Matt Yaple's Kensington house is stunning enough on its own. The former garage on North Mascher Street was formerly owned by Free People creative director Doub Hanshaw, who transformed it into a gorgeous open-plan home Philadelphia Magazine once called "the most creative space in the city." Yaple spent two years redesigning Hanshaw's eclectic, taxidermy-studded style into the sleek, modern dwelling he now calls home.
After all that work, Yaple would be justified in simply opening his doors and letting people marvel at the interior, which includes a projection booth, a private mezzanine level, and a concrete courtyard. But once a month, he invites 50 guests to gather around the Steinway piano that is the focus of his sparsely furnished living room to enjoy an intimate listening experience featuring some of the best jazz artists from Philadelphia and beyond.
The final offering of 2016, on a Friday night in early December, was the first-ever meeting between pianist Orrin Evans and trumpeter Josh Evans. At the host's behest, cellphones were sheathed throughout the evening to train everyone's focus solely on the music. The musicians seemed to absorb the attentive yet gregarious feel of the space to play an alternately playful, intense, and intimate pair of sets that ranged through a number of original tunes, as well as tributes to two giants lost this year, David Bowie and Prince.
"This place is the sweet spot between the performance hall and the club," Yaple had said a few hours earlier over a lunch of duck confit grilled in his small courtyard. "It's important to me that the audiences pay attention and don't chatter or text or be distracted by anything other than listening. You can sit on the couch and have a glass of wine or a beer, but there's no talking, so it's comfortable, like a club, and it's respectful, like a concert hall."
The series, which Yaple calls @exuberance, is technically a monthly private party he hosts for invited guests who contribute donations to help pay the artists. The only thing one needs to do to wangle an invitation is to sign up for the @exuberance mailing list, making for an ever-growing guest list since the concerts began last July.
When he retired from his media production position with the American Law Institute a few years ago, Yaple intended to commit to the musical ambitions he'd long put on the back burner. He formed a band called Exuberance with several of the city's finest musicians (including bassist Mike Boone, saxophonist Mike Cemprola, and drummer Anwar Marshall) to breathe life into his compositions. They played often over the next two years, but listening to the recordings, Yaple says, "I got really frustrated with the piano player" - namely, himself.
Yaple then dedicated himself to practicing rather than performing, but he began to feel guilty about keeping his good fortune to himself. "Suddenly, I have this fantastic space and this incredible instrument, and I'm totally not worthy," he says. "It's such a politically incorrect thing for one person to occupy this much square footage, so I can sleep better by sharing what I have with others."
Yaple will ring in the new year with a special event Jan. 1 that he's calling "Resolution," a $150-per-head benefit for Jazz Bridge featuring solo sets by a dozen pianists with Philly connections (including Uri Caine, Sumi Tonooka, Tom Lawton, Aaron Graves, and Luke Carlos O'Reilly). Though the event title obviously refers to the short-lived promises we all make at the turn of the calendar, it also has a musical definition - plus other meanings involving peaceful compromise and strong determination, both of which resonated with Yaple in light of recent political events.
"The world is at a real strange place," he said. "Twenty days after our event, we're going to swear in a new president who represents very dramatically the fractious nature of our politics. There are a lot of things to be resolved, both in the conflict-resolution sense and in the aspirational sense. How do we want to live together? How do we want to be brothers and sisters? How do we want our children to grow up? I don't have any answers, but bringing hearts and souls together in one place to channel those questions seems like a beautiful and fitting thing on the first day of the year."