When John Zorn turned 60, in 2013, the musical celebrations honoring the composer and alto saxophonist spanned New York, with venues ranging from the Met Museum of Art and Lincoln Center Festival to the Stone, the East Village club Zorn founded in 2005.
Zorn’s music continues to saturate the city. Between now and Nov. 8, when Zorn concludes a six-night engagement leading five bands at the Village Vanguard jazz club, New Yorkers can choose from 30 different performances of his music. They include a “John Zorn Festival” within the inaugural programming at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust venue (Oct. 9 and 10; Oct. 30 and 31), and a solo recital by Mr. Zorn on the massive pipe organ at Manhattan’s St. Bartholomew’s Church (Oct. 30).
The first of these, four separate ensembles performing the premiere of new compositions for Zorn’s “Masada Book III, The Book Beriah” at Brooklyn’s Roulette, was the most stylistically varied, spiritually unified and lovingly presented night of music I’ve heard in quite some time.
At 62, Zorn never seems to stop composing. He’s composed 613 Masada pieces to date. As for the ongoing Sunday series at The Stone, “John Zorn’s Bagatelles”—it sprang from Zorn’s impulse to invite improvisation within a framework of brief atonal compositions. So far, he’s written 300 such pieces.
Here’s one exchange from my brief interview with Zorn in The Wall Street Journal:
WSJ: How have two decades of Masada music affected you?
JZ: I’ve learned to trust my ear and to trust myself. Before I started writing Masada material, the traditional concept of melody was not a large part of my creative language. I thought I was trying to change the world one concept at a time. So this was a scary step and a powerful step. That first book was hard. By the second book, all I had to do was channel this lyrical gift. A young musician once said to me: ‘You own the moon, but you’re afraid to show it.’ I thought a lot about what that might mean. This was there all along, but I was afraid to just be myself.
And here’s one that ended up cut for space, but that I like:
WSJ: Is there any unifying idea about your approach to all of them?
JZ: Composing is more than just imagining music; it’s knowing how to communicate it to musicians. You don’t give an improviser music that’s completely written out, or ask a classical musician to improvise. I’m interested in speaking to musicians in their own languages, on their own terms, and in challenging and exciting them.