On Wednesday, January 27, the performing arts TV series “On Canvas” will present Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society in a performance taped at the International House in Philadelphia’s University City area a few months earlier. The “On Canvas” series features a variety of performing artists, including of course jazz. Among the past performers on the show are Lionel Loueke, Terence Blanchard, Stanley Jordan, Arturo O’Farrill and his Latin Jazz Orchestra, Melody Gardot, and most recently, Catherine Russell.
The show is co-produced by Hugh Haynie, whose background was in marketing and television, and Heidi Saman, who came from the world of film. The two have combined to produce a television show that focuses solely on the artists and their music. Since debuting in May 2008, they have taped about 50 episodes of “On Canvas” for WHYY TV, the local PBS station.
Saman said that their original vision for the show was to present some of the unique performing artists that were passing through Philadelphia. “We wanted to have an open mind and to be genre-less,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter to us if an artist is a national name or based locally.”
The shows are taped on location at performing arts venues throughout the Philadelphia area. For example, Haynie and Saman taped a performance by the jazz pianist Dave Burrell at Rosenbach Museum and Library, where Burrell is musician-in-residence. Haynie said that taping live shows at diverse locations can be a challenge, but that the process has been helped by fiber-optic technology. “We put them in various locations throughout the room in places that even a human being couldn’t be,” explained Haynie. “We do use one hand-held camera, but it was important for us to emphasize that we’re not the show. We aim to be unobtrusive. Artists have told us that they appreciate that it’s not like there’s a big TV crew.”
They also take great care to work closely with the artist and venue to ensure that the sound is top-notch. Saman said that they do a little post-production work with the sound but for the most part they do well with their live recording. “We recognize how important sound is for a live music show and we take that very seriously,” added Saman. “We do as much pre-planning as we can.”
When asked about the most unusual or interesting show in the series thus far, the two paused, proud parents clearly not wanting to favor one artist or show over any other. But Haynie recalled being surprised by eclectic folk-rocker Andrew Bird’s show. Bird, a veritable one-man band, amazed both producers with the way that he layered the sound live in performance. Added Saman, “What was interesting was that you could not only see him layering the instruments on stage, but you’re also watching the music being created.”
The show does not use a host or voice-over narration. Saman explained that, “We didn’t want it to be a hosted show. We do include a backstage interview with the artist talking about their music.” The stripped down approach to production suits the jazz genre well, which has often suffered from awkward interviews with hosts lacking affinity for the subjects. Jools Holland, anyone? Among the upcoming jazz-specific shows in the series are performances by Bobby Watson and Miguel Zenon.
“On Canvas” episodes premiere on WHYY-TV at 8 p.m. Wednesdays and are rebroadcast at 2 pm Sundays. Episodes are also broadcast on WHYY-TV’s Y Arts channel at Wednesdays at 9PM, Thursdays at 10PM, Mondays at 7PM, and Tuesdays at 8PM following the premiere broadcast on WHYY-TV. “On Canvas” episodes may also be streamed on the WHYY web site.Originally Published