Muhal Meets The Warriors Part 4/4

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 second installment of Brady's four-part series.

A Conversation With Muhal Richard Abrams and the Warriors Of The Wonderful Sound

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 named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and a member of Downbeat Magazine’s Hall of Fame, Abrams is a co-founder of the hugely influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and a composer whose work and influence spans the diverse history of classic, modern and avant-garde jazz. At 81, he continues to wield an enormous influence through his recordings and teachings, not least through some of modern jazz’s most important musicians.

At a recent rehearsal with the Warriors, Abrams explained how he would spontaneously cue soloists during the performance with a telling assertion: “Your decisions will be generated by what I hear,” he told the band. After a pause he added, “Which is how it should be.”

WRTI’s J. Michael Harrison spoke to Abrams about the project during a break, a partial transcript of which is below. Afterwards, however, I spoke to three of the longest-tenured Warriors about the experience. Saxophonist Daniel T. Peterson said that Muhal “exudes positivity and energy. I’ve always considered him a piano player, of course, but I’ve also noticed that he’s a coordinator, someone who puts people and situations together. That’s been very clearly part of this process. He’s been working with us and drawing from that and using it in creative ways and thinking of different ways to make the piece very personal.”

In comparison with recent compositions for the band by saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Coleman, pianist Tom Lawton said, “The three of them have been completely different from each other. Each of these people has their own language; we have to bend to that somewhat, but I think this project has been the easiest to be ourselves while still doing that.”

Saxophonist Elliott Levin, whose relationship with Zankel dates back to 1974, when both played with iconoclastic pianist Cecil Taylor, called Abrams’ piece “some of the hardest saxophone stuff I’ve ever played. You have to concentrate from beginning to end. It’s a very clear piece but very, very challenging. I think it’s pushing everybody to be a better musician. It’s not easy to put all those elements together and make it musical the way that this is. I think it’s going to be an event, something really special.” - Shaun Brady read more

Muhal Meets The Warriors Part 3/4

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 second installment of Brady's four-part series.

A Conversation With Vijay Iyer

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 Vijay Iyer’s wide-ranging discography runs the gamut from his ground-breaking trio work to his long-standing collaboration with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the jazz/South Asian fusion ensemble Tirtha to the collective trio Fieldwork with fellow innovative composers/improvisers Steve Lehman and Tyshawn Sorey. His trio’s acclaimed CD Historicity earned him a 2010 Grammy nomination, and their recent follow-up, Accelerando, further evolves their expansive approach. In his Harlem home, Iyer recalled one early encounter with Abrams, at a gig by the initial incarnation of Fieldwork (with Aaron Stewart and Elliot Humberto Kavee). 

Vijay Iyer: The first Fieldwork gig ever was in 1999 at the Alterknit, which was this horrible little prison cell of a room in the basement of the Knitting Factory with café tables and metal folding chairs. I remember there at the front table were Muhal, Henry Threadgill, and Andrew Hill sitting right in front of us. That was basically one of the scariest gigs of my life, but it was so nice to see that these guys who’ve been such important creative forces still cared about what people like us were doing, especially since we weren’t even on the map. Afterwards, I talked to Muhal because I was so grateful that he came but at the same time I was sort of mortified to be seen in a room like that, or that people of their stature had to come into that space. It was not dignified. He said really nice things about the music, and I said, ‘We’re just trying to get out of this room.’ And he said, ‘Well, play your way out.’ Which is to say, the music contains within it the ingredients for self-transformation. And I can honestly say thirteen years later, that’s what happened.

How did you initially discover Muhal’s music? 

VI: In the nineties, when I was living in Berkeley CA, I used to buy a lot of used CDs from this place called Amoeba Records. I noticed that somewhere in the ‘A’ section there was a guy who put out a lot of records on Black Saint/Soul Note Records, so I just started acquiring some of these albums because they were connected to other artists that I was familiar with and really interested in. People like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Threadgill. They all talked about Muhal in really exalted terms, so I started checking out the albums. His level of achievement as a composer was staggering considering that you didn’t really see him ‘on the scene’ as much as everybody else.

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ANW Celebrates Jazz Month In April

Ars Nova Workshop is celebrating National Jazz Appreciation Month this April with four special jazz concerts by Ballister, Endangered Blood, Steve Lehman Trio and Steve Coleman & Five Elements.

Since 2001, the Smithsonian Institution has facilitated Jazz Month events across the country, and last year Mayor Nutter announced that the jazz community in Philadelphia, the city where legends like John Coltrane and Lee Morgan began their careers, would collectively participate. ANW is happy to announce the following performances as we help contribute to the celebration and elevation of one of America's most important art forms.

Information about ANW's four Jazz Month events is below, and tickets can be purchased on the individual event pages. Keep an eye out for other Jazz Month events across the city, and we hope to see you at the concerts! read more

Muhal Meets The Warriors Part 2/4

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 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.  read more

Muhal Meets The Warriors Part 1/4

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.”

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ANW Goes To New York

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!

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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! read more

AACM | Nate Chinen on Roscoe Mitchell's Day Off

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. read more