On Stage: Ethan Iverson Quartet

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Ethan Iverson Quartet

For years, the Ars Nova Workshop has been presenting area jazz fans with musical gems in the form of live concerts by some of the top jazz artists in the world.

On October 17, ANW will present a performance by the Ethan Iverson Quartet at the Caplan Center for Performing Arts (University of the Arts, 211 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.arsnovaworkshop.org).

Iverson, a world-renowned pianist and his group are playing shows in support of the new Ethan Iverson Quartet album — “Common Practice.”

The album presents the former Bad Plus pianist at the head of his own quartet performing a program of standards and blues recorded live at Village Vanguard. The virtuosic all-star band features as its prime melodic voice veteran trumpeter Tom Harrell, who was voted Trumpeter of the Year in 2018 by the Jazz Journalists Association. The quartet is also driven by a buoyant swing courtesy of the dynamic rhythm team of bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson.

“We’re doing three shows on this small tour – Boston, New York and Philadelphia,” said Iverson, during a phone interview Tuesday from a tour stop in Boston. “It’s the first time to take it on tour.

“The album was made back in 2017 when we played a week at the Village Vanguard. If you’re in this business, making a live album at the Village Vanguard is something you strive for.

“We played six nights – 12 sets. We recorded three nights. Two of the sets were really on. We looked at the overall structure and the band vibe. It was pretty easy to choose the takes.

“Prior to the Village Vanguard shows, I had played with everybody in the quartet – but never as a unit. This is common practice in New York. This is what jazz musicians have been doing here since the 1950s – and there is still freshness to this practice.

Iverson grew up in Wisconsin and then moved to New York to follow his love of jazz.

“My parents weren’t musicians,” said Iverson. “But we had TV. I listened to a lot of jazz on TV – things like the ‘Pink Panther Theme.’ I liked that sound – whatever it was. I still am pursuing it.

“I started taking piano lessons when I was seven and now, I teach piano at the New England Conservatory of Music. I live in New York and travel to Boston to teach. I’m here now waiting for a student to come for a lesson.

“I played at the Village Vanguard a lot – especially with Bad Plus. I was with Bad Plus for 17 years. With Bad Plus, we were on an island. I was always less on that page than the others. I kept relationships with other musicians.”

One of those musicians was Tom Harrell.

“I have always loved Tom Harrell,” said Iverson, who now lives in Brooklyn. “Everybody loves Tom Harrell. I had a literal dream about playing with him. I called him and set up a duo gig for two nights and it went really well.

“Then, we set up the shows at the Village Vanguard. I didn’t know I was going to make a record. Then, the first night sounded so great, I knew we had to record it.

“The music has gotten even stronger since then. For the Philly show, a few things from the album will turn up. With these musicians, there can be a lot of spontaneity. I’m looking forward to playing Philly. The city has a great tradition of jazz.”

Video link for Ethan Iverson – https://youtu.be/VaGQwDuw0sI.

The show at the Caplan Center for Performing Arts on October 17 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Other upcoming ANW shows are Patty Waters on October 26 at Caplan Center for Performing Arts, Lea Bertucci and Deradoorian  at Ruba Club on October 27 and Sounds of Liberation on October 31 at Johnny Brenda’s.

If live comedy is more to your liking than live jazz and you’re looking for a show Thursday night, then plan a short trip just over the Pennsylvania-Delaware state line to the Candlelight Dinner Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org).

Leah Bonnema

Most of the time, the Candlelight Dinner Theatre is just what its name implies. It is a theater that specializes in high-quality plays with talented casts and, at the same time, a dinner theater with a sumptuous buffet.

But, one night each month, it becomes something entirely different. It becomes the CandlelightComedy Club.

This month’s Comedy Club night is scheduled for October 17 with veteran comedian Leah Bonnema as the headline act and Neil Rubenstein as the opening act. The show’s emcee is Natalie Levant.

Bonnema is a stand-up comic based in New York City. Featured on Stephen Colbert just two weeks ago, she’s also been seen on AXS TV’s “Gotham Comedy Live,” IFC’s “Comedy Crib,” Broadway Video’s “The Henkle Factor with Michael Che,” VH1’s “100 Greatest Series.” She is also a regular on Sirius XM Radio.

Huffington Post named her one of their Favorite Female Comedians and she was on “The America Stands Up Showcase” at The International Glasgow Comedy Festival.

She has had two solo shows in Manhattan – “The Heart & Never with the Brain” and “Wake Up and Yell at Me.” “Solving Leah,” a half-hour comedic detective series that Bonnema wrote, starred in and produced with Frankenmel Films, was an “Official Selection” of The 2017 New York Television Festival and The 2018 Portland Film Festival.

