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Bobby Zankel's Warriors Of The Wonderful Sound Meet Muhal Richard Abrams
On April 28 at Montgomery County Community College, Philadelphia saxophonist/bandleader Bobby Zankel’s big band the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound will premiere a new piece written expressly for the ensemble by legendary pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams. The band, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, will follow up their thrilling, acclaimed performances of pieces by innovative jazz saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Coleman with this new addition to their weighty repertoire.
Born in Chicago in 1930, Muhal Richard Abrams’ lifetime spans much of the history of modern jazz, a fact reflected in his style-spanning compositions. In 1965 he co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a loose organization devoted to expanding opportunities for forward-thinking jazz artists and for incubating new approaches unhindered by limitations of genre or tradition. At 81, Abrams continues to wield an enormous influence through his recordings and teachings, not least through some of modern jazz’s most important musicians. Pianists Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer and saxophonists Steve Coleman and Greg Osby are among those who cite Muhal’s profound impact.
The wider music community has also honored Abrams in recent years: in 2010 he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, admitted to Downbeat Magazine’s Hall of Fame, and given a Lifetime Achievement Award by New York’s Vision Festival. The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound commission is supported by a grant from the Philadelphia Music Project, a project of the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. A blog dedicated to the project will feature video footage and interviews with Zankel, reports on the status of the project and rehearsal, and discussions of Muhal’s music with jazz greats like Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer.
Originally from Brooklyn, Zankel was drawn to the saxophone by the thrilling new sounds being explored in the 1960s jazz scene, in particular the music of John Coltrane. He eventually studied with Cecil Taylor at the University of Wisconsin, after which he left school to continue those studies on the bandstand, following the iconoclastic pianist back to New York. Zankel became involved with the avant-garde jazz scene of the early 1970s, performing alongside the likes of bassist William Parker and violinist Billy Bang.
In 1975, Zankel relocated to Philadelphia, where he’s remained since, becoming one of the leading lights of the local jazz community. “I’ve had such tremendous experiences and opportunities in Philadelphia,” Zankel says, citing his work with saxophonist Odean Pope, bassist Jymie Merritt, violinist John Blake, and singer Ruth Naomi Floyd, among others who make the city their home. But his most influential work has been his ten years of composing for his long-standing big band.
The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound were first assembled in 2001 for a fledgling jazz festival and continued presenting Zankel’s heady, intricate compositions over the next decade at recently-shuttered club Tritone. For most of the big band’s existence, it was Zankel’s compositions alone that made up the Warriors’ repertoire. In 2009, however, the band performed the music of Julius Hemphill in a tribute to the saxophonist/composer presented by Ars Nova Workshop, leading Zankel to open up the band’s book to outside composers of a similar mindset. First Indian-American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and then M-Base founder Steve Coleman penned challenging suites for the ensemble. The Muhal Richard Abrams commission is the latest and most exciting manifestation of the band’s new direction.
*For only $25, join us at 5:30pm for a special reception featuring live music and a complimentary drink at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz, 738 South Broad Street. A bus will leave from the Clef Club at 6:30pm for the performance at MCCC and return to the Clef Club following the performance.
Ars Nova Workshop is a Philadelphia nonprofit jazz and experimental music presenting organization. ANW informs, inspires, and challenges listeners to elevate the role of jazz, improvisation, and experimental music in contemporary culture. ANW events provide a forum for discourse, emergent trends in contemporary music, and unique forms of cultural exchange, while nurturing a diverse community for innovative music.