Blog

Leading up to the April 28th premiere at Montgomery County Community College of a new piece written by Muhal Richard Abrams for Bobby Zankel's Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, music writer Shaun Brady (JazzTimesPhiladelphia City PaperPhiladelphia Inquirer) will be contributing a series of blog posts about the project. This is the second installment of Brady's four-part series.

A Conversation With Bobby Zankel and Jason Moran

On April 28 at Montgomery County Community College, Bobby Zankel’s big band the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound will premiere a new piece written for the ensemble by legendary pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams. In the weeks leading up to the event, we’ll be discussing Abrams’ influence and legacy with some of modern jazz’s leading figures.

Pianist Jason Moran emerged on the scene in the late 1990s, a product of Houston’s renowned High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and the Manhattan School of Music. Discovered by saxophonist Greg Osby, Moran soon began to revolutionize the sound of the piano trio with The Bandwagon, his group with bassist Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits, often incorporating influences from conceptualist art. He was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2010, and last year was named Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center. Moran studied with Muhal Richard Abrams during his early years in New York. I spoke to him, along with Bobby Zankel, at his Manhattan apartment. 

How did you first encounter Muhal? 

Jason Moran: My father had a fairly large record collection, and in it were a lot of AACM cats [Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the pioneering Chicago organization that Muhal co-founded in the mid-1960s]. When I started piano at age six I wasn’t paying attention to what he collected over the years, but by the time I was maybe seventeen, late in high school, I started listening to other people. I had been listening to Wynton Kelly, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, and Herbie Hancock, but then I also started listening to Andrew Hill and Herbie Nichols, and that’s when I found Muhal Richard Abrams. Muhal was suggesting something else for the piano, in the same way that people like Sam Rivers proposed something else for the saxophone. I thought, ‘This is peculiar.’ The compositions are different, his touch on the piano is different, but you hear these gestures towards Scott Joplin or ragtime or stride piano. So I really thank my father for having kind of a wild sensibility about the music he liked. 

Leading up to the April 28th premiere at Montgomery County Community College of a new piece written by Muhal Richard Abrams for Bobby Zankel's Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, music writer Shaun Brady (JazzTimes, Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia Inquirer) will be contributing a series of blog posts about the project. This is the first installment of Brady's four-part series.

Different Than The Different: Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound meet Muhal Richard Abrams

On April 28 at Montgomery County Community College, Bobby Zankel’s big band the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound will premiere a new piece written for the ensemble by legendary pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams. Recently, at his West Philadelphia home, Zankel discussed the warriors’ ten-year history, his own life in music, and the excitement of commissioning new music from one of jazz’s most ground-breaking figures.

The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound were first assembled in 2001 for a fledgling jazz festival called Collective Voices. “I’ve always tried to surround myself with the best musicians I can, which usually means older musicians, the guys who know things I don’t know,” Zankel says. The Warriors, on the other hand, largely consisted of the most promising members of Philadelphia’s young modern jazz scene, who were looking to Zankel for wisdom and guidance. “In this situation I was the old head. I’ve watched the guys mature. It’s been a great growing experience for everybody.”

Over the next decade, the band would take the minute stage at Philly’s Tritone to wrestle with Zankel’s intricate compositions. On February 2nd they’ll take that stage again to pay tribute to the great saxophonist Sam Rivers, who passed away at the end of 2011. In the past, Zankel has written or arranged music in honor of other lost mentors, including Bill Dixon, Edgar Bateman, Sid Simmons and George Russell. For Rivers, who he knew and admired for forty years, he’s arranged a new version of the saxophonist’s best-known tune, “Beatrice.”

APAP | NYC 2012, an annual event hosted by the Association Of Performing Arts Presenters that features several days of music showcases and panel discussions with leading artists and voices from the contemporary performance arts world, happens in New York City from January 6-10.

