John Erickson: We should start by saying thanks alot for having us...
Mr. Christman: Oh, my pleasure. Just for some orientation, that stone wall is the last surviving piece of the original 1824 church, which ran rougly across here to the entrance of the front wall, and the entrance was where that stained-glass window is. So when they demolished it to build the present church, around 1875, they saved that vestige of wall.
John Erickson: So where exactly was the Foxhole, in terms of the church?
Mr. Christman: It was in the basement of the parish hall, which is behind this property.
John Erickson: That's where the fellowship, the coffee house...
Mr. Christman: Yeah, right. And the nursery school's on the second floor. And that space has been through a couple incarnations since the Foxhole was there. Presently, it's the Community Bicycle Workshop.
John Erickson: So, we already heard, you're from Milwaukee, originally, and moved here in 1963.
Mr. Christman: Right.
John Erickson: Did you play an instrument, growing up?
Mr. Christman: Piano. Pipe organ in college. I dropped active piano lessons when I was in high school cause of interference with sports and I cut practice time; so then when I got to college and I was not doing sports I went to pipe organ and played the pipe organ for four years. I studied it for four years while I was in college. Also, for a few years when I was in high school I studied string-bass.
Joelle Schlang: So, would you say that music was a big part of your childhood and your upbringing?
Mr. Christman: Yes. My father was a very avid amateur musician.
John Barry: In what type of music?
Mr. Christman: He played in the Milwaukee Civic Symphony which was an amateur symphony orchestra back in the days before Milwaukee had a professional symphony. He played string-bass and was the rehearsal manager for many years cause the director of the symphony was a friend and colleague of his from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee where he taught. The director was a bloke named Milton Rush who was the chair of the music department there, and they were drinking and pissing buddies from the faculty, and so...
John Barry: What was the reason you decided to move here?
Mr. Christman: I came to graduate school at Penn.
John Erickson: For what?
Mr. Christman: Economic history, a major that's not there anymore.
John Barry: How'd you get involved with the Foxhole?
Mr. Christman: Through being a parishioner here. Have you seen the little paper that I did back in August?
Various Group Members: Yes.
Mr. Christman: The sequence on that was, Mark Christman (no kin) was here discussing the Sunday jazz series that was established last autumn with Father [inaudible was asking questions about [inaudible] and Father [inaudible] suggested that Mark get in touch with me and he did. And that request for background information coincided with my having just spent a Saturday up in Germantown at the memorial service for my friend J. R. Mitchell who had passed last February. And his memorial service in New York had been in March but they didn't do his Philadelphia memorial service until August. So I'd spent an afternoon up in Germantown chatting with a variety of jazz musicians so that was on my mind at the time that I got this request from Mark, so I put that piece together, which I gather he shared with Dr. Muller, and she has shared it with you? And your course with Dr. Muller is? Musicology, or history, or...?
John Barry: It's actually Folklore of World Music.
Mr. Christman: OK.
John Erickson: So right now since we're in Philadelphia, it's a great cultural experience.
Mr. Christman: Are you guys music majors?
John Barry: I'm not, no.
John Erickson: I'm an anthropology minor.
Mr. Christman: OK, hence the folklore course.
John Erickson: It's cross-listed as Music and World Cultures.
Mr. Christman: One of my daughters is an anthropology major at Barnard, some years ago.
Joelle Schlang: So when you moved here in 1963, what was the jazz scene like in Philadelphia at that time?
Mr. Christman: Um... at that time I wasn't really big into jazz but sometimes I went to jazz up on 52nd street at the Aqualounge which was one of the old bar clubs.
John Erickson: I think that one's actually still a venue today.
Mr. Christman: It is?
John Erickson: I think, but many have disappeared.
Mr. Christman: Yeah, this is up on 52nd street, right between Walnut and Locust; in the vicinity of Walnut and Locust.
John Erickson: Yeah, we've been told by--- I actually forget the name of the man--- a pianist who came to visit our class...
Danielle Kasirer: Glenn Bryant.
John Erickson: ...Glenn Bryant. And he mentioned that jazz was more organized into neighborhoods...
