On Improvisation, Form, Sunsets and Lobster: Off I Go to Maine Again

photo by Larry Blumenfeld
photo by Larry Blumenfeld

I’m packing up my things to head off to Deer Isle, Maine, for two weeks.
It’s a Down East island I know well. First, it was an escape valve for my wife Erica and I—a place to shut off, eat lobster, paddle a canoe and do  little else.
Then, it became the site of a labor of love—through my role for the past 16 years as founding curator for the Deer Isle Jazz Festival, at a lovely century-old former vaudeville opera house overlooking a working lobster dock.
Magical stuff has happened there (I took the picture above, just before showtime several years ago.)
Soon enough, we had a willing partner in the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, a renowned center for sculptors and potters and glassblowers and weavers and poets; each year, one festival musician would serve as musician-in-residence.
You can find some personal history related to all that here.
This year, I have the honor of being writer-in-residence. (Scroll down here.)
I’ve decided to call the 2-week workshop I’m leading, “Jazz and the Abstract Truth,” which I do with apologies to saxophonist and composer Oliver Nelson, who titled his landmark 1961 LP “The Blues and The Abstract Truth.”
In his liner note, Nelson wrote: “One device that has always been successful in both classical music and present-day jazz is to let the musical ideas determine the form and shape of a composition.”
There are a few things I’m trying to explore through this residency. I want to examine the relationships between improvisation, composition and ideas about form as expressed in music, visual art and the written word. Another is to dig into a few examples of innovative or interesting visual representation that function as guides or templates for musical organization, that are the scores—in the work of, say, Wadada Leo Smith or Anthony Braxton or Steve Coleman.
As I sift through some of my writing during the past 20 years, I’ve noticed, especially lately, that these themes are already bubbling beneath the surface.
I’m also just going to get artists together to listen to great music communally. Perhaps we’ll veer toward what Pauline Oliveros calls “deep listening.” But at the very least we’ll simply listen as a community, and talk about what we heard and how it relates (or not) to what we create.
Lastly, in the context of all this, I’m hoping to get these artists to write.
Which is why, when I give a public presentation to begin my residency on Monday, I’ll start by playing the track “Artists Ought to Be Writing,” from Jason Moran’s “Artist in Residence” CD, in which he essentially creates a piece from a recording of artist Joan Jonas saying:

Artists ought to be writing about what they do, and what types of procedures they go through to realize a work. If artists’ intentions and ideas were more accessible to the general public, I think it might break down some of the barriers between the artists, the art world, and the general public.

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