On January 5, Ars Nova Workshop's Founder/Artistic Director Mark Christman will participate in a workshop hosted by JazzTimes magazine as part of their DIY Crash Course program. Along with representatives from International Music Network, BOOM Collective, Revive Music Group and Unlimited Myles, and moderated by music writer Jim Macnie (Down Beat, Village Voice), Mark will be part of the “New Models For Jazz Performance and Touring” workshop. Click here for more information about the workshop and JazzTimes' DIY Crash Course, and be sure to RSVP on Facebook.

Also in conjuction with APAP, the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) is hosting a Mini-Conference called Media For Audience Development featuring a series of panel discussions on building new jazz audiences using new media. On January 8, Mark will be participating in the Going Local: Getting Coverage In Local Media panel with JJA President and music writer Howard Mandel, The Local East Village editor Daniel Maurer, CapitalBop editor-in-cheif Giovanni Russonello and TimeOut New York music editor Steve Smith.

Also, Winter Jazzfest 2012 is happening in New York City that weekend. On Friday, January 6 and Saturday, January 7, dozens of performances will take place at multiple venues, including sets by Tyshawn Sorey's Oblique, Nels Cline Singers, Jason Ajemian's Highlife, Bill Laswell, Mostly Other People Do The Killing, and David Murray's Cuban Ensemble. If you go, keep an eye out for Mark!

If you're not able to make it, don't fret: ANW has plenty of jazz coming your way in 2012. We'll be kicking off the New Year on January 19 at The Rotunda with a performance by Nate Wooley Quintet Alpha. Have a great New Year's celebration, and we'll see you there!

Happy Holidays!

We hope you and your families have a great holiday, and we wish you a wonderful New Year! As 2011 comes to a close, we ask you to consider making a gift to Ars Nova Workshop:

Please consider a gift of:
$25 and say This Is Our Music
$100 and say We Travel The Spaceways
$500 and be one of our Unit Structures

Before we march into 2012, and ANW's exciting upcoming season of jazz and experimental music in Philadelphia, we'd like to thank you for all your support this year. Thank you. Without your generous contributions, we wouldn't have been able to present nearly 40 concerts in 2011, including our three-day Composer Portrait: Fieldwork series, our five-day AACM: Great Black Music Festival, and the unprecedented three-day series with Instant Composers Pool Orchestra. 

Those were some of our favorite music moments of the year, and there are plenty more coming! We have big plans for 2012 and beyond, including bigger and better music festivals, visual arts exhibits, and the launch of the ANW archival record label. 

In the meantime, ANW's season begins on January 19, 2012 with the Philadelphia debut of the Nate Wooley Quintet Alpha. Please check out the rest of our 2012 season here, and we'll soon be announcing several more concerts, including a duo that's literally going to knock your socks off. Here's a hint: Philadelphia pianist + Dutch drummer.

Your contributions will help us to bring these and more creative music performances to Philadelphia in the years to come, so please give, and give generously!

Spring 2012

Ars Nova Workshop's 13th year is coming soon! We wrapped up our 2011 season in late-November with two maximum capacity concerts by Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog and a double-header with Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown and the Claudia Quintet + 1. Thanks to everyone who came out to support ANW this year, and we wish you all a wonderful holiday season.

ANW kicks off its 2012 season on January 19th with the Philadelphia debut of the Nate Wooley Quintet Alpha at The Rotunda. In a review of the quintet's recent Brooklyn performance, The New York Times' Nate Chinen wrote that Wooley's “an improviser with a tactile, patient, interrogatory approach to his craft.” We hope you'll join us for this first concert of the new year, and Wooley's first Philadelphia appearance since last March, when he played Vox Populi with C. Spencer Yeh, Paul Lytton and Ben Hall.

Below you'll find a summary of ANW's early 2012 concert schedule. Keep an eye on our website, because we'll be announcing a few more dates very soon. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please refer to the event pages on our website. Happy holidays, and we'll see you on January 19th!

Fall 2011

The summer's coming to an end, which means Ars Nova Workshop—Philadelphia's leading presenter of jazz and experimental music—is back. We concluded our 11th season back in June with the five-concert Great Black Music Festival celebrating the work of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) with performances by Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, and Wadada Leo Smith, and we're ready to charge into season 12 with six nights of live music by seven bands over the remaining months of 2011. It all begins this week with two stellar concerts at Philadelphia Art Alliance. 