Mr. Christman: Yeah.
John Erickson: ...back in, I guess, the '60's, or possibly in the '70's. But it seems like many venues have disappeared, we don't see as many jazz venues anymore... Do you have any explanations as to why that may be?
Mr. Christman: No, but in terms of being organized by neighborhoods like he was saying, this really came out at the memorial service that I mentioned, which was up in the park in Germantown. And the people who were at that memorial service were mostly people from Philadelphia, and mostly people who were from Germantown who had grown up with J. R., which was different from the service in New York with his New York friends: very few Philadelphians were there because alot of the musicians from Philadelphia had a big gigue going that day. But the talk last August was about how Germantown had been a hotbed for jazz in the 50's, centering predominantly around an African-American Veterans of Foreign War post, which is still there, which like most VFW posts, or American Legion posts, had a drum-and-bugle corps, and that was sort of the hook, to hook neighborhood kits, and they started hanging around the post to get into the drum-and-bugle corps. But then once they had hooked them to the drum-and-bugle corps, they had people that they gave basic music education and then advanced lessons, once they got through the posts] more advanced lessons in jazz, so that that VFW post was a real hotbed for Germantown.
John Barry: Previous to coming to St. Mary’s, how much experience have you had in jazz? Was any of your training in jazz?
Mr. Christman: No not at all, growing up my house was mostly classical.
Danielle Kasirer: So how did you find your way into the jazz community?
Mr. Christman: Chiefly as I say, through being a congregant here, and there was that history that I sketched in that little paper, that Geno Barnard, who was a fellow congregant here was an aspiring jazz musician and a student at Temple, and started a coffeehouse in Germantown and when he couldn’t pay the rent shifted to another location at Temple University, and couldn’t pay the rent. I mean his problem was chiefly that he was trying to provide a venue for new groups that didn’t have drawing power, that didn’t have that great commercial drawing power, so he didn’t raise enough money from his weekends of music that sufficed to pay the going commercial rate for commercial space. So, he approached Father Scott who was then the rector here, about the possibility of sponsoring concerts and space at this parish, and Father Scott agreed but said that it had to be organized at least on a quasi-business like basis, so they formed a non-profit corporation, with a board that included members of the parish, as well as some musicians who were friends of Geno’s.
Dan Marino: So is that how it first attracted the musicians, through knowing Geno?
Mr. Christman: Yeah he was sort of the sparkplug of the thing, and through a general sort of a generic interest in music and not specifically in jazz, I got involved in the board of the new non-profit corporation. At that point I was on the vestry, which is the board of directors for the parish, so I was a contact point between the parish and the board.
John Barry: You described some of the performances as very crowded to say the least…
Mr. Christman: Yeah I had that quote from Sun Ra, and also the space was crowded for the performers because the stage wasn’t that large, and I included that quote from Sun Ra about members of the orchestra falling off the stage.
John Erickson: Was there anyone that really had a huge draw around here? A local performer?
Mr. Christman: Yeah Sun Ra and Rufus Harley, they were really big. The occasional big draws like that kept the place running because the surplus we generated off Rufus Harley or Sun Ra subsidized the slow weeks.
