Matthew Feldman at the site of his planned club on McKean Street.
Matthew Feldman at the site of his planned club on McKean Street.

DJ, promoter and music lover Matthew Feldman's next dream is a nightclub in S. Philly

Posted: July 21, 2010

THE BUILDING on the corner of McKean and Colorado has stood vacant for more than 25 years - and looks it. The doors are secured by a heavy, padlocked chain. The windows are boarded shut. Even the liquor-license application notice, the one sign of progress visible from the outside, has faded from the familiar, safety-cone orange to a sickly yellow.

Stepping inside, most people would see only the evidence of a quarter-century of disuse - a layer of dust on every surface, holes in the plaster, gaps in the wood floor, pigeons roosting in the second-floor rafters.

Matthew Feldman, on the other hand, sees a bustling neighborhood jazz club.

In one corner, now crowded with debris, is a small bandstand crowded with Philadelphia's best jazz musicians. Or maybe a blues guitarist is playing, or even a classical chamber ensemble.

Those parallel lines of blue tape on the floor near the stairwell reference the well-stocked bar.

The area in the back near the lone window is a kitchen turning out food made from local, sustainably produced ingredients. That space stacked with boxes on the second floor isn't really there at all - it's the balcony where patrons are watching the band.

Feldman has been reimagining this space for almost three years but doesn't seem frustrated that only he has been able to see it for so long. "Some of these architectural and restaurant issues that I'm not an expert on have been challenges," he admitted over lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

"I don't necessarily love researching kitchen equipment. But when I have doubts about this, the part that gets me over the doubts is the music - thinking about all the musicians I know, imagining this space, imagining people who are getting exposed to this music for the first time and loving it. That's what excites me."

No rain on his parade

Feldman's excitement was evident the day we visited the venue. Despite having trudged through a downpour for 10 minutes to reach the building, Feldman forgot the rain when a soon-to-be neighbor walked by and asked, "When are you opening?"

He smiled, asking, "Do you want us to open?" Then he explained the next step in the bureaucratic process: a hearing at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 4 before the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, at 8th and Market streets (the former Strawbridge & Clothier building), in room 4030. He encouraged the woman to show her support at the hearing, which is open to the public, according to a PLCB spokeswoman.

Despite the delays in opening his venue, Feldman - call him "Feldie" - has found plenty of outlets through which to share his enthusiasm for music.

Every Tuesday afternoon at 2, he spins two hours of jazz and rhythm & blues on the Germantown-based Internet radio station Gtownradio.com. Every second Friday, he presents a concert series at Moonstone Arts Center, the performance space at Robin's Books, on 13th Street near Sansom.

Both are called Lucky Old Souls, which will also be the name of Feldman's South Philly venue. The name is a combination of "That Lucky Old Sun," a standard that has been performed by everyone from Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra to Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, and the term "old soul," which aptly describes the 30-year-old, classic jazz- and R&B-loving Feldman.

Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Feldman was a music fan as early as age 3, devoted to the Beatles and doo-wop. Then, in his early teens, "I thought I needed to figure out what this jazz thing was all about. The first jazz CD I bought was John Coltrane's 'Lush Life.' I don't know how I picked it, but to this day it's one of my favorite albums and has a special place in my heart."

Feldman studied linguistics at Swarthmore College and hosted a show on the school's radio station. He moved to Philadelphia after graduation, where he taught elementary school for several years. But music always maintained its draw.

Then one night, in the spring of 2007, the idea for the venue suddenly dawned.

"I literally woke up in the middle of the night, popped up in bed and had this fairly fleshed-out idea of the kind of space I wanted to have," he recalled.

"A neighborhood bar-type space with really good food - very informal, very casual - with quality music six nights a week. There was a time in Philly when live music was just a part of going out, and it's that spirit that I had in mind."

The Moonstone concert series, which began in March 2009, is reflective of the diverse programming that Feldman foresees for the bar. He has hosted jazz musicians young and old, straight-ahead and avant-garde; blues bands; and classical ensembles. The Aug. 13 performance will pair saxophonist Dan Peterson's Truth & Consequence Quartet with the third appearance of Classical Revolution, a chamber group committed to performing in nontraditional venues.

"The artists I admire most are people who embrace the fact that you can make creative music with integrity that is also entertaining and fun and danceable," Feldman explained. "That's the ideal I strive towards as a presenter. It's great that you can hear jazz at the Kimmel Center, but I think something would be lost if we got to a time where the only place to hear this music is in concert halls. There's something essential to the music that makes it belong in public spaces where people are out having a good time."

Feldman also now maintains a calendar of local jazz events at www.feldiesphillyjazzcalendar. com, essentially an outgrowth of Feldman's personal calendar. He attends at least five or six concerts a week, both out of a love for the music and as research for his own programming.

"I never imagined that it would go on this long," he said of the process of opening the bar, "but the more time it goes on, the more prepared I am to do it. The more musicians I've met, the more different types of music in Philadelphia I'm exposed to, the more I feel like there's definitely a need for this. So, in that sense, however much time it takes, I'll be better equipped to do it once it happens."

A Philly jazz fanatic

Feldman's constant presence on the local scene has ingratiated him with local musicians, who recognize a kindred spirit.

As saxophonist Elliott Levin said, "The thing about Matt that may make him stand out a little from other promoters of the music in this city, is that you will likely see him at any [and every] gig he can make in any given day. He obviously is a true fanatic of the music."

"Matt Feldman is doing something we all should be mindful of in this day and age," added composer/saxophonist Daniel Peterson. "He has committed himself to pursuing his heart and what he loves in life.

"That this happens to be music, all types of music - a jukebox mentality - is special because he is trying to preserve in many ways the things that have held great importance in his life, and he wants others to experience them, too."

Saxophonist Bobby Zankel recalled Feldman attending an April performance at the American Pub, which turned out to be drummer Edgar Bateman's final show before his death two weeks later.

"The show was set up at the last minute, and was basically like playing with your case open on the subway concourse," Zankel said. "But Matt brought a half-dozen people with him, and it made it feel like we were playing at Carnegie Hall or the Village Vanguard. There was an ambience and response between the players and the audience that defied logic."

A few weeks later, Feldman hosted a 10-hour tribute to Bateman on G-Town Radio that collected every recording of Bateman's career, some so rare that the drummer himself didn't own a copy.

"There was no advantage in it," Zankel said. "Matt's thing seems to be based on a sincere love of the music and advancing the culture. I think it's just the idea of actively expressing your love and being nondenominational.

"There are some people who are great lovers of the music who pick one camp or another and make it a 'Protestants versus Episcopalians' kind of thing, which creates a real ugly, unnecessary dynamic of parochialism and limits the music. Matt is coming from a more positive and active point of view."

Most important for Feldman is taking every opportunity to help other people find the excitement in music that he has, whether that involves booking concerts in a second-floor bookstore space, DJing on the Net or opening a bar in an underserved South Philly neighborhood.

"It's important to present this music in places where people who don't seek it out will find it," he said.

"I strongly believe that there's a much larger potential audience for this music than the current actual audience, and one of the ways to reach those people is to put this music in places where they will see it, and I know some of them will like it. I know how this music makes me feel and I know I'm not unique. I know it can make other people, who maybe have misconceptions about what jazz is, feel this way, too."

Lucky Old Souls with Daniel Peterson's Truth & Consequence and Classical Revolution, Moonstone Arts Center, 110 S. 13th St., 2nd Floor, 9 p.m. Aug. 13, $8-$10, www.luckyoldsouls.com.

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