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Philly’s Ars Nova Workshop Finds a New Home

After more than 20 years of wandering, the avant-garde concert presenter has a venue of its own: Solar Myth

Jaimie Branch 2022
The late jaimie branch performed with Lester St. Louis (left) and Jason Ajemian (right) at a March 2022 Ars Nova show in Philly’s Ruba club (photo: Ryan Collerd)

South Philly’s Solar Myth has been many things to many people. Known until recently as Boot & Saddle, it was once the toast of post-Prohibition Philadelphia. By the 1960s, onetime Navy man Pete Del Borrello had turned it into a bar for fellow sailors, with country music as its soundtrack. Eventually, live C&W bands, crusty punks, and neighborhood new-wave types—bound by the brotherhood of Miller Draft—became part of the eerie, Twin Peaks-ish ambience of sawdusty floors, wagon wheels, naval tchotchkes, and dim lighting before B&S shuttered in the ’90s. Brought back to life, neon-boot signage and all, in 2013 by Philly booker/entrepreneurs, Boot & Saddle became a hot place for craft beer, designer burgers, and live indie-rock gigs for seven years until closing, again, this time due to COVID’s financial ravages.

“I loved seeing shows at Boot & Saddle, its original tin ceilings, its back room for live music with its intimate feel,” says Mark Christman, executive and artistic director of Ars Nova Workshop (ANW), Philadelphia’s primary presenter of avant-garde jazz, experimental sounds, and new classical music. Since 2000, Ars Nova has been a floating local venue curator; now it floats no more.

“We’ve taken over Boot & Saddle, and its back room will essentially be the full-time home to Ars Nova,” says Christman, who created a fresh LLC for the occasion. “At least 92% of what Ars Nova does, going forward, is occurring here. And it will all reward the curious.”

Renamed Solar Myth (a tribute to local legend Sun Ra), the club reopened to the public in October. Its initial bookings include bassist Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant with Mary Halvorson and Ches Smith, drummer William Parker’s Trio with Cooper-Moore, bassist Anthony Tidd’s Quite Sane, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, the War on Drugs’ Charlie Hall’s new all-star gathering celebrating the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ On the Corner, and a Philly-themed commission for ANW “buddy” Nels Cline in a fresh quartet setting. “Nels’ new piece is one of his jazzier projects,” Christman says of his Cline commission.

Knowing what Boot & Saddle crowds have been (loud tattooed millennials, louder tattooed bands) and what Ars Nova crowds are (studious new-music aficionados, quiet until the screaming starts), Christman’s vision for the new venue features jazz records—vinyl played by a DJ as well as for sale—and a Japanese high-five bar and retailer focused on natural wines and craft beers. “Creativity is at the center of this, whether it’s improvised music or natural wine, and everything here fits into a more specific taste,” he says. 

Solar Myth is Ars Nova’s first full-time home. In the past, the organization moved from an old theater’s stage at Plays & Players (March 2000’s ANW debut featured Chris Speed, now a member of the Bad Plus) to a gallery (Philadelphia’s Art Alliance) to a house of worship (Christ Church Neighborhood House) and several other non-traditional performance spaces. “Our first decade was definitely very DIY,” Christman says, laughing. “But it also didn’t take long for other entrepreneurs to show interest in partnerships. And our partnerships have been essential to our growth.” Still, years of having to “rebuild the wheel, week after week” at differing locations, caused Christman and his staff “burnout,” and they’d been looking for a permanent spot for some time. In this case, the pandemic presented a positive opportunity, opening the door for ANW to join a thriving neighborhood.

“South Philly has undergone a rich transformation that makes it nearly Center City,” Christman notes, “and Solar Myth is on the Avenue of the Arts [the city’s theater and live-gig beltway], which is itself a jazz corridor with the Clef Club, Chris’ Jazz Café, South Jazz Parlor, the High School of the Performing Arts, and Temple U’s WRTI-FM on the block. We’re in good company.” Best of all, there’s steady space for 300 patrons in Solar Myth’s performance room, and more in its bar/restaurant area run by chef/partner Evan Clancy. 

“We don’t need to go overboard with being a live music space six nights a week, with three sets a night,” Christman adds. “We can be more organic, present live music when it feels comfortable and makes sense. There are options for standing-room and seated shows.” In other words, ANW isn’t going to overbook its live room just to keep it open; every gig will be an event, and “even when you’re there without a show, there’s a sense of place defined by Ars Nova’s values.”

Cline, a veteran of ANW events, says via email that Christman has the spiritual wherewithal to make this happen: “Mark is indefatigable with a dedication verging on the obsessive. … The man’s passion for not just forward-leaning improvised music but music and culture in general, along with the city of Philadelphia itself, is pretty damn phenomenal.” For Cline’s upcoming Solar Myth commission, “[Christman] set up an impressive and wide-ranging series of meetings and whatnot that did exactly what he intended them to do: give me information about Philadelphia’s deep cultural history—institutions and individuals—from many angles/avenues that could fire my imagination and foment inspiration.”

One final element of Solar Myth that Christman’s particularly obsessive about is his need to create a community of jazz and new music in and around it, geared toward what he calls Philly’s “architects” of jazz, elders from Marshall Allen to Odean Pope to Jamaaladeen Tacuma, all of whom have headlined ANW events.

“The music we revere and present isn’t only the greatest American art form, it’s an African American artform,” he says. “In a city like Philadelphia, home to many of the architects of this art form, we want our audiences to reflect the communities whence the music came. We’re working harder to build community, not just audiences.”


  • Solar Myth is located at 1131 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19147
  • Full capacity in the performance space is approximately 300 people
  • Recent performers include Zoh Amba, Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant, and Nels Cline

Go to for the complete schedule.