Mr. Christman: No, it was more through... it was more of a mix of the newer groups…
John Erickson: Yeah you mentioned one of the mission statements was that it was supposed to be more non-commercial and it would allow artists that were less mainstream to participate. Is that something you noticed in jazz on a whole, the more non-commercial feel to it? I feel like in jazz people seem to stay truer to the music; they’re not doing it because they want to get a recording contract or something like that, it’s not as much as a commercial industry… it’s more so that people are really in love with jazz, and I was wondering if you noticed that in helping run Geno’s empty foxhole with the performers or in other people trying to maintain Geno’s empty foxhole…
Mr. Christman: Yeah there was a real dedication in terms of keeping it going, even though it was not, you know, commercially successful. It took a while for the energy, and I said that the funds and the energy eventually just wore out, even though the board had gained new blood, there were some musicians who would gig here who were local stayed around to stay on the board, and the working group Byard Lancaster and Jared Mitchell, were examples of that sort of additions to the board. JR, while he was a native of Philadelphia, was up in New York, I mean he bounced all around the country in various capacities, but was basically based in New York for the last 30 years of his life. But Byard is very local. You may have followed his running fight with the Septa police over his performances down on the concourse, downtown, at Surburban Station. And septa police kept on busting him and he kept on suing on first amendment grounds. Finally Septa settled, after like the fifth round in court, Septa agreed to let him go, let him play, let musicians play, and paid him a huge settlement for his time and aggravation, which he’s using to produce a new record. I mean, Byard has played down there not because he needs to get the money that people drop in his hat, he just really does it as a venue to present the music. But, there are dudes that need the money, and now that Byard solved the legal problems, they had played down there. There’s a blind sax player who’s down at the bottom of the steps where the 15th street subway station under the clothespin joins the Suburban concourse, this black guy sets up and plays there in the morning, and he gets people to toss him money, which he needs. Byard was doing it to you know, spread the music. You know, he’s not rich but he’s not uncomfortable.
Joelle Schlang: You mentioned a burnout in funds for Geno’s Empty Foxhole, do you think that that was an isolated incident or do you think that reflected an overall change in the appreciation of Jazz culture. Do you think it was like a burnout of jazz appreciation?
Mr. Christman: No, I think it was just too small a group was having to spend too many hours (pause), you know, a week to keep the thing going. You know, and people’s ability to make time commitments change over time. Somebody who had time to burn when they started…you know things might’ve changed, family responsibilities might have changed, work responsibilities, and they simply can’t keep devoting X hours a week of volunteer labor.
John Erickson: So that non-profit structure was possibly part of the reason why it was hard to maintain…
Mr. Christman: Yeah, yeah I think it was just something simple like that, nothing, you know, more global in terms of that change.
Dan Marino: So when people came to Geno’s Empty Foxhole, did they get a sort of unique experience that they couldn’t get at any other venue?
Mr. Christman: Yeah, uh, (coughs), back at last August, when I got that quote that I included in…the Sun Ra quote, I was experiencing serious computer problems, I was being overwhelmed by spyware, and I couldn’t open the whole article to print off the whole article. So I was trying again last night and I couldn’t “Google” that article, but I found another one, from City Paper. At the time the biography of Sun Ra was published, and there’s a paragraph, in the middle of the second page, that give you a sense of the flavor of the space. I’m sorry, you (Dan) asked the question and I gave it to him (John), I’m sorry. It’s on the second page.
John Barry: As far as money goes, what was the price to enter Geno’s Empty Foxhole?
Mr. Christman: I’m gonna say five dollars. I mean it’s hard to remember, you know I mean…
John Barry: How would that be split between the performer and the venue? Would most of that go to the performer…?
Mr. Christman: Yep. Yeah you know, hopefully there was enough to cover, between the four sets, Friday and Saturday, two sets a night. Hopefully over the four sets we had collected enough to pay the musicians. And hopefully there was a little bit to put in the bank to cover weeks where we couldn’t cover the musicians. There’s a little humorous note there in my little paper, there were times there when by the second set on Saturday night we realized we weren’t going to have enough money. And this sounds like ancient history for guys your age, but in those days there were no MAC machines. So there was no quick way to get cash, so I headed down the street to what was then Walsh’s Tavern on 42nd Street between Walnut and Locust, and gave them a bad check and they gave me cash. So I would come back, add it to the pot, was able to pay the band, and then later in the week I’d redeem my bad check. Walsh’s Classic Tavern was really the banker of last resort for the Foxhole (laughs).
John Erikson: The jazz MAC machine of the…
Mr. Christman: Yeah, the jazz MAC machine of the early seventies. I mean it wasn’t entirely altruistic because Geno’s was non-alcoholic and that was the closest bar. So patrons sometimes found their way there after coming to the Foxhole, or stopped there first. If two couples were attending, they would meet at Walsh’s, have a couple pops, and then come up to the Foxhole. So it wasn’t entirely altruistic…it was a cool family that ran the place. The parents were very old guard Irish. I got flagged for ten days once for using the “f” word, by Mrs. Walsh. I mean they ran a very tight bar, you know. The two brothers who were taking over the place as the old man and the old lady were failing, were very big on neighborhood community organization, and that sort of thing, so they sort of liked the idea. You know, actually, even though if they weren’t jazz fans, they liked the idea intellectually of having a jazz venue in the neighborhood.
