From a weekly jam session among friends in Fall of 2006 to sizzling dance parties, debaucherous rock concerts, and international music festivals, West Philadelphia Orchestra (WPO) is a band, a celebration and a movement, with a big, loud voice and a well-spring of good news. A brass band (that once had strings) inspired by Balkan brass traditions, WPO plays traditional and original music that mixes in Philadelphia grooves, jazz and the avant garde to create a home-grown, ecstatic, and powerful sound. The band is an eclectic collective of Philadelphia's finest musicians, each with their unique voice in the ensemble - the fiery sax of Elliott Levin, the earthy voices of Petia Zamfirova and Jack Ohly, percussionist Gregg Mervine's rhythmic delirium, the barbaric yawps belched from Jim Parker's sousaphone, and so on. Through countless performances, the notes and rhythms have been bent and hammered into a new, original sound, a sound that is always in process as WPO revels in the energetic gaps between tradition and innovation, rawness and refinement, order and anarchy.
WPO performs most regularly at parties, concerts, and community events around Philadelphia. Their monthly dance party, which now happens at Underground Arts, is a local institution, like steak sandwiches and soft pretzels. Though the band does not travel or tour much these days, the band has performed at Mexico City's Ollin Kan festival, Philly Folk Fest, New York's Goldenfest, Bethlehem Musikfest and Philly Folk Fest. They've played most of the venues in Philly, large and small, from Fiume to the Kimmel Center. They've also collaborated with several groups, including Camerata Chamber Orchestra, Dr. Dog, and Gemini Wolf. They play weddings (declared 'Best Wedding Band' by Philadelphia Magazine for 2012), and flip into a klezmer configuration for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Purim parties, and so forth.
West Philadelphia Orchestra is/has been: Gregg Mervine (percussion), Jack Ohly (tapan, bass, vocals), Nezih Antakli (tapan, darbuka) Jim Parker (tuba), Dawn Webster, Adam Hershberger, Patrick Hughes, Koofreh Umoren, Kimbal Brown (trumpets), Elliott Levin (sax and flute), Larry Goldfinger (clarinet), David Fishkin (alto sax), Brendan Cooney, Steve Duffy, Hayley Varhol, and Larry Toft (tenor horns), Jacob Mitas (viola), Janos Perge and Katt Hernandez (violins), and Petia Zamfirova (vocals). *band usually performs with 6-12 members, given the situation.