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On Bringing Jazz Back From the Dead

An Interview with Festival Presenter Adam Schatz

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Undead JazzFest Summer 2010 NYC
Courtesy of Search & Restore
In June, 2010, the Undead Jazz Festival will pack over 30 of the hottest bands in New York into two nights of music. I asked Adam Schatz, one of the festival's founders, about what to expect from the festival, whose schedule you can find on its website:

Update 6/19/2010:

Read my review of the 2010 Undead JazzFest.

  • Jacob Teichroew: Why call it the “Undead” Jazz Festival?

    Adam Schatz: Terry Teachout’s Wall Street Journal article a while back (editor's note: read my summary and response) brought to light the idea of jazz being dead. It’s a pretty heavy handed action to pronounce a music form dead, but rather than argue, we’d prefer to accept that jazz died, and now is back from the dead with a stronger drive than ever before.

    All of the music we’re presenting has clawed through the dirt, bringing organic compositions together with innovative improvisations and creative song structure. What unites these bands is how different they all sound, while still maintaining a similar energy that has been with jazz since the very beginning. Spontaneous, engaging, musical creation at its very finest.

  • JT: Many of the bands on the program play what might be classified as “experimental” music. Do you think someone who isn’t already an experimental jazz lover would have a good time at the festival?

    AS: Absolutely. The term “experimental” is pretty dated and should probably be tossed all together. What’s happening isn’t an experiment. Rather, every artist on the festival has a deliberate intention of what they’re doing musically. Yes, all of it pushes forward from what classically has been determined to be “jazz,” but like all art, this music develops.

    Some of the artists are further out than others, in terms of distancing themselves from certain elements of jazz’s history, but within the context of a festival, I believe all of the bands will make a lot of sense together. While mostly progressive, the Undead Jazzfest covers a ton of ground as far as where jazz is at today. And that’s what we’re all about: celebrating the jazz community as it stands at this very instant, in the city where it is the most vibrant.

  • JT: This festival, the model for which is the Winter Jazz Fest, will involve back-to-back one-hour sets across three venues. Should I come to Undead Jazz Festival with a precise plan, or meander from club to club as the spirit moves me?

    AS: Most sets will actually be 40-45 minutes. It’s the perfect amount of time to really engage with a band’s music, but still have enough head space to listen to 10 other bands and engage with them as well. The sets for each venue will also be staggered by 20 minutes, so if you really wanted to, you could see every single artist perform. You’d be 20 pounds lighter by the end of it, and probably fairly intoxicated.

    I’d recommend checking out the schedule and planning 2-3 hour blocks in each of the venues to get a taste for the different rooms. But really, we feel so strong about every single person playing this festival. There are no headliners or openers, it is just a collective presentation of the best damn folks we know.

  • JT: Does the festival’s lineup represent an accurate cross-section of the New York City jazz scene?

    AS: Oh yes, oh yes. There’s plenty going on in jazz that we didn’t include for sure, the jazz community will always have it’s sects and sub-genres. Rather than attempt to please everyone, we’re doing our absolute best to fully represent the progressive jazz scene, and I think the term progressive should be used loosely. What turns me on about every one of these artists is how their music is so strongly influenced by their own personalities.

    Jazz isn’t as easy to categorize as it once was. In the time of be-bop, post-bop, soul jazz and free jazz, there were formal musical differentiations between the sub-genres. I think they actually ended up confusing people. But now more than ever, it’s impossible to group all of these artists by their sound alone, because each group creates such a personal representation of their music, that often changes significantly with each performance. Instead we’re grouping together by their intention, to create new jazz music with influences from across the board. That energy is consistent. I’m a fan of the new subgenre Zombie Jazz, but I don’t know if it will catch on.

  • JT: Why pack so many bands into such a small time frame rather than spread out concerts over the course of two weeks the way larger festivals do?

    AS: Because it’s a really fun thing to do. It’s a blast for people who love the scene and can see so many of their favorite artists in one place, and it’s a welcome invitation for anyone who has always wanted to know more about current jazz but hasn’t had an easy to be exposed to all the different music being created. Plus by doing it this way we can charge one reasonable cover for the whole event, rather than different tickets for every show.

  • JT: What will be the highlight performances of the festival?

    AS: There’s a rumor going around that John Hollenbeck is going to perform on stilts for his Large Ensemble set at Le Poisson Rouge. But you didn’t hear that from me.

  • JT: Why is this jazz festival different from all other jazz festivals?

    AS: Because when we were slaves in Egypt, the bread didn’t have enough time to rise...wait where am I?

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