Posted on | September 3, 2013 | 2 Comments
by Nou Dadoun
Musician and musical iconoclast John Zorn turns 60 this month and in response, both he and his music are receiving accolades and retrospectives around the world. Most of the events are in his home New York City (including some hosted by Lincoln Center) but also at festivals in Warsaw, Paris, and around the world.
Twenty-five years ago, John Zorn was not a household name and, although already adventurous and prolific, had yet to make his mark on the wider musical and cultural community. However Ken Pickering (founding and continuing Artistic Director of Coastal Jazz and Blues) had his big ears to the ground and again Vancouver audiences reaped the benefit of seeing and hearing a great artist in their ascendency.
Ken recently posted an envelope from an exchange with Zorn from about 1987 on his Facebook page:
At that time Zorn lived in Japan about 6 months of the year; note that the address is Ken’s old store Black Swan Records which was the early home for both Coastal Jazz & Blues and The Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
The negotiations came to fruition twenty-five years ago for the 1988 edition of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Typically Zorn appeared in a number of contexts with a number of long-time collaborators – besides a solo saxophone performance, he appeared in duets with Eugene Chadbourne (at the old French Cultural Centre on 16th), in one of his game pieces Xu-Feng (at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre) and with the Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet (two nights at the long-gone Landmark Jazz Bar).
But other almost forgotten performances were taped at CKVU as part of a short-lived cooperative venture between the Jazz Festival and the television station. These recorded performances were long-thought to be lost but they popped up on YouTube a few years ago (from someone who videotaped the original broadcast), and this seems like a suitable occasion to revisit a slice of Vancouver Vintage.
The Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet was originally a project for the Italian label Black Saint Records organized by Wayne Horvitz playing the compositions of hard bop pianist Sonny Clark. But the inclusion of John Zorn on the alto tipped off a wider community that he could really play! Original participants Horvitz, Zorn and drummer Bobby Previte made it to Vancouver but bassist Ray Drummond was unavailable so Vancouver bassist Rick Kilburn stepped in to the band’s obvious delight.
SCMQ starts with Sonny Clark’s composition Cool Struttin’:
Next up is another Sonny Clark classic Minor Meeting:
As Zorn tells host Jim Byrnes, Xu-Feng is one of Zorn’s game pieces (a framework for improvisation based on game rules triggered by flash cards) named for a famous Taiwanese actress who was featured in many martial arts films. In the ensemble are Wayne Horvitz (keys), Anthony Coleman (keys), Eugene Chadbourne (guitar), Davey Williams (guitar), Bobby Previte (drums), Vancouver’s own Barry Taylor (drums) and John Zorn as prompter.
The broadcast finishes with a last Sonny Clark piece Something Special:
The Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet performed for two nights at the Landmark Jazz Bar – the second night the great trombonist Ray Anderson was appearing at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre with the trio BassDrumBone. After Ray’s show, hearing that Zorn was across town he insisted on heading straight there. He joined the band onstage for a steaming performance of Sonny’s Crib that I’ll never forget! (Maybe someday I’ll get that tape up here too!)
Zorn has returned to Vancouver several times since for a performance of another game piece Cobra, the original Masada quartet and Electric Masada (see here for an interview with Zorn before the Electric Masada performance) – a return visit is long overdue, but thanks to Ken and Coastal, Vancouver got an early glimpse of what the fuss is all about.
Happy Birthday John Zorn!