Guest Post: Vandermark and the Barnes

On Monday, April 21, Ars Nova Workshop presents Ken Vandermark's Made to Break at the Barnes Foundation, kicking off our New Paths Festival. We asked Barnes Foundation director of education Blake Bradford - who we'll present in conversation with Vandermark at 7pm, just before the performance - to share some of his thoughts in preparation of Vandermark's first performance in Philadelphia in five years:

I think my first encounter with  Ken Vandermark was seeing him as part of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet in the late 90s. With these improvised music big bands, my process was usually to see the large ensemble live, and then take in other projects and recordings from individual members.

I quickly realized that this approach wouldn’t work with Ken. By the turn of the century, he had appeared on a bunch of records, as both a leader and a contributor. How many is a bunch? Go ahead, pull him up on Amazon or Discogs or whatever music portal you prefer. You’ll see how prolific and varied his career has been. How could I take it all in? I learned to stop worrying about record collecting and committed to open my ears to whatever was available.

Seeing Ken perform and listening to his records, I began to see his connectedness in the midst of all the variety as his hallmark. It made me think about the way composure and composition come from the same place. What I imagined I heard was Ken, within ensembles of different size, shape, and style, transmitting his certainty of the music’s cohesion and underlying logic.

In preparation for this project, I shared that the thing people find most striking about the Barnes Foundation are the Wall Ensembles. Albert Barnes created deliberate combinations of what might be considered incongruous objects—eastern and western, sacred and secular, fine art and craft. All that stuff! Barnes’s arrangement of paintings, furniture, metalwork, and more were meant to bring these elements into active dialogues. With that sentiment in mind and a belief in forging new connections, I’m looking forward to hearing the conversations inspired by Ken’s time at the Barnes Foundation.

Blake Bradford serves as the Barnes Foundation’s Bernard C. Watson Director of Education. He has been on the Foundation’s staff since 2009, conducting programs that engage the Barnes’s full range of audiences and leading dedicated initiatives for adult learners, families, K-12 students, and pre-school aged children.