Avant Arts is bringing new music to Jacksonville
When was the last time you went to a concert planning for an adventure? When talking about live music, local community organizer and culture advocate Keith Marks makes an interesting point: “Most people only go see music they know, music they trust, music that’s familiar.” Enter Avant Arts, Marks’ newly-formed non-profit 501(c)3 that is bringing unique, genre-bending musical experiences to Jacksonville through a gift of music to the Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) and a concert series aimed at curious listeners and acoustic explorers. As Marks puts it, Avant makes available music and music-driven events that don’t normally find their way to Jacksonville: “The goal of Avant is to be a meeting place for those of us with a passion for music … people who are truly curious for new sounds, new experiences.”
Marks describes Avant’s beginnings with his typical full-force energy, communicated in a tranquil tone. Currently focusing on his family business, Tehila’s, he is a seasoned community contributor. From directing his community service-based nonprofit, PB&J (Party, Benefit & Jam), performing outreach for Friends of Hemming Park, founding the month-long community event No Meat March, to performing public relations for Jewish Family & Community Services Jacksonville, Marks says he’s never been able to stay away from community, arts, and culture. As for when he finds time for this newest project, he jokes, “At night, when the wife and kids are asleep.”
“Avant started, like all things, as an idea,” Marks says. “I am constantly digging for new sounds, new sonic experiences. I found a music scene that’s been vibrant for a few decades centered in New York’s Lower East Side that has had a huge impact on the music scene around the world. The Jacksonville Public Library didn’t have much in the way of that music, Spotify and Pandora are limited. I thought it would be neat to somehow bring one of the catalogs of music to Jacksonville and donate it to the library.”
This initial gift to JPL was funded by individual donors, or social impact entrepreneurs, as Avant calls them. $4,200 of cds, dvds, and books were donated – things like revolutionary composer, producer, and performer John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture project, in which hundreds of artists musically answer the question, “What does it mean to make Jewish music in a modern context?” and Arcana, a series of anthologies of musicians writing about music in manifestos, scores, interviews, notes and critical papers.
“Libraries are critical for housing media that mainstream and pop culture often ignore,” Marks explains on the Avant website, and they have “historically been meeting places for knowledge that one wouldn’t normally be able to find.” Avant’s first community concert to introduce Avant was held in the theatre at the JPL Main Library. Uri Caine, a world-renowned pianist from New York City, performed for over four-hundred attendees, launching the series in May. The next concert, in June, featured guitarist and composer Tim Sparks, followed by New Orleans-based pianist Tom McDermott at the Clara White Mission’s Riverside North’s Theater. Avant also hosted a porch at PorchFest with the Bold City Contemporary Ensemble.
The upcoming Avant concert is made possible by a generous donation from the Jacksonville Jewish Foundation of Northeast Florida and a collaboration with the Jacksonville Jewish Center. Marks says he had the Jewish community in mind as he sought out the next Avant concert artist, and ultimately chose the seven-piece ensemble Pharaoh’s Daughter because they have a diverse audience that spans race, gender, and religious backgrounds.
“The band is comprised of some major figures in New York’s jazz, classical, and ethnic music scene,” he says. “The musicianship, their sound, and their approach to bridging diverse forms of music are at the heart of why we chose Pharaoh’s Daughter.”
This American Jewish world music band was formed in 1995 by Basya Schechter, a prolific and innovative artist whose sound has been cultivated by her Hasidic music background and travel throughout the eastern world. Pharaoh’s Daughter’s music has been described as a mix of American folk, Jewish klezmer, and Middle Eastern sounds.
The free concert will take place Sunday, April 2 at the Jacksonville Jewish Center. Concert-goers should expect music that defies explanation, and Avant Arts hopes it will serve as another building block in a growing community of diverse, passionate music-lovers.
“Music is communion, functioning as a door – always inviting [us] into other worlds,” Marks says.
“Avant is only a platform for exposing people. At the moment, we are bringing artists to town, but my imagination goes wild with the future.”
So get curious, sonic adventurers … Jacksonville’s aural doors are opening wider.
Pharaoh’s Daughter: Sunday, April 2, 4 p.m., at the Jacksonville Jewish Center, 3662 Crown Point Road, 292-1000. Keep up-to-date with Avant Arts at avantcurious.org.