Philadelphia native and musician Jim Hamilton had no way of knowing the car repair shop down the street from his Germantown home would later become his state-of-the-art recording studio and performing arts space.
The studio, Rittenhouse Soundworks Arts Complex, opened early this fall and has hosted a number of jazz performances since October that will continue into the new year. The small, intimate shows include performances by renown musicians like trombonist Jeff Bradshaw and percussionist David Friedman.
After looking for a suitable studio space for nearly two years, the car repair shop went up for sale. Hamilton described the spacious, two-story building as his “dream space.” It became the new home for Rittenhouse Soundworks, which Hamilton wants to function not only as a recording studio and performance space, but also as an educational tool for students and the community.
“More and more people know absolutely nothing about our history of our music that we’ve developed here, and I’m talking about jazz,” Hamilton said. “Jazz is the best form of democracy that we’ve ever created here in the United States. It balances the individual means against the group means and you have to listen as much as you speak. It has all the essentiality of what it is to be an American.”
Hamilton said the location of the studio is important because he believes Rittenhouse Soundworks is a key component to an arts movement happening in the Northwest Philadelphia area.
“There are hundreds of musicians that come out of this neighborhood. It breeds creativity of all art forms, not just music,” Hamilton said. “All these arts are related and
what we’re trying to show you is that art is a normal function of life that’s been marginalized in my view, when in fact it’s as important as eating.”
According to Hamilton, the history of the area contributes to such a powerful arts community.
“This is the breadbasket of freedom in the United States,” Hamilton said. “It’s the oldest integrated neighborhood in the country, there are three stops from the underground railroad here. This is the most forward-thinking, independent-minded community in the United States.”
“There’s only a couple places you can learn jazz in its original nature,” he added. “One of them is La Rose’s on Germantown Avenue. It happens to be in Germantown and I don’t think it’s an accident … I think it’s because of our place here in Germantown … historically relating to independence, independent thought and individualism.”
For sophomore jazz studies major Chris Lewis, “the jazz community is definitely growing” in the city as a whole. Lewis has been playing jazz since the age of eight—when his uncle introduced him to saxophonist Charlie Parker.
“I played with a bass player who went to school in Philadelphia in the early 2000s, and he recently came back to visit Philadelphia and he said it was completely different,” Lewis said. “There’s so many more opportunities to play and more people are coming out to hear the music.”
Lewis said the community is especially helpful to him as a student, describing the musicians and educators in the area as “very welcoming and very eager to share their knowledge with you.”
Hamilton said from the outside, Rittenhouse Soundworks may look like something he’s doing by himself—but the building is about “what the community wants it to be.”
“I’m just holding the reins,” he said. “I didn’t build the track. The community is going to build the track. We’re going to do this together, just like a jazz ensemble.”
“I think this is jazz’s most perfect home,” Hamilton added. “I think it’s extremely important that jazz does come here and sees itself as having Germantown as a home, because this is where we’re going to grow it. This is where we’re going to nurture it, hold it, feed it and bring it and serve it as food to this community, because we need it.”
Emily Thomas can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
Video by Linh Than.