For the last official Icepack of 2021, I really thought I would try to wrap up the year in a manner different from my usual every week’s crabiness, and with a note of positivity.
I would say something about redemption, about how we all “muddled through somehow,” as my favorite Christmas song goes. I would talk about how we came together as a truly inclusive and equitable city steeped in kindness and civility between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and uplifted all – not just one side.
But none of that happened, and nobody tilted in any positive way toward showing any sense of kindness, positive resolve or genuine inclusion. Nobody balked when it came to fucking one’s fellow person. PECO doubled its billing. Millennial “Cone Rangers” are annoying the shit out of neighbors trying to save treasured parking spots (I don’t drive so I have zero dogs in the race. That said: You want easy parking? Move to Cherry Hill. The argument is funny at Reddit, including suggestions that the “Rangers” wear orange cones as hats. City Council made it so that some restaurant streeteries were cool to exist, and some, mere feet away, were not.
The Sixers couldn’t ever explain away Ben Simmons’ absence or ignorance. Sly Stallone’s old workout joint, Mighty Mick’s Gym from “Rocky” at 2145 N. Front Street in Kensington, will be redeveloped into a mixed-use property. The city’s power structure allowed murder and gun violence to continue in an upward trajectory, and all we could get is tepid excuses and nameless blame from our Mayor and a sorry-not-sorry from our DA. Plus, I’m pretty sure the new bike lanes, which will take forever to get right, are going to make a mess out of the Italian Market, and everybody will continue to use the phrase “Philly igloo” until Omicron’s hell freezes over. Or thaws. Whatever it is a fake igloo does when it expires.
Airing of Grievances
Here are a few lingering things bugging Icepack at the tail end of December. See you on the other side.
Singer and actor and now-stoner food biz entrepreneur Selena Gomez just bought into Philly’s GoPuff delivery start-up service as an investor. I wish there was a good joke here.
Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Board of Directors went into the Christmas break with two big leadership changes at the top. First, the company announced that Producing Artistic Director Paige Price will end her five-year tenure at the close of the 2021-2022 season. Price was initially hired to right the good ship PTC when it went off the rails financially for a time (which she fixed), and leaves amicably to continue on as an independent theatre producer, even though she’ll be based in NYC where she lives with her husband, Broadway sound designer Nevin Steinberg. Before Price left this spring, David L. Cohen stepped down as PTC’s board chair after five years. Cheers. Cohen got named US Ambassador to Canada by the Biden administration, and thus will enter into another branch of theater. Cohen got succeeded by Gary Deutsch, the most recent vice chair of PTC’s Board, so there’s that. Drama.
When Wawa shuttered yet another of its Center City Philadelphia locations forever at the tip of last week – its longtime 13th and Chestnut Street branch – corporate word went out, and the blame went to operational issues. Talk to anyone who lives in the immediate 13th Street neighborhood or bothered going to a Wawa – any Wawa – after dusk, and you know that this location closed for incessant looting and vandalization. Because Krasner is cool with that.
Two of Philly’s January Grammy nominees made major waves right before New Year’s Eve. Vocalist Jazmine Sullivan, whose 2021 album Heaux Tales is nominated at the top of several Grammy genre-fications, dropped hints on Instagram that she might release some new music before her 2022 tour starts in February (Check for Jazzy’s Tale). What is most interesting about that possible release is that Sullivan takes forever between recorded projects, so a year between releases is like a minute for Jazmine. Nice. Also, The Roots’ Questlove – in the Grammy running for his self-directed 2021 Summer of Soul documentary – just got put on the Oscars nominating shortlist for the same doc, to be decided on in February.
MASKED PHILLY: Immanuel Wilkins
In Icepack’s way-too-long, way overly complex and continuing saga of asking mask-donning local celebrities what they’ve been up to, beyond the pale, during C-19 – from lockdown to the current re-opening, present-day un-masking and re-masking, worrying about Delta variants, freaking out about Fauci’s call for a potential third round of vax shots mere five months after the last, new mask and vax card mandates, ignored or not ignored (I mean why did I wait in line at the Convention Center if you’re not asking to see my card?), the possibility of mix-and-matching vaccines which is weird, AND NOW, YEAH OF COURSE, the whole worldwide B.1.1.529 Omicron variant scare, so welcome to ROUND THREE, I reached out, this week, to Immanuel Wilkins.
The Upper Darby born-and-raised Wilkins has appeared on the cover of Philadelphia Weekly for his work as a (primarily alto) jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader whose immense warm tone, taut nuance, and deep spirituality brought him to gigs with the likes of Solange Knowles and Bob Dylan, schooling at Julliard, work on jazz projects from Joel Ross and Orrin Evans, to the Blue Note label and, ultimately, his August 2020 debut Omega. In a minute, I’ll tell you about Wilkins’ sophomore follow up, January 2022’s The 7th Hand.
Before that, however, though the saxophonist moved his base of operations to Brooklyn, the thing that he did beyond the pale during the pandemic – one of most rewarding endeavors outside of making music – brought him home to U Darb on the regular.
Of course, he ventured into his love and cooking and eating when the pandemic struck. “I had spent so much money on exorbitant meals before Covid, I didn’t want to suddenly start having sad meals,” Wilkins said, who hooked himself up with quality chef-ing tools, and, as we speak, is braising short ribs. “My easy go-to is salmon, but I can also cook a mean duck breast. I can also do vegan. Both ends of the spectrum.”
What Wilkins did (does) next with those culinary skills and love of food during Covid brings him back to Upper Darby, and the church of which he and his fam have been long affiliated – Prayer Chapel Church of God in Christ – performing outreach to and within that house of worship’s community, “feeding families that didn’t really have food for the pandemic,” Wilkins said. “We gave out food every Friday. That’s actually become a mission with my band (Micah Thomas, Daryl Johns, and Kweku Sumbry), part of a project we have, BLUES BLOOD | BLACK FUTURE, and its cooking component that will eventually materialize as a food drive situation. We want to help those in need.”
As for vax and masking, Wilkins is cool with both and sees their necessity. “I love both. It’s important to keep the boosters coming and the masks on. Now. Because double masking is a thing, I do the KN-95 and then I wear balaclavas with that. That’s my go-to vibe. I get them from designers in the area, or on Etsy and Instagram. Now because I carry my sax in a tube and not a regular hard case, with the balaclava on, some people think that I am a sniper.”
What else Wilkins and his band did during Covid’s summer was write and improv their way through a haunting, seven-piece spiritual suite, The 7th Hand, a brand-new album whose intentionality and vibe makes it so that the saxophonist “moves its players closer to vessel-hood, with its music being formed by the Black church, the escape of the gaze, and how all that is essential to divine intervention.”