Rubenstein, who has never had a sip of alcohol and doesn’t do drugs, references past occupations such as owning a brothel and running an illegal poker room. It’s a dynamic that makes Neil both incredibly interesting and incredibly funny – something that served him well when his role on a Spike TV show as a gambling expert introduced him to the world of stand-up comedy. 

Video link for Leah Bonnema — https://youtu.be/6ydL6EuDwJs.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the show at the Candlelight Comedy Club. Tickets are $30.

The Candlelight Dinner Theatre’s main production – the hit musical comedy “Catch Me If You Can” – is running weekends now through October 20.

More live jazz is on tap for October 18.

Boney James

Boney James, who is headlining a show on October 18 at Copeland Hall at the Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577,www.thegrandwilmington.org), is a saxophonist, songwriter, record producer – and one of America’s most popular soul, jazz and R&B saxophonists.

James is still out on the road touring in support of his latest album “Honestly,” which was released in late 2017.

“The album came out in September 2017,” said James, during a recent phone interview from his studio in Los Angeles. “Two years later, I’m still working ‘Honestly.’

“I started recording it in June a year prior. I was doing a lot of it during the turmoil of the election.  It was influenced by the election. I wanted a positive theme. The music is fun and happy – a good antidote for all the negativity.

“A lot of it was about trying to find the positive energy by making music that is fun and uplifting. Music is a wonderful thing. Music is such a vital force in terms of human experience. Music is an important way to bring people together.”

“Honestly,” which is James’ 16th album, is his follow-up to “futuresoul,” another award-winning album. The album before that – “The Beat” in 2013 — was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Album.

“Honestly” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts and has remained there for weeks.  In addition, the album debuted at #22 on the Billboard Current Albums chart, which was the highest debut to date for the four-time GRAMMY nominated artist.

“They kick you off the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts automatically after two years,” said James. “The album is still selling really well. It would probably be Number One now if they hadn’t kicked it off.

“My fans are still listening to albums and they’re still buying CDs. People like to own a physical product. My reality hasn’t changes and the enthusiasm of my listeners continues to grow.”

James has found a method that works for him.

“Every song on the album was co-written except ‘Skylark,’ which is a cover of a classic by Hoagy Carmichael’,” said James, who has racked up sales of more than three million records and four RIAA gold albums.

“Co-writing happens different ways – someone will send me something or I’ll have an idea and send it to someone. The bulk of my catalogue is co-writing. I always work with co-writers. This album had about the same number of collaborators as usual. We’ll be working on a song and, if it needs someone, we’ll get them.

“When I first start writing a song, I begin with a blank slate. The song could start with a melody or a keyboard chord progression or a sax phrase. I generally make a version of the song by myself. I’ll create a pretty full arrangement and then replace parts with musicians. Although, sometimes I stay with the original.

“The “Honestly’ album is a little more exposed. I thought the melodies were really strong and that the songs called for less treatment. It’s more sincere.”

Over the years, James has won a Soul Train Award, received nominations for two NAACP Image Awards and placed 10 albums atop Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. In 2009, Billboard named him the #3 Contemporary Jazz Artist of The Decade (trailing just Kenny G and Norah Jones).

“The current live set has five songs in and out of the set from the latest record,” said James. “The whole set list rotates a lot. For this tour, I’ve dusted off a lot of stuff I hadn’t been playing in years. There are songs I haven’t played live for 20 years.

“With 16 albums, there is a lot to choose from. Some of the must-play songs are ‘Sweet Thing,’ ‘Grazing in the Grass’ and ‘After the Rain.’ I’m always trying to pay my homage to R&B. At the same time, I just try to make my music individual to me.”

Video link for Boney James – https://youtu.be/0br61rMU8jM.

The show at the Grand will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35, $38 and $40.

Other upcoming shows at the Grand are Leonid & Friends on October 17, Ailey II on October 19, and Renaissance on October 20.


“Rent”, which had record-breaking sales when it played Philadelphia on numerous previous occasions, has established itself as one of America’s all-time best Broadway shows. Based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” it swept all the major theater awards, including the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The 20th anniversary National Tour of “Rent” came back to Philly to the Merriam Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.kimmelcenter.org) in March as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia series. The six-day run was a complete sellout.

As a result, the Kimmel is bringing “Rent” back to the Merriam Theater again for a special three-day, five-show run from October 18-20.

The show’s playwright Jonathan Larsen passed away the night before the Off-Broadway premiere of “Rent” in January 1996. Most likely, if he were still alive today, he would be astounded by the show’s success – more than 20 productions worldwide, including Broadway and London’s West End, and numerous awards such as Pulitzer Prize for Drama, three Tony Awards (Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score) and four Drama Desk Awards (Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Book of a Musical, Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics).