Danielle Kasirer: Why was the Foxhole non-alcoholic?
Mr. Christman: It was a real issue in terms of musicians who claimed that their playing was interfered with by the constant ebb and flow of servers bringing drinks to the customers.
John Erickson: So it was more true to the performer then, to just have…
Mr. Christman: Yeah, it was a concern on the part of the performer’s, which Geno’s shared, that the liquor business caused distractions to the music. It wasn’t any philosophical objection to alcohol (laughs).
John Erickson: I’d let to go back to the comment you said before about the Walsh’s liking the idea of the neighborhood really supporting the community. Do you think that jazz, for certain neighborhoods in Philadelphia, has been a unifier?
Mr. Christman: Yeah, it certainly was in that Germantown community, in the 50’s as I was mentioning there. And I guess the same thing happened down in sort of the southern part of Center City, you know South Street and just below, when The Clef Club used to be there. The Clef Club has now moved to new digs on Broad Street, but for years it was at like 15th and South, and it was the Union headquarters, the clubhouse, for the African American Musician’s Local, back in the day when the Musician’s Local was segregated.
John Erickson: Were many of the venues still segregated?
Mr. Christman: No, no. Just the Union was. The Black Musician’s Union was known as
The Clef Club and was down there on South Street, just west of Broad. You know, a lot of young people from the neighborhood hung around the club, tagging along with musicians.
John Erickson: So would jazz kind of bridge the racial divide, since white folks and black folks would all want to hear the same music?
Mr. Christman: Yeah. I mentioned in my little paper how surprised I was in looking at the data from the National Endowment for the Arts survey in 1997; how surprised I was that the numerical majority of jazz attendees in the United States are white.
John Erickson: It was a vanilla mixture.
Mr. Christman: But I mean, yea I was surprised that obviously the audience, the attendance rate is higher for African Americans but the attendance rate for whites was decent enough that there were so many more whites that there were more whites attending a jazz performance in the course of a given year and I was surprised by that. Also there were two surveys on the working life, lives of jazz musicians which were available on the national arts website (39), one of these was surveys done by the musicians union which is now integrated. And the other was done in other cities by intervening some key players and exploding them so you have your first core group of six people and each of them mentioned six people so you went out and interviewed the thirty six people and you kept and you, I don’t know what that research method is called there’s a name for it and you kept exploding the interviews like that. So there was something like eight cities that have data split about half and half about four of them being the surveys by the musicians union and the other half being the exploding interview tactic. And again I was surprised at the high percentage of white musicians. You know who are practicing Jazz as their primary.
Joelle Schlang: Are there any particular experiences or memories that stand out for you in your involvement in Geno’s empty foxhole or with any of the performers, anything that stands out in your mind?
Dan Marino: What were they expecting when coming to see Sun Ra for example, how was his performance different than the usual?
Mr. Christman: I mean I think thought part of it was Sun Ra sort of marketing job that he had done with all his rap-about, you know his interplanetary existence and all that
John Erickson: Hes got a bit of a bigger attitude than say some of the other performers?
Mr. Christman: Ya I mean, I think, I think that just passing just Rufus Harley, God bless him has sort of self defined as the flake, the flake of jazz, I mean starting as being the worlds only jazz bag piper gives you sort of one leg up on being flaky. But he you know you would talk to him he would just go on and on he’s fine if you could just keep him fixed on a topic.
John Erickson: Is he in the Philadelphia area?
Mr. Christman: Ya, another guy who would be good source in my little paper I put the email address for Baron Lancaster
John Barry: On a crowded night how many people would be in the foxhole?
