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Sankofa Sounds: Anthony Tidd presides over an epic concert, with a new view on troubled times

Bassist Anthony Tidd with poet Ursula Rucker at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, Aug. 2022.
WRTI
Bassist Anthony Tidd with poet Ursula Rucker at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, Aug. 2022.

The volume of Anthony Tidd’s creative output would be exceptional for anyone at any time — but to have managed it during a pandemic is simply remarkable. A bassist, producer, songwriter and engineer, Tidd took part in several tours; wrote music for the Broadway musical Black No More, starring Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter from The Roots; worked on Trotter’s Audible memoir, 7 Years; and served as musical director for the Public Orchestra module of the public rehearsal project, Rehearsing Philadelphia.

As if that weren’t enough, Tidd put together a new band and wrote new music for the long-awaited sequel to his genre-bending album, The Child of Troubled Times – Short Stories. Close to two years ago, I reached out to Tidd with the idea of collaborating on an event that would spotlight the 20th anniversary of this album as well as the 25th anniversary of my radio program, The Bridge. The idea snowballed into a series of creative and educational activities, and the journey that results in these videos.

We’ll begin with an all-star group that Tidd calls Sanity, first assembled for the Clef Club’s Jazz Cultural Voices series. Its lineup represents a full-circle moment, recalling Tidd’s formative experience going on his first tour with alto saxophonist Greg Osby, at age 17. That connection ultimately brought Tidd to the United States, so it’s meaningful that Osby is now a part of the group. Sanity also includes drummer Sean Rickman and poet-MC Kokayi — two longtime collaborators, notably in Steve Coleman’s bands — and another friend, the exceptional pianist Orrin Evans. The night also featured a cameo by poet and Philly homegirl Ursula Rucker.

Tidd’s commitment to mentorship and education sparked the idea of involving some young musicians from the Clef Club’s Jazz Education Program, led by celebrated educator Lovett Hines. The idea was to have this group of handpicked students open for Sanity in concert. The students opted to call themselves DSOP (Don’t Sleep on Onion Pizza), fueled by a newly acquired taste for the under-appreciated pizza topping. From April to their debut in August, this dedicated collective of students gathered several times a month at the Clef Club and WRTI to rehearse music they composed specifically for the concert.

They were joined by Bobby Ogden, an MC who appeared in the 2017 documentary Quest, which over a ten-year period chronicles the life and challenges of the Rainey family from North Philadelphia. Ogden and Chris Rainey had previously participated in a series of workshops and Freestyle Friday sessions at WRTI, and Tidd was eager to integrate elements of that relationship into the DSOP performance. Kokayi helped to prepare Ogden and the students for the August 2022 performance at the Clef Club. (Drummer and educator Nazir Ebo covered the rehearsal sessions that Tidd and Kokayi were not able to attend due to touring commitments.)

For her part, Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, an associate professor of theater studies and playwriting at Temple, presented a chilling reminder of how troubled the children of our times can be. Her gripping poem “Prophecy and Damaged Goods – Inspired by Anthony Tidd,” was written in honor of his album. Tidd was invited to visit her class and meet with her students, who considered his music throughout the semester, using the song titles and lyrics as prompts to create poetry.

In the spirit of Sankofa and our constant quest for knowledge during this Black History Month, we are excited to share these videos with you.

Producer: J. Michael Harrison
Director of Production: Tyler McClure
Video Production: Christopher McDonald
Audio Production: Paul Marchesani, Ryan Hankins

J. Michael Harrison’s first radio show, WPEB’s “Is That Jazz” launched in June of 1993. In 1994 he began volunteering with WRTI as a production assistant. In 1996, J. Michael debuted his own program, The Bridge, which continues to air Friday evenings on WRTI.