On Stage: Temple’s Micah Graves launches music career at challenging time

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Micah Graves

It’s always difficult for new artists to get their careers off the ground – even in normal times. Right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult.

It’s hard to deal with the recording of an album because of studio closures and musicians hampered by pandemic quarantines. It’s hard to introduce the music to new fans without live shows. And it’s really hard to release a new album without being able to tour nationally in support of the new release.

Micah Graves, a promising young jazz pianist from Philadelphia, has met these challenges head-on and is forging ahead with his career.

Graves just released his debut album “Med Nama” (official title — “Not for the Ordinary: Med Nama”) and will introduce the tunes live in a show featuring the Micah Graves Project on January 19 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

The show, which will take place onstage and be livestreamed, is part of the theater’s Soundbooth Sessions” series.

Graves and his band were initially scheduled to perform at the Sellersville Theater late last year.

“We were originally scheduled to play a show at Sellersville on December 15,” said Graves, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home in Philadelphia.

“One of our members got COVID, so we decided not to rush it. Now, we’re on for January 19.”

Graves’ band includes vocalists Danielle Dougherty (who also is in legendary trumpeter Terell Stafford’s big band) and Shafiq Hicks (who was performing the role of Tom Collins in the 25thAnniversary National Tour of “Rent” when it got shut down because of the pandemic), bassist John Moran, drummer Julian Miltenberger and pianist/composer Graves.

“Most of us are or were Temple University students and we’re all from the Philadelphia area,” said Graves.  “We all knew each other from high school programs like the Settlement Music program.

“Danielle and Shafiq went to Philly schools – Dani to Girls’ High and Shafiq to C.A.P.A. John is from Abington and I went to Calvary Christian. Julian is from the Boston area and went to Harvard University and Berklee School of Music.

“Dani has been in some of the same courses with me at Temple. I’m in my last semester at Temple studying jazz piano performance.”

The band name – The Micah Graves Project” – came into existence before the band did.

“This concept started about two years ago,” said Graves, who cites Herbie Hancock, Jeff Lorber and McCoy Tyner as his biggest influences. “It was an idea I had. When I went to play, I put the name out.

“This line-up has been together since June. I had a performance at an ice cream shop – Sprinkles Ice Cream in Elkins Park. I called everyone randomly. It came together and it worked well.

After June, we decided to keep going and have probably played 10-15 gigs together. A lot of the gigs were outdoor shows. We did three shows at Chris’ Jazz inside – two with audiences and the third just livestreamed.”

The pandemic certainly has not slowed down Graves. “Med Nama” is the first installment of a 2021 trilogy – “Not for the Ordinary” — that will also feature the albums “In My Fairytale” and “Crooked Tongues.”

“I just finished making ‘Med Nama’ and I spent the last four days delivering CDs to people,” said Graves. “I have 200 more copies coming so I’ll have some to sell at Sellersville.

“I have four albums coming out this year and I wrote every song and every word. The next one will be in March with a single coming out before that. The single will be coming out on Valentine’s Day.

“I wrote most of the music on ‘Med Nama’ when I spent a semester studying in Amsterdam. ‘Med Nama’ is a Slovenian phrase that was inspired by my time in Amsterdam.”

“Med Nama” means “Between us” in Slovenian. Obviously, it is not a song inspired by Donald and Melania’s relationship (or hand holding).

Graves learned a lot during his time in Amsterdam — such as not ordering a latte in a coffee shop not writing compositions just as instrumentals. “Med Nama” is a reflection of a period of growth for the Philly keyboard ace.

“Med Nama,” which was produced by Graves, was recorded at Rittenhouse Soundworks in Germantown and mixed and mastered at Turtle Studios in South Philadelphia. It was engineered by Michael Richelle, mixed by Doug Rausand mastered by Sean Svadlenak.

“We recorded most of ‘Med Nama’ on August 4 in Germantown,” said Graves. “Then, we went back and finished the album on December 11.”

The next stop is Sellersville on January 19. Restrictions have been changing the capacity limit at the theater. A short while ago, it was limited to 66. Then, it got cut to 33 and then to 10. Now, it has been upped again.

“When we were going to play there last month, no people were allowed but now it’s 33,” said Graves. “I’ve done livestream shows with no audience. It’s different with no applause – no feedback. It will be nice to have a live audience again.”

Video link for the Micah Graves Project — https://micahgraves.bandcamp.com/album/not-for-the-ordinary-med-nama-2?from=embed

The show at the Sellersville Theater will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for live audience and “pay as you please” for Livestream.

Other shows this month at the Sellersville Theater are “High Noon – A Tribute To Lynyrd Skynyrd And Southern Rock” on January 23 at 3 and 8 p.m. and January 24 at 8 p.m., The Tribe on January 26 and Kasim Sultan on January 30 at 3 and 8 p.m.

Bridgeport Ribhouse (1049 Ford Street, Bridgeport, www.ribhouse.net) will be hosting performances by Brian Quinn & Danny Beissel on January 20 and 27, February 3, 10, 17 and 24 and March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31.

Beissel has spent the past decade performing with such musical stalwarts as Jeffrey “Skunk” Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers), Barry Goudreau (Formerly of Boston), James Burton (Elvis, Ricky Nelson) and Fosterchild (with Quinn).

Quinn co-founded the Philadelphia-based rock band Octane and was named “Best Guitarist” in the Philadelphia region by the Philadelphia Music Awards in 2001 and 2004. A decade later, Quinn joined Candlebox when the band needed to replace its guitarist.

Other upcoming shows at the Ribhouse are Mike Greer & Co. on January 15, Dead Flowers on January 16, Vik Raolji on January 16 and 17, AM Radio on January 17, Kenn Kweder on January 22, Rhodes Less Traveled on January 23, River Dawgs on January 29 and Montoj on January 30.

Samantha Seider

Cedar Hollow Inn Restaurant and Bar (2455 Yellow Springs Road, Malvern, www.cedarhollowinn.com) will present Samantha Seider on February 4.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will present Joe Lapree on January 14, Peter Edward on January 16, Mr. Mody on January 22, and Rick Lawrence on January 23.

Creekside Sports Bar & Grille (765 N Lewis Road, Royersford, http://www.creeksidesportsbar.com/) will host Legacy Trio on January 15, Lima Bean Riot on January 16, Brass Pocket on January 22, Buzzer band on January 23, Shot of Southern on January 29 and Triple Rail Turn on January 30.

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