Mr. Christman: I mean I think that the capacity was eighty and sometimes we would fill it up
Mr. Christman: yea they would hang and wait and come in the second set, you know sometimes it was sparse and we would tell people at the first set that they could stay for the second set. That practice, my best conversation that I had in jazz was some years ago, back in the 80’s I was up at German town, at Morgan’s and upstairs club. In the middle of the week Max Roach had put together a quartet including local people Odene Pope and for some reason the weather or whatever Wednesday night, nobody was there hardly anybody was there for the first set so the management said everybody could stay. Stay for the second set. Again that wasn’t necessarily charity I’d hope people would slosh up, would spend a lot of money at the bar so I was out at the bar between sets and Max came out and I had this nice chat with him and that was sort of a lucky chance to sit and chat with Man Roach for ten fifteen minutes and I was surprised, you know I mentioned that I had been involved with the Foxhole and he acknowledged that and I thought he was just being polite but then he went into this rap where he readied all the people who had gigged here. So apparently the Foxhole in its pathetic little way had a decent rep. If I was getting this playback from Max Roach you know fifteen years later.
Mr. Christman: Would you contrast when I was talking about Sun Ra and his and how voluble, his volubility (undecipherable phrase) contrasting that to someone like Owning Pope who’s the worlds quietest man when he’s not playing his sax. Very nice but very quiet.
John Barry: After the Foxhole closed did you still stay active in the jazz community?
Mr. Christman: Well no I was not active, I was an attendee. Went more up to Morgan than to the… I had stopped going up to the Aqua Lounge in the 60’s, I had stopped going up to 52nd street in the 50’s by a real unfortunate coincidence. I was up at 52nd and Walnut, highway saxes term “ catching some navel” at the Pony Tail Lounge at 52nd and Walnut which was a go-go bar with some African American friends “catching some navel” and drinking some beer the night that Martin Luther King was killed and I had no idea what happened what was up there. And some folks got upset that this honky was sitting there up at 52nd and Walnut and I nearly got snuffed! I got out thanks to one of my friends being very big but I sort of stopped, that experience steered me away from 52nd street so I started, I switched to going up to Morgan’s up in Germantown and then occasional shows that would play at the (kazweek?) or whatever but sort of my regular place was Morgan’s.
John Erickson: So I would say if you almost get killed and you still keep going to jazz you must have developed a pretty serious appreciation of jazz music.
Mr. Christman: Well that was you know… I mean that was such a fluke to be up in that neighborhood the night that Martin Luther King was killed. That was such a stupid fluke.
Joelle Schlang: Did you see a difference in the jazz venues between 52nd street venue and the ones in Germantown?
Mr. Christman: Yeah, Germantown was much more low key. I mean they were out to make money but less. I could certainly agree with the people who didn’t want the Foxhole to be alcoholic back when it was posed because my accouince? Was with the Aqua Lounge which was tremendously you know, alcohol driven and it was very, it was very… that room was long and narrow, and people sat in those seats, like sort of benched up you know rows of seats like a lecture hall and then the stage. And there were like little things built out in front of for you to put your drinks on. So you had the servers constantly climbing up and down the mound so it really was distracting. Morgan’s was happy to sell booze but it was a totally different, they had a bar and then the patrons, the patrons sat at tables rather than sitting in rows and then the patrons you know between numbers could slide off or between sets… if the band was taking a break for a few of minutes you could slide up and snag your own drink you know it’d be less crammed if servers were bringing drinks which it wasn’t as obtrusive because you know, they didn’t have to crawl over everybody, they could, they could just come to their customer without crawling over other people so I found that atmosphere more relaxed and less commercial than the Aqua Lounge had been.
Dan Marino: Now when the Foxhole closed down how did that affect the community in the area? Would some performers just move to other locations?
Mr. Christman: No, no it was… it was one venue in a… I’m sure people would just gig where they could gig.
Sam Wang: How would you describe the Philadelphia jazz scene now as in, where would an audience go to enjoy jazz?