Many of the characters in the play are dropouts from the real world – artists, musicians, writers and their friends who are trying to survive on the outer fringes of society.

This tour is also an avenue for young artists trying to survive and succeed in the theater world – including Lexi Greene who plays Mrs. Cohen and is the understudy for Maureen.

“This is my first national tour,” said Greene, during a phone interview last week. “Auditions were held back in March and April. I was looking for any place in the show – especially swing for Maureen or Mimi. I did both characters’ songs in the auditions.

“This is the 20th anniversary tour and it’s been out for several years. This is the fourth cast. We started in Houston and we’ve been out for two-and-one-half months.”

Playing in a show at the Merriam allows Greene to perform just a few blocks away from where she got her undergrad degree.

“I went to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia,” said Greene. “I was cast in this show a month before I graduated. I got rid of everything I owned in Philly, was in New York for three weeks and now I’m on the road.

“I grew up in Agoura Hills, California. Most of the colleges I applied to were on the Eat Coast. I really liked Philadelphia when I was doing college visits – Walnut Street, South Street.

“I got a BFA in musical theater from the University of the Arts. My favorite show I did there was ‘American Idiot’ in my junior year. The last show I did at school was ‘Click’ back in April. I really enjoyed my time in Philly.”

Considering that Greene wasn’t even born when “Rent’ first arrived on Broadway, it is not a show she grew up with.

“I had only seen ‘Rent’ once before,” said Greene. “That was 10 years ago in a community theatre production. I watched the 2008 Broadway version online. I’m really up for the challenge of playing Maureen.”

Maureen is Mark’s ex-girlfriend and Joanne’s current girlfriend. She is very flirtatious and cheated on Mark. Larson considered Maureen a lesbian, despite her previous relationships with men, and he specifically identified her as “lesbian” in the script itself.

Maureen is an outrageous, bisexual performance artist. It is assumed that she left Mark for Joanne, though this is never explicitly stated. Through it all, Maureen is always upfront – is always the Maureen her friends know and care about.

“Rent” has a cast of “outcasts” – Mark, a struggling documentary filmmaker; Roger, a rock singer/guitarist ex-junkie who is HIV-positive;

Mimi, a Hispanic-American S&M club dancer and heroin addict; Joanne, a gay Ivy League-educated public interest lawyer; Tom, a professor and anarchist with AIDS; Angel, a drag queen street percussionist with AIDS; and Benny, a former friend/roommate of the group who turned into a “yuppie scum” landlord.

The show looks at all their lives and how they interact with each other and with society.

“I think ‘Rent’ has stayed so popular because it has such a simple and beautiful message,” said Greene. “The message is to focus on love and to spread love. That’s the key to a good life – and a fulfilling life.

“My favorite song in the show is ‘Another Day.’ The message of the show rings true in that song.”

Video link for “Rent” — https://youtu.be/uMKuVgWLPKc.

The Merriam Theater will host “Rent” from October 18-20. Ticket prices start at $45.

Heather Maloney

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) hosts Heather Maloney with Chelsea Sue Allen on October 17, A Funny Thing About Me on October 18, The Fainz / Riko and Whaler / Here Again on October 19, and Open Mic with guest host Brian Turner on October 20.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will present Megan Slankard with Florida Wayne on October 18 and Joe Crookston on October 19.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will have Kings Arms and Good Point on October 18.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will host Melvin Seals and George Porter Jr. on October 17, Freeway and Friends on October 18, The Unforgettable Fire with special guest The Core on October 19, and The Cactus Blossoms with special guest Esther Rose on October 20.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Alfred James Band with Julia Levitina on October 18 and JD Malone and the Experts on October 19.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) will hots Bob DiBuono on October 17, The Miners and Wheelhouse on October 18, and Trevor Street Band on October 19.

Living Room (35 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, https://thelivingroomat35east.com) will present Julia Levitina and Cecilia Ferneborg on October 17, Brian Seymour on October 18, Greg Sover Trio on October 19, and Rick Denzien and Debra Lee’s Lyra Project with Jason Hinkle on October 20.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) will have Sharon Little with special guest Christina Brennan on October 17 and Ari Hest with special guest Jeff Touhy on October 18.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents Rick Springfield and Richard Marx on October 17, Dennis DeYoung on October 18, Peter Bence on October 19, and Sergio Mendes on October 23.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will host Ellis Paul on October 17, Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward on October 18, Lee Ann Womack on October 19, Kat Edmonson on October 20, Justin Hayward on October 21 and 22, and Bobby Messano & Bob Malone on October 23.

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