While an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Jon Hinck co-founded the New Foxhole Café in West Philly. Now a lawyer, environmentalist, and former member of the Maine House of Representatives, Hinck recounts:
The space in the basement of the parish hall of St. Mary’s Church hosted two jazz clubs. The one opened by Geno Barnhart [Geno’s Empty Foxhole] perhaps as described above. It closed by the end of 1972. In 1974 a club called the New Foxhole Café opened in the same space started up by a collective including Larry Abrams and myself, Andy Charnas, Rene Charnas, Jules Epstein, Michael Shivers and others.
Sam Rivers, Sun Ra, Hank Mobley, Philly Joe Jones, Rufus Harley, Dave Liebman, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Pharaoh Sanders and Anthony Braxton all played there.
Foxhole concerts were broadcast over Penn’s radio station, WXPN-FM. Sun Ra & His Arkestra’s “The Antique Blacks” was recorded in the radio station’s studio on August 17, 1974 (the album was not released until 1978).
On Monday, July 24, 2017, the jazz community, spearheaded by state Sen. Vincent Hughes and Sheryl Lee Ralph-Hughes, will celebrate seven pioneers in the world of arts and culture:
- Marshall Allen, Sun Ra Arkestra
- Joan Myers Brown, PHILADANCO
- Abiodun Oyewole, The Last Poets
- Odean Pope, Saxophonist
- Mickey Roker (posthumously), Drummer
- Sumi Tonooka, Pianist
- Tony Williams, Saxophonist
The event is free but you must RSVP by contacting Tamica Tanksley via email or by phone at (215) 879-7777.
The three-story rowhouse in Germantown has been home to the Arkestra since 1969. Sun Ra Arkestra Director Marshall Allen still lives and plays here.
Today the house is a living museum, full of paintings, sheet music and concert posters, dedicated to keeping the spirit of Sun Ra alive.
Memories from jazz educator and musician Paul Combs:
One thing about having Sun Ra as a neighbor was the possibility of running into him in everyday situations, like shopping at the supermarket. One day a friend of mine and I did just this. Sun Ra and John Gilmore, the great tenor saxophonist and Ra’s right-hand man, were taking care of the shopping for their household (many of the Arkestra members lived in a big house together with their leader). I have always had the impression that life was one big cosmic game for these folks, one that involved serious dedication and a deep sense of humor.
Both musicians were wearing robes, although less elaborate ones than they would wear on stage. Gilmore had a small, brimless North African cap on, and Ra a small turban. Gilmore pushed the cart, and Ra followed behind directing him to the various things they needed. My friend and I followed them at a respectful distance. Finally they got to the meat counter. This was a small neighborhood supermarket and it was customary to have a butcher on duty behind the counter in those days. As they parked themselves in front of the counter Sun Ra said, “John, tell the butcher that Sun Ra would like five pounds of hamburger,” and, although the butcher could hear Ra at least as well as we could, Gilmore relayed the request. The butcher served up the meat with a straight face, as if he were either in on the play or it was a normal scene to him.
I may be wrong, but I have always had the feeling that once the two of them got home they sat down and had a good laugh. My friend and I sure did, and we wished we had thought of this little piece of theater ourselves.