Mr. Christman: Cleft Club downtown. I don’t even know if Morgan’s is still in business. I don’t drive. My mobility is sort of limited… I’m sort of self-limited to within a few steps of SEPTA and I, going up to Germantown on the trolley is such a long haul that I really haven’t tried. So Morgan’s may or may not be, I don’t really know. But the Cleft Club is really accessible.
Sam Wang: So the entire scene has downsized since…
Mr. Christman: Well for me. You know it’s a function of my lack of mobility.
John Erickson: When you stopped going to Jazz venues as frequently, would you say over from the 60’s and 70’s to the 80’s would you say you noticed less jazz venues available for people trying to gig in Philadelphia or the same amount?
Mr. Christman: I’m not really… I can’t really… I have no basis for that.
Danielle: Do you have a favorite Jazz musician? Or did you? Who maybe gigged here or you wish could have?
Mr.Christman: Well J.R. Mitchell who I mentioned, who passed was a close personal friend. I mean I liked his music and he was also a close personal friend. And also in the last couple years of his life, in the last couple years he became a close friend of my son.
Mr. Christman: My kids threw me a sixtieth birthday party and they picked this parish hall over there as the place for the birthday party. I mean I’ve been in Philly for something like 40ty years and I’ve bounced in a variety of jobs and residences and all but sort of the one element of continuity over fourty years has been being in this Church. So my daughter, my daughter who was stage manager, you know managing the production of my birthday party decided it would be cool to have it in the parish hall and did. And uhh…then she…uhh JR put together a band, so we had a band over there for my birthday party, which is when my son, who is 30, 31 next week, lives in New York as an art educator and works for the Brooklyn museum, and totally amateur musician, totally untrained, totally amateur…you know sings blues himself on the harmonica, in French when he is in his farm in France in the summer….You know totally amateur, but he loves music, and after meeting him here, because of my birthday party became a friend of JR’s in the last couple years of his life. Used to hang out in his apartment, he lived in one of those New York Cooperative housing developments, one that’s geared to providing lower cost housing for artists. And uh …sort of where the Village blends into central Manhattan, I don’t know the exact, I forget the exact street…a couple block walk off the A train. My son used to hang out there in the apartment, sort of sit around and chat with him and drum.
John Erickson: So they’d kind of jam together.
Mr. Christman: Yeah JR’s memorial service in New York was so neat ‘cause it was just, people just sort of, it was like a 4 hour a free form jam session. People just moved in and out. Artie Shepard came down from Harland, and brought his sax left it in his case, JR’s daughter had pulled all his drums out of his apartment into this community room at the housing complex. An Artie just played the drums for the whole time and just sort of quietly managed to keep the jam session under control. You know invited people who were shy in. But it was really neat. It’s been a long time since I think drumming has meant any thing to white people. But my son and uhh an Israeli friend of JR’s had spent a lot of time sitting around with JR talking and drumming. JR sort of refreshed their genetic memory.
(Man comes over)
- Excuse me. Hi sorry to interrupt…We had planned to...
Mr. Christman: Oh ok were almost done, were almost here. (to the man)
Mr. Christman: It really worked neat because um Artie would lay down a line on the snares and my son and the Israeli guy would sort of talk back on the congas. It worked really beautifully.
John Erickson: Alright well I guess that’s a good place to wrap that up. Thank you very much
All Members of Group: Thank you.
Mr. Christman: My pleasure.
Mr. Christman: Any of you guys ever see the Ingmar Bergman movie the 7th Seal.
John Erickson: No I haven’t seen that actually.
Mr. Christman: Ok its about a medieval back in the crusades who wanders around, sort of meets a variety of people and along the way he plays chess with death. Gambling over, on his life and his squire’s life. And this figure in black with a white mask (indiscernible speech) While Desmond my dying, Mingus came to see him and Mingus always dressed in black head to ..a toe turtle neck with boots and a cape, so he came in, he was ushered into the room while Desmond was sleeping and Mingus just sat there but eventually Desmond woke up and saw this apparition in black and struggled to make the association, and Desmond finally said ‘Set up the chess board.” Desmond had a great sense of humor, you know even when he was dying. That was really apropos. It was something I cant (indiscernible speech)
All Members of Group: Thank you very much.