Hill musician lost work but gained something valuable

by Len Lear
Posted 7/16/21

Chestnut Hill resident Alexandre Delcourt, 29, felt fortunate that he was at least able to obtain his “artist visa” that will enable him to stay here until the fall of 2022 and maybe longer.

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Hill musician lost work but gained something valuable

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Lots of musicians in the Philadelphia area and elsewhere were devastated by the pandemic, which cost them so much lost work and income, even if they were lucky enough to stay healthy. But Chestnut Hill resident Alexandre Delcourt, 29, felt fortunate that he was at least able to obtain his “artist visa” that will enable him to stay here until the fall of 2022 and maybe longer.

“I do hope to obtain citizenship one day,” he said last week. “Through the years, Philadelphia became my home, and I wish to stay here … At the beginning of the pandemic, all my gigs got cancelled. After a year and a half, they are coming back slowly.

“The pandemic has been really challenging for the music scene, to say the least, but I feel like musicians were able to adapt very quickly. A lot of recording projects were made directly from home. I tracked bass for several artists during the pandemic. It forced me to get more comfortable with recording softwares, and it was a good challenge.”

Alex grew up in Galluis, a small village in northern France, about 30 minutes from Paris. Although his parents are both engineers, he was always interested in music, particularly rock and funk music. After high school he studied at a music school in Paris for two years but insists he still “wasn’t sure how to become a better musician” until by chance he met Steve Beskrone, a Philadelphia bass player who just happened to be on tour in Europe at the time.

“He was my first real mentor,” Alex recalled. “He even gave me bass lessons on Skype. He is the real reason I came to Philly.”

Alex had started playing bass when he was 14, and because of his new-found friend and mentor, he applied to the University of the Arts (UArts) in downtown Philly, even though he spoke no English and despite the anxiety and trepidation of his parents. Alex rolled the dice and won, obtaining a full four-year scholarship to UArts, which he grabbed like a ripe strawberry, coming here in 2013.

“I had to push myself out of my comfort zone,” said Alex, who moved in with six American students, not foreign students, “because that way I would be forced to communicate in English and learn the language.” Although he sat in classes as a freshman not understanding the teachers' language (at first), Alex joined a big band, which won awards and earned them an invitation to play at Next Generation Jazz Festival, an annual event since 1958 in Monterey, California, that showcases more than 1,000 of the nation's top student musicians. Alex's band won the top prize.

So Alex was riding on a magic carpet except for the fact that Alex's work visa was up at the end of June, 2019. (He had a student visa before that.) The only way Alex could stay in the U.S. was to obtain an “artist's visa,” which would give Alex three more years here and the possibility of renewal and an eventual path to citizenship.

According to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services website, in order to qualify for an artist's visa, “the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim ... a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered in the field of arts.”

As it turned out, Alex met the tough criteria. He had formed his own jazz band in 2016, which is unusual for a bass player, usually considered a sideman. In 2018 and 2019, after graduating from UArts, Alex played several times at the now-defunct Paris Bistro Jazz Cafe in Chestnut Hill with the Hot Club of Philadelphia.

And after the last 15 months of struggle — and most musicians struggle more than enough even without a pandemic — Alex has played some outdoor sessions and will soon be back playing gospel music in person at the  Tyree Baptist Church in West Philly. And he just played a gig with bandmates Steven Perry and Nathaniel Hawk at the Live! Casino in South Philly.

And he has a recording session booked with the Connor O’Neil Quartet in August. “I really enjoy his writing and look forward to playing his music in the studio … The pandemic made me realize not to take anything for granted, especially the fact that I get to play music on a daily basis in front of an audience.”

For more information, visit alexdelcourt.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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