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.

Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to announce the New Paths Festival for April and May 2014. With New Paths, ANW looks to the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson for inspiration: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.”

New Paths is a citywide festival conceptually connecting some of the most innovative artists in the world to a variety of historic and peculiar Philadelphia spaces. The work of these artists is inherently adventurous, but New Paths aims to deepen artists’ engagement with their performance space as well as with our city’s history, cultures and people, making these events uniquely Philadelphian.

Participating artists and venues include:






ST. FRANCIS DUO (Steve Noble + Stephen O'Malley)


And more!

More details here. Individual event tickets will go on sale this week, but we’re releasing a limited number of festival passes at a 20% discount. To purchase a festival pass click here.

New Paths Festival has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

The second installment of our "Still The New Thing" blog post series, where we've asked curator Bobby Zankel about some of his favorite Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra recordings, brings us to 1965 with Ornette Coleman's Chappaqua Suite. Divided into four parts, this recording was originally commissioned as a soundtrack for the film "Chappaqua" by Conrad Rocks. However, the music was not used for fear of it "overpowering the imagery" of the film, and Columbia Records instead issued it as a double LP. This was the first studio recording with Coleman's trio featuring David Izenzon on bass and Charles Moffett on drums. It was also Ornette's first recording with a full orchestra, arranged and conducted by Joseph Tekula. Tenor Saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders makes an appearance on the fourth movement of the suite. Although the album quickly went out of print, this under-appreciated recording stands as testament to Coleman's skill as a composer and savvy with orchestral writing.

We sat down with Philadelphia saxophonist-composer and “Still The New Thing” curator Bobby Zankel and asked him about some of his favorite recordings and performances from Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. Our first post in this series – just in time for tonight’s Celebrating Cecil event – takes us back to May 22, 1973 when Mr. Taylor performed at Koseinenkin Dai-Hall in Tokyo with drummer Andrew Cyrille and the late great alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons. The event was recorded and released on the Japanese label Trio Records as a double LP called Akisakila – Cecil Taylor Unit In Japan.

The Painted Bride Art CenterArs Nova Workshop, Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, and the Philadelphia Jazz Project are excited to announce a three-show collaboration paying homage to jazz legends Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and Sun Ra.  Scheduled to coincide with the artists' respective birthdays, these one-of-a-kind all-star evenings feature musicians who, over the last five decades, have had key professional and personal relationships with Cecil, Ornette and Sun Ra. These special performances will celebrate the lives and work of these challenging, uncompromising composer-performers.

The inimitable Cecil Taylor has received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. In March, to celebrate both his remarkable contributions to jazz and his 85th birthday, saxophonist Bobby Zankel will lead a one-night only quintet featuring some of Taylor's closest and most longstanding colleagues, including bassists Henry Grimes and William Parker, Philadelphia pianist Dave Burrell, and drummer Andrew Cyrille.

To celebrate the 84th birthday of Ornette Coleman, the artist who coined the term “Free Jazz,” two unique ensembles will be presented.  The first, the Denardo Coleman Group, is led by the saxophonist's son (who first recorded with his father as a 10-year-old boy) and will feature members of the elder Coleman's unique current quartet. Additionally, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, best known for his work in Ornette’s Prime Time ensemble, will perform with a group hand-selected for this special night.

The series will culminate in a double-header celebrating not only the work and lives of Ornette and Cecil, but also Sun Ra, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. Two big bands with extraordinarily rich Philadelphia histories will be featured: the Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen, and “Still The New Thing” curater Bobby Zankel with his Warriors of the Wonderful Sound.

We're pleased to have a bunch of our upcoming activities previewed in this week's Philadelphia City Paper. So no need to take our word for it.

"Decades ago, jazz established itself as an invasive species in Scandinavia, flourishing to such a degree that we’re now re-importing it at an increasing rate. Tuesday, Ars Nova Workshop presents a double bill of younger Norwegian bands with divergent takes on the avant garde. Bushman’s Revenge is a guitar, bass and drums power trio that has as much psych-prog in its DNA as it does fiery free jazz. Led by trumpeter Thomas Johansson, the two-horns and rhythm section quartet Cortex is more firmly entrenched in the jazz idiom, albeit irreverently jostling one era against the next. Brassy swing is filtered through an Ayler breakdown, or Ornette angularity suddenly bounces into a bebop flurry." -Shaun Brady, Philadelphia City Paper

Fall (and Beyond)

Thanks to those who joined us recently for the Norwegian-Chicago collaboration of VCDC. We're keeping our fingers crossed for a spring return of saxophonist Frode Gjerstad with his friend, legendary trumpeter Bobby Bradford. More soon. We have just one concert in November and another in December, so no excuse to miss the final two events in 2013. 

Free Ts at VCDC

Join us on Sunday for the Philadelphia debut of VCDC featuring our friends Frode Gjerstad and Fred Lonberg-Holm. We have a few small (mens and womens) ANW t-shirts we'll be giving away to ticket buyers (who can fit in them!). Hope to see you then.

Ars Nova Workshop has reached the halfway point of its Spring 2013 concert season; it has been a great one so far! Thanks for joining us for the performances by Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor, the Whammies, Kris Davis's Capricorn Climber, Ches Smith & These Arches, and most recently, the spectacular sold-out show at Philadelphia Art Alliance with the Billy Hart Quartet. It was the perfect way to welcome the quartet for its first ever Philly date.

The season continues. Due to reasons beyond our control, we had to cancel dates with Mats Gustafsson and Merzbow, and with Jasaon Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms. But we're happy to announce some new additions to the calendar. ICP Orchestra, the Engines and the Craig Taborn Trio are up next, and we've just added performances by Odean Pope and Andrew Cyrille in duo, a double-bill with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Mike Reed's People, Places and Things, Peter Brötzmann and Joe McPhee in duo, and the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble.

Check out a summary of our upcoming events below. To purchase tickets, and for more information about the performers, please refer to the “Events” page of the ANW website. And don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news.