John Zorn's latest gift to the community isn't about the profit motive, it's about supporting and nurturing creativity.
bassist Mark Dresser
It's a common refrain: there aren't enough places to play. Lately, it seems truer than ever, as several venerable clubs stare down financial hardships and possible eviction, while others have been forced to close, move, or change their programming to court a wider audience.
In such a climate, only the uncompromisingly independent composer/saxophonist John Zorn would defy the circumstances and open a new performance venue. This month, he unveils The Stone, a space dedicated to creative music located at the corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street in the Lower East Side.
"It was more a matter of necessity, Zorn explains. "It seemed like something really needed to happen. I felt like I really didn't have a choice. As with much of his music and his Tzadik record label, Zorn is ignoring established conventions in favor of doing what he believes will best serve the music, those who play it, and those who come to listen. "What this music needs is a space - an art space, a performance space that is just there for the music, he says.
To those ends, and as the latest venture of his not-for-profit organization Hips Road, The Stone will operate differently. It will not sell drinks or merchandise to keep overhead costs low. Musicians will receive an unprecedented 100% of the money collected at the door - typically $10 per person, per set. These features should relieve the pressure to attract a large crowd and foster an atmosphere for taking chances and experimenting musically. "John Zorn's latest gift to the community isn't about the profit motive, it's about supporting and nurturing creativity, says bassist Mark Dresser. Instead of fretting over attendance, Zorn plans to operate the club using money raised through donations and the sale of annual limited-edition, special recording projects by downtown all-stars donating their time and talent.
The Stone's programming will also be entrusted to the musicians. Each month, Zorn, as the Artistic Director, will choose a different player to curate the schedule, relying on personal connections and tastes rather than demo tapes. Zorn has already lined up curators for almost the first two years, a virtual who's-who list of the creative music scene, including pianist Misha Mengelberg, trumpeters Steven Bernstein and Roy Campbell, bassists Bill Laswell and William Parker, guitarist/electronic artist Jim O'Rourke, conductor Butch Morris, drummer Rashied Ali and electronic artist Ikue Mori. Zorn's choices reflect the multifaceted talent and range within downtown music.
The first month's program, compiled by multi-reedist Ned Rothenberg, was similarly selected to highlight the breadth of the new music scene. Two sets each night - Tuesday through Sunday - will be filled by different groups for greater variety. The program includes stalwarts like saxophonist Tim Berne, guitarist Elliott Sharp, pianist Anthony Coleman, drummer Milford Graves, and bassist Mario Pavone, as well as relative newcomers like accordionist Rob Burger, cellist Okkyung Lee, and harpist Shelley Burgon.
Rothenberg pulled the program together in about two-and-a-half weeks, often juggling nights and sets to accommodate players' schedules. "Musicians are eager to play, eager to get a slot, Rothenberg says. Despite Zorn's insistence that The Stone will not use paid advertising, relying instead on e-mail lists, the official website and the players themselves for promotion, musicians are excited about The Stone's prospects. According to Rothenberg, "the difference here is that this is going to be a musician-run place.
Other veteran musicians have expressed interest in the club. "I do think there is a need for spaces that present music that's not represented by the mainstream spaces and I do believe there's an audience for it, says Sharp, who'll be playing with his Orchestra Carbon, conducted by Morris, on April 16th. He hopes the venue will continue to highlight the wealth of downtown music and not become too simplified or repetitive. Saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, playing with his quartet April 27th, says, "I am thankful for his [Zorn's] energy and vision and personal desire to see a new performance space through.
But Zorn sees himself more as the catalyst of what has become a total community effort. Though he offered some ideas to initiate The Stone, the community's desire and pulling together has made it happen, Zorn says. Its location is the storefront of a friend's building. The architect who designed the space and the contractor who is renovating it are also friends, donating much of their time and energy.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.