and Camden, NJ region. While events take place all year, there is a focus on the two-week period, between May 24 and June 9, 2019, around Whitman's birthday.  


New Songs Of The Open Road is special project designed by artist/curator and director of the Philadelphia Jazz Project, Homer Jackson, as part of Whitman At 200 - the celebration of Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday hosted by University of Pennsylvania Libraries Kislak Center. Our project consists of a series of four “singing” walks which take place in different neighborhoods of Philadelphia.


Led by choirmaster, Waverly Alston and key songwriter vocalists, Taylor"TobyVEnT" Martin, James Solomon and V. Shayne Frederick, these walks involve choirs of walkers, which include the general public. These events are influenced by Whitman’s poem, “Song of the Open Road,” which contemplates the possibilities of American freedom and are inspired by the civil rights movement protest marchers who tested the realities of freedom by taking them to the streets. These events are FREE of charge and we openly encourage all and any to participate by walking and singing with us.


Homer Jackson 2


PJP spoke with interdisciplinary artist and Philadelphia Jazz prohject Director, Homer Jackson about Walt Whitman and The New Songs For The Open Road Project.


PJP: Can you briefly describe your background?


Homer Jackson: I'm a North Philadelphian. Ironically, I'm not a musician. I am a visual artist, trained in printmaking. That includes etching, silk screen, lithography and other printing methods. I describe myself as an interdisciplianry artist because I work with multiple artmaking approaches, such as visual arts, writing, video, live performance and music, sometimes all at the same time. I have been fascinated with "The Music" - what some of us call Jazz, since I was a young man.


PJP: Why Walt Whitman?


Homer Jackson: When I was introduced to this idea of our city celebrating Walt Whitman, I was generally excited. Any time we, as Philadelphians celebrate us, it’s good news. However, to be a part of the actual celebration, I had to think about connections. The first image I had was Walt Whitman and the act of walking. I was well aware of his love of hiking and walking. When coupled with the notion of freedom, walking is a special thing…  as Whitman himself suggests, “Freedom - to walk free and own no superior.” It’s as if he worked out a map of freedom in his mind ands shared it is his work.

Which led me to the defiant, humble, yet majestic marches of the civil rights protesters. Their struts in-acted and challenged exactly what Whitman spoke of. They took the words to the road so to speak. If freedom was real, they were gonna find it on the open road. Their songs served as a shield, as an inspiration as a call, as a rhythm for their steps. Soon, the words from Langston Hughes classic poem, advise us to ponder the song and the singing as more than just for our entertainment. “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”. The walking and the singing is a kind of medicine. All of this ultimately served as the inspiration for this project.


PJP: Is Whitman still important now?


Homer Jackson 3Homer Jackson: It's tricky because there is so much about Whitman that is so modern, so contemporary. Change the language just a bit and he's one of us: A 20th or 21st century artist… a messy human being in the midst of the struggle of becoming oneself. However, he was not a 20th or 21st century artist. He truly was a 19th century American white man with all the opportunities,  challenges and drama of a 19th century American white man. He was progressive and not so progressive. He may have been gay. He was also probably racist, but definitely in line with most folks of his time. Most important, he was an artist and even with these challenges, he dropped some jewels. Leaving us with a life time’s worth of brilliant, game-changing poetry, commentary and letters. To be fair, most of us as modern artists may not know much about Walt Whitman or Edgar Alan Poe, but their impact on modern expression impacts us because either our teachers, or our teacher's teacher, or our teacher's teacher's teacher were indeed influenced by them.


PJP: Who is working with you on this project?


Homer Jackson: I'm working with singer/songwriter and bandleader, Toby Martin, choirmaster, singer and songwriter, Waverly Alston, along with Philadelphia Jazz Project director and the creator of this project, Homer Jackson. Toby and Waverly exhibit the leadership qualities that are perfect for organizing a community sing. The songs they composed are imaginative, very accessible and totally inspirational.


