Mysterious Travelers 3 | Up Next!: Alexis Simmons | Recapping Kunu Bi

By Perry G. Fri, December 16, 2016

We’re thrilled that the Free Library’s transmogrified into one of the most exciting free venues for jazz in Philadelphia, thanks in part to our sidemen and women at the Philadelphia Jazz Project. We’re writing now to invite you to the next concert in our Mysterious Travelers 3 Series, an evening with singer Alexis Simmons (aka Alexa Gold).

On Monday, January 19, at 7:00 p.m. Alexis premiers the newest program in our Internal Investigations series, in which bandleaders meet with Free Library librarians, explore the treasures in the Parkway Central Library collections, and write new music based on their findings.  

Up Next! Mysterious Travelers Featuring: Alexis Simmons
Reserve your FREE tickets for this performance!

Featured Department: Education, Philosophy, and Religion
Alexis Simmons has made love a fine art through her music. She has nurtured her talent within the demanding Philadelphia music scene and has exploded all over stages on the East Coast. Her live shows incorporate her love and skill in R&B, soul, pop, house, and rock, and she credits her versatility to her work as a background singer, most recently for hip-hop / soul singer Jaguar Wright. She also developed an ear and style for dance music, writing and performing singles such as the popular "Selene—The Goddess of the Moon"; co-producing her first independent album, called "The Art of Seduction"; serving as sole music producer for alternative performance trio The Femme-mynistiques; and working on her latest EP. Her love of music is also exhibited through her photography, capturing experiences ranging from portraiture to theatrical performances and community gatherings.

Recap: Kunu Bi Reimagining the Music Department
Kunu Bi (Papa Ed Stokes, Tom Lowery, and Bert Harris) played last month's Mysterious Travelers' event. Since this author engaged in the reference jam session which led to this program, here's a behind the scenes look at this show’s roots:

On April 4, Papa Eddie Stokes came to the Music Department to meet for our reference jam session. We'd already talked about his unique artistic focus—tracing the blues all the way back to West Africa, building traditional West African and invented instruments, and using the instruments to reinterpret songs from the Western blues and rock spectrum.  

To prep for his visit, music librarians searched the various indices and catalogs for resources related to Africa and the Blues. Librarians set aside a few special pieces of sheet music, LPs, and Tune-Dex cards.

There was improvisation right from the start. We handed him a library LP of traditional music from Burkina Faso – librarians picked it because the album, pre-1984, still called the country by its colonized name and we had a fantasy of the resource inspiring something like a Thomas Sankara Revolutionary Blues. Instead, Papa Eddie flipped it over and was surprised to find the names of some of the instruments he loved and was very familiar with.

Librarians wanted the Music Department’s collection to weigh in on this, so we ran to fetch one of our encyclopedias of musical instruments. The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments we grabbed happened to only have passing captions about Papa Eddie’s instruments—the library’s encyclopedias dedicated solely to African instruments would’ve been a better fit—but this led us, serendipitously, to our first theme and one which would be touched on through the program: reimagining reference works.

In a sense, Papa Eddie compiled his own musical instrument encyclopedia: his MT3 program featured tunes and demonstrations highlighting West African instruments The Oxford Companion ignored, as well as songs featuring Papa Eddie’s own instrument inventions. Since he builds his own instruments, the night was one big reference work—played live!

Next, we’d pulled a piece of sheet music for Bessie Smith’s rendition of Williams’ Gulf Coast Blues (we give an unfair advantage to artists we can claim as Philadelphians). Papa Ed was surprised that the library had such a far-reaching collection as to include this piece. He wondered what other songs we had.  

This was our second call & response!

He called Sweet Home Chicago and librarians found it in a blues songbook. The night of this concert, this standard was rearranged for the West-Africa-via-Deep-South Diddley Bow.

View videos from this sensational set below. After the concert, multiple showgoers e-mailed us to find out exactly what kind of new, strange instruments Papa Ed played!


Kunu Bi renders unique sound from a reimagined blues classic (Tupelo Blues), and shows us a page from a personal instrument encyclopedia..


View this blues standard from the Music Department's collection, reimagined for Diddley Bow

For librarians, there’s real creative electricity when a musician can call out a song or an instrument and a librarian can rush back with a resource response.

You can see this for yourself on December 19th when Alexis Simmons explores through sound, the collections which constitute the Education, Philosophy and Religion Department!

See Alexis Simmons (aka Alexa Gold) Remix the Education, Philosophy and Religion Department on December 19
See Alexis Simmons (aka Alexa Gold) Remix the Education, Philosophy and Religion Department on December 19
Exploring, Through Sound, the Collections Which Constitute the Parkway Central Library
Exploring, Through Sound, the Collections Which Constitute the Parkway Central Library
Kunu Bi (L to R, Bert Harris, Papa Ed Stokes and Tom Lowery) Reimagines Reference!
Kunu Bi (L to R, Bert Harris, Papa Ed Stokes and Tom Lowery) Reimagines Reference!

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