In the 1980s and 1990s, one of the big conversations around improvised music in New York was the institutionalization of it, particularly with regard to Jazz at Lincoln Center, which did it in the classical-music way: it defined what “jazz” meant, created a house ensemble and repertory, amassed a subscriber base, and put jazz in luxe theater spaces instead of clubs.
Right now we seem to be witnessing the institutionalization of improvised music in New York, part two. It’s not always jazz per se. It’s not always music per se. It’s broad and imaginative and interdisciplinary at the core.
On this week’s Popcast, Nate Chinen and I talk about the confluence of three excellent current series in New York institutions, built around contemporary jazz-related pianists: Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran and Cecil Taylor.
Mr. Iyer’s in the middle of a performance residency called “Relation” at the Met Breuer through the end of the month, where he’s playing daytime and evening sets with his usual groups, as well as collaborations with artists including the tabla player Nitin Mitta, the flutist Elena Pinderhughes, the singer Martha Redbone and the writer Teju Cole. Mr. Moran has programmed a series of solo and duo performances called “Artists Studio” in the newly reopened Veterans Room at the Park Avenue Armory, including the classical composer Louis Andriessen, the free-jazz drummer Milford Graves, and the video artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. Mr. Taylor is the focus of a two-week exhibition at the Whitney Museum, “Open Plan,” about his life and work involving live performances, films, photography, poetry and ephemera. (The details are to be released by the museum early next week.)
Perhaps Mr. Taylor and his history is the best way to tie these three events together. He is often understood as a jazz musician, but that’s only part of the story. He has been performing in art museums since the 1960s, and there is a line of thinking about his work (as expressed by Mr. Iyer, among others) that it can only be properly understood as an interrelation of music, spoken poetry, and physical movement. The Whitney exhibition opens on April 15. If he can be defined, will it properly define him?
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