On Wednesday, September 14, renowned bassist Mark Dresser and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu perform new pieces from their latest Pi Recordings release, Synastry. Then, on Friday, September 16, the Angelica Sanchez Quintet, featuring a rare stateside appearance by French guitarist Marc Ducret, present new compositions from their sophomore release, which is coming soon on the venerable Clean Feed label. Tickets are available now on the individual event pages, so be sure to pick yours up today.

Below you'll find a summary of Ars Nova Workshop's 2011 concert schedule. For further information, and to purchase tickets, please refer to the event pages. We hope to see you Wednesday and Thursday night, and many times over the next few months!

For Ars Nova Workshop's AACM: Great Black Music Festival, we've asked several leading jazz scholars and journalists to engage performers in a series of pre-concert public discussions about the history, present, and future of the AACM. On Sunday, June 12 at Settlement Music School, New York Times music writer Nate Chinen will talk with first generation AACM member Roscoe Mitchell, whose Sound Ensemble will perform following the discussion. Chinen made the following post on his blog, The Gig.

If you're reading this, you probably know it's a busy time for jazz. So I'll keep this brief. On Sunday evening at 6 p.m., I'll be moderating a conversation with saxophonist, composer and AACM heavyweight Roscoe Mitchell, at Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. The talk (which is free) will precede an 8 p.m. performance by his Sound Ensemble (which isn't). It's part of a weekend-long Mitchell residency, within a larger AACM series, presented by Ars Nova Workshop.

Roscoe Mitchell is, of course, a fiercely individual thinker and creative force, and while I haven't yet had the honor of interviewing him, I have heard him speak on a few occasions. The most memorable of these was during a symposium in Guelph, Ontario, in 2005. That was for a 40th-anniversary celebration for the AACM; during the same weekend, Mitchell also performed with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and in duo with Pauline Oliveros. (I wrote about it in JazzTimes.)

Incidentally, the other night I was at the Vision Festival speaking with Yulun Wang of Pi Recordings, which has released albums by the Art Ensemble as well as Mitchell's collaboration with two fellow AACM stalwarts, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and George Lewis. The subject of AACM commemoration came up, and I naturally mentioned the classic John Hughes film Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Yulun didn't know what I was talking about, which led me to believe that this bit of trivia might not be as well-known as I'd thought.

For Ars Nova Workshop's AACM: Great Black Music Festival, we've asked several leading jazz scholars and journalists to engage performers in a series of pre-concert public discussions about the history, present, and future of the AACM. On Monday, June 13 at the Maas Building, writer (Jazz Times, New York City Jazz Record) and Queens College jazz history lecturer David R. Adler will talk with young AACM members Mike Reed and Jeff Parker, whose duo performance will precede the discussion and a performance of Henry Threadgill's “Background” by the Collide Saxophone Quartet. We're pleased to share with you a short essay written on Reed and Parker by Adler for Ars Nova Workshop.

It’s safe to say that Muhal Richard Abrams, Phil Cohran and other AACM founders weren’t just out for themselves when they launched the organization in the mid-1960s. Rather, they sought to create a legacy of artistic freedom, an example for new generations. Guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Mike Reed, standing at the forefront of today’s energized Chicago improvising scene, are an embodiment of that legacy.

Parker has issued such fine recordings as Like-Coping and The Relatives. He’s distinguished himself as a member of Tortoise, Isotope 217 and other head-turning, hard-to-classify bands. He’s also worked with AACM stalwarts Ernest Dawkins and the late Fred Anderson, the Chicago Underground in its various forms, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble and Matana Roberts’ Chicago Project, not to mention the Brian Blade Fellowship, Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band, the Scott Amendola Band and more.

