Mt. Airy native Ari Hoenig jazz drummer has had to cancel 70 concerts: Video, Photos

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Mt. Airy native Ari Hoenig, who would ordinarily be touring the world right now with his music, can literally not count all of the concerts he has had cancelled because of the pandemic.

I have contacted quite a few local musicians over the past three and a half months about the effect of the pandemic on their careers, but none has lost more than Ari Hoenig, a dubious record I’m sure he would rather not have. Hoenig, 46, who grew up in Mt. Airy and attended Germantown Friends School and then Central High School (251st graduating class), is one of the most highly regarded jazz drummers in the country.

Known for his unusual and intense approach to drumming, emphasizing complex rhythms, Ari had more gigs offered than he could possibly fulfill before the pandemic. For example, two tours by the peripatetic Mt. Airy native last year took him to Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Belgium, France, Austria and Germany.

But the pandemic has been a catastrophe for him. “I have probably had to cancel about 70 concerts worldwide,” he told us last week. “I use Zoom for teaching and master classes, but it’s not possible to play live with other musicians using that platform. With that said, I have used it to play solo. Among the jobs cancelled was a tour planned for Ohio and New York State. Another one was planned for Northwestern Europe and an additional one in Russia. I was planning to go to China and Japan after that as well, but that hadn’t been confirmed yet.”

Some musicians are hoping that a silver lining to the cancellation cloud might be post-pandemic jobs for later this year when audiences hungry for the live experience will hopefully again be a reality. But not for Ari.

A Portrait of Ari Hoenig

“No. I have none lined up. I am expecting this to kick off more like 2021 or 2022. There will be gigs that happen like outside festivals or things online, but it will be difficult to have any decent source of revenue from them since social distancing will cut down capacities.”

Most music fans have probably not thought of it, but the pandemic exacerbated a trend previously started by the virtual death of record sales that had already made a musician’s living a highwire act. “For the last 10-20 years the music business has seen a big shift,” said Hoenig. “Musicians were no longer making substantial money from record or song sales. Almost everyone’s music was set up to stream and be readily available on Youtube, Spotify, Apple Music, etc.

“Musicians went along with it because, of course, they want other people to hear their music and want it to be readily available to everyone, as it should be. The loss of income from record sales was supposed to be made up for in the live concerts and tours. People would still come to shows; right? So, playing live became the main source of income for me and many others.This why Covid-19 has been so devastating to performing musicians because it has virtually eliminated our only income source.”

On a more upbeat note, Hoenig has lately been a part of an online music festival based in Philly called Act 4 music. Its purpose is to keep musicians performing and to support arts education at the same time. Hoenig curated a concert that should be up on their site through the summer. Ari picked four of his favorite musicians and asked them to play a 30-minute set.

During the last several months, Hoenig has also been developing his music more toward songs/compositions and less toward improv. “So much of what I have done is improv-related, but for obvious reasons, that outlet is not available to me now,” he explained. “I’ve also been singing a lot and playing piano and ukulele. This is a very different outlet for me, and I feel like a beginner again with all these things.”

One might say that Ari’s musical apple did not fall far from the tree. His mother, Lynn Mather, is a violinist/violist, and his father, Larry Hoenig, is a retired music faculty member at Germantown Friends School, a choral conductor and tenor soloist. They still live in Mt. Airy.

“Their influence on me was huge,” said Ari. “They played music all the time in the house, in the car, everywhere. My favorite composers were Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Chopin. So much of what I was hearing I took for granted, but it will always be inside me.”

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