Writing in the Boston Phoenix, author Norman Weinstein (“A Night in Tunisia”) declared that “Bobby Zankel deserves any Talent Deserving Wider Recognition Award that the jazz press might offer”. In reviewing “Emerging From The Earth”, the Jazz Times wrote,” He’s headed to status as a prime jazz innovator.” But who is Bobby Zankel, and where has he been?
The Brooklyn-born composer/saxophonist first began attracting attention in the early 70’s for his work with Cecil Taylor’s “Unit Core Ensemble” (Downbeat 9/71) as a “skillful young altoist with a powerful music at his fingertips”. His underground reputation grew on the New York “Loft Scene”, where he performed with the likes of Ray Anderson, William Parker, and Sunny Murray and where he continued his apprenticeship with Taylor.
Zankel became a Philadelphian in 1975 to raise his family and to expand his artistic vision without heed to commercialism or the trends of the times. Since 1975 his performances as a sideman have ranged from the Hank Mobley/Sonny Gillete Quintet, to Jymmie Merritt’s Forerunners, to the Dells, NRBQ, Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir, Ruth Naomi Floyd, and European work with Taylor. Zankel’s intensive studies of tonality and rhythms with Maestro Dennis Sandole have lead to his development into one of the most brilliant and original composers of the 90’s. His alto playing has been described as a unique amalgam of the precision and rhythmic intricacy of be-bop, with the soul and drive of hard bop, and the fire, spirituality, creativity and intensity of the avant garde.
Zankel’s tenure in Philadelphia has been marked by a series of acclaimed collaborations with choreographers, writers, and visual artists (funded by a variety of grants, and commissions), four that have resulted in three ballets and one opera. In 1995 he was honored to receive the prestigious PEW FELLOWSHIP (the largest monetary grant that one can apply for in the US) for his writing. Zankel’s compositions, which are characterized by a stunning blend of rhythmic layers, a highly personal, complex, chromatic harmonic language, and a hauntingly beautiful melodic lyricism, have been performed by such diverse musicians as Johnny Coles, Odean Pope, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Lester Bowie, Marilyn Crispell, Ralph Peterson Jr...The introspection of the composer’s life, is balanced by more than a decade of “artist in residence” programs in the Pennsylvania prisons.