Thoroughly at home with rock, blues, straightahead swing and open-form experimentation, Parker brings a dry, biting guitar sound to his musical encounters, including his provocative duo with Mike Reed. Both Reed and Parker are members of Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, appearing together on such releases as Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra and We Are All From Somewhere Else. Their duo music hails from the same universe: rough-edged, percussive, sonically inventive, yet marked by a pared-down intimacy.

For Ars Nova Workshop's AACM: Great Black Music Festival, we've asked several leading jazz scholars and journalists to engage performers in a series of pre-concert public discussions about the history, present, and future of the AACM. At 6pm on Saturday, June 4 at Philadelphia Art Alliance, Sun Ra and Alan Lomax biographer and Columbia University professor John Szwed will talk with first generation AACM member Wadada Leo Smith, whose solo performance following the discussion will kick off the 5-concert festival. We're pleased to share with you a short essay written on the AACM by Szwed for Ars Nova Workshop.

On the mythic map of jazz that we have inherited there are two coasts, one river, and three cities - New Orleans, Chicago, and New York. It's a cruel simplification of a very complex history, but one that's hard to forget. A few years back I was thinking of that jazz geography when I travelled between those three cities over a short stretch of time and got to hear some music in each of them.

In New York, the audience at the Vanguard was appreciative, urbane, and politely knowing. And why not, the music is no longer connected to any particular community or ethnicity, and New York clubs are now more like a jazz festival, with groups from everywhere in the world passing through. In New Orleans, on the other hand, jazz seemed to me something like the tropical air or the drinks: it had always been there, and you breathed, drank, and listened. Music in that city is still neighborhood-based, and remains, in spite of Katrina, somewhat racially determined and tied to other forms of community music - soul, blues, funk . . .

In Chicago one experience sticks with me. I arrived just in time to see the Art Ensemble of Chicago make a widely publicized concert return to Mandel Hall. The crowd that night was diverse, all high energy and wild enthusiasm for the music. At the end of the evening, Roscoe Mitchell stepped to the microphone, introduced the individual musicians, then said with a bow, "Collectively, we are the Art Ensemble of Chicago." When that last word was uttered the audience leaped to its feet with a triumphant roar! "Hog Butcher for the World," Carl Sandburg called Chicago, "Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads . . . Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders" In the hall that night it felt something like that.

For Ars Nova Workshop's AACM: Great Black Music Festival, we've asked several leading jazz scholars and journalists to engage performers in a series of pre-concert public discussions about the history, present, and future of the AACM. At 6pm on Sunday, June 5 at Christ Church Neighborhood Theatre, award-winning jazz journalist and author Francis Davis will talk with first generation AACM member Henry Threadgill, whose Zooid ensemble will perform following the discussion. We're pleased to share with you a short essay written on Threadgill and the AACM by Davis for Ars Nova Workshop.[NOTE: We apologize for the inconvenience, but the pre-concert discussion with Francis Davis and Henry Threadgill is cancelled. The performance by Henry Threadgill & Zooid will still begin at 8pm.]

Even now, hard on fifty years since the organization’s first stirrings in Muhal Richard Abrams’s Experimental Orchestra in Chicago in the early ‘60s, some still deny the music made by the AACM’s charter members a place in jazz tradition by virtue of it being too “European”—too infected by the procedures of such postwar classical avant-gardists as Karlheinz Stockhauen and John Cage to qualify as a logical outgrowth of Ellington, bebop, or even free jazz. (Never mind that Cage was as American as Jelly Roll Morton or Charles Ives, this peculiar strain of American exceptionalism obeys no logic but its own). Or the same body of music, occasionally even the same piece of music, is disparaged as willfully primitive, a deliberate affront to jazz’s ongoing intellectual evolution.

These criticisms would be ridiculous even if they didn’t nicely cancel each other out. Yet taken together, don’t they somehow amount to exculpatory fact? Because what was so innovative and exciting about those first albums to draw the world’s attention to the AACM—what identified this music as something more than Coltrane or Albert Ayler with a Chicago accent—was a cross-cultural bricolage, a bringing together of pan-African ritual and rhythmic primacy with something drawing on both Cagean indeterminacy and Schoenbergian post-tonality.