PJP: What have these walks been like?


Homer Jackson: I personally find them to be fun and inspirational. Getting out and strolling with like-minded folks, enjoying the sun and good company, all with the joy of singing these new and old songs of affirmation is a great thing to do on a spring/summer’s day. New Songs Of The Open Road is designed to bring together a diverse gathering of Philadelphians to simply walk and sing together finding solace, peace and joy in the co-mingling of our voices and footsteps.


IHomer Jackson 4 am honored to once again work with each of my collaborators on this project: Composer, vocalist and choir master, Waverly Alston brings an engaging artistry to his work and a knack for diving across musical boundaries. Taylor “Toby VEnt” Martin is a force of nature. A powerful vocalist, dynamic bandleader and fearless songwriter, she often dwells where the rubber hits the road in terms of spirituality in practice. Singer/songwriter James Solomon is brilliant artist with a deep commitment to creating art that works to build community and compassion. All three of these artists bring their experience with the church to the forefront of their work, yet are deeply engaged in creatively challenging the limitations that can often come from that relationship.


PJP: Why Jazz? When you could be doing anything else, why jazz?


Jazz is just a name for one aspect of this bigger idea about cultural expression that comes from the peoples of the African Diaspora. And during the 20th century, this music became the universal language of FREEDOM. It provides so many people around the world a common tongue that demands, exudes and craves creativity, liberation, self determination and cooperation. It is truly a gift to spend your week, working with others who day in and day out, want to bring beauty into the world.


New Songs Open Road



New Songs Of The Open Road - Schedule Of Events:


    1.    Saturday, May 18th - 3pm / Fairmount Park - North Philly

    Location: Mander Recreation Center & Around East Park Reservoir
    Start: Mander Recreation Center - 140 N 33rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19121
    Destination: Mander Recreation Center - 140 N 33rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19121    


    2.    Saturday, June 8th - 3pm / Germantown

    Location: Joseph E. Coleman Library to Cliveden
    Start: Joseph E. Coleman Library -  68 W Chelten Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19144
    Destination: Cliveden - 6401 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19144    


   3.    Saturday, June 22nd - 4pm / South Philly

    Location: Marconi Plaza To Whitman Plaza
    Start: Marconi Plaza -  2800 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19145
    Destination: Whitman Plaza - 330 W Oregon Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148


    4.    Saturday, July 6th - 4pm / The Parkway

    Location: Parkway Central Library To Boat House Row
    Start: Parkway Central Library -  1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
    Destination: Boat House Row - 1 Boathouse Row, Philadelphia, PA 19130


*Be prepared for a vigorous walk in warm to hot weather during the middle of the day. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Bring a hat to cover your head and if necessary, bring sunglasses as well. Be sure to drink water and we will have additional water on site.


For More Information: Whitman At 200


Homer JacksonHomer Jackson is an interdisciplinary artist. As a young art student, jazz nurtured Jackson’s creativity. In 1980, Temple University’s jazz radio station WRTI recruited Jackson to host a weekly radio program. Jackson has created performances in collaboration with artists such as the late AACM violinist, Leroy Jenkins, Twin Cities-based instrument maker and former AACM president, Douglas Ewart, as well as the Philly-based hip-hop band, The Roots. He has exhibited and performed works at spaces such as Philagraphika, Painted Bride Arts Center, and ICA/Philadelphia. Jackson has received grants for his work from various funders including the Pew Charitable Trusts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Homer Jackson is the director of the Philadelphia Jazz Project and the executive producer of the Remedy Project Mixtapes.




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Major support for Whitman At 200 artistic commissions has been provided to University of Pennsylvania Libraries by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.


Philadelphia Jazz Project is a sponsored project of the Culture Trust | Greater Philadelphia, with funding provided by The Philadelphia Foundation.

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Philadelphia Jazz Project is a sponsored project of the Culture Trust | Greater Philadelphia, with funding provided by The Philadelphia Foundation.