In January, I got the chance to return to New Orleans for a focused period of writing and reflection, courtesy of The New Quorum, where I was writer-in-residence within an inaugural residency class. Having unpacked my clothes, I’m now unpacking my notes, interviews and conversations. Here’s the first of a series of posts drawn from that experience.
The New Quorum is an artist residency organization founded and directed by Gianna Chachere, and dedicated to bringing professional musicians and writers from across the globe to New Orleans for meaningful cultural exchange with local and regional artists.
If you’re a musician or writer interested in such an opportunity, now’s the time to go here: Applications for Spring residencies (May 16-June 13) are accepted through March 4.
If you’d lend financial or volunteer support go here now: This innovative program deserves such nurturing.
The night after I settled into my temporary and lovely home on Esplanade Avenue, the living room Christmas tree, which was still up, was dotted with sheet music. This was the first of four workshops for musicians led by composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, followed by an informal house concerts as part of his January residency.
Smith’s music, which is both singular and part of an influential movement connected to Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), demands improvisatory spirit. And, well, those Christmas tree branches worked just fine as music stands.
The music itself was anything but ornamental. Smith’s work employs “rhythm units” and is expressed on paper through “Ankhrasmation.” Smith uses this neologism—formed of “Ankh,” the Egyptian symbol for life, “Ras,” the Ethiopian word for leader, and “Ma”, a universal term for mother—to denote the systemic musical language he has developed over nearly 50 years for, he says, “scoring sound, rhythm and silence, or for scoring improvisation.” Continue reading “Entering Ankhrasmation: Wadada Leo Smith at The New Quorum in New Orleans”
I’m back New Orleans, where I’m honored to be writer-in-residence with The New Quorum—an artist residency organization dedicated to bringing professional musicians and writers from across the globe to New Orleans for meaningful cultural exchange with local and regional artists.”
Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith is here, and each meal or conversation in passing with him is much like one of his vast catalog of distinguished compositions—unique, searching, free of convention and yet finely focused. I’m getting answers to questions I’d never even thought to ask. Better yet are the workshops and house concerts Smith has been leading at our house on Esplanade Avenue (more on that soon). The other musicians in residence are no less inspiring: flutist Nicole Mitchell; singer and composer Lisa Harris; and visual artist/vocalist/musician Damon Locks.
Right now, these talented folks and the woman who created this program, Gianna Chachere, are helping me dig more deeply into the tensions between tradition and innovation in New Orleans, and in jazz culture in general.
Here’s a nice piece by Cree McCree that discusses The New Quorum in the context of its predecessor and inspiration in New Orleans, The Quorum. (A documentary on that history can be found here.)
For those of you in New Orleans, we’ll explore that and other themes in a free public discussion on Wednesday, January 13—see below or here. You’ll want to stick around for a solo performance by Wadada Leo Smith to follow the panel discussion. Continue reading “Welcome to The New Quorum (Back in NOLA)”