John anger

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John Zorn (2006)

John Zorn (born September 2, 1953 in New York City ) is an American composer and band leader . He plays the saxophone and clarinet . John Zorn also works as a music producer , owns the Tzadik record label and the Stone Music Lab venue in Manhattan, and has worked with many experimental musicians, particularly in the fields of new music and jazz .


Zorn played piano, guitar and flute as a child. During his studies at Webster College he learned to play the saxophone , influenced by Anthony Braxton and his teacher there, Oliver Lake . Initially more interested in new music , he turned to jazz in the 1970s . He broke off formal training and returned to New York via the West Coast to concentrate on musical projects in the environment of the Lower East Side music scene . During this time he earned his living, among other things, by working in a record shop.

In addition to Braxton, Eugene Chadbourne and Ornette Coleman , Karlheinz Stockhausen was one of his early influences . Zorn's music is characterized by the processing of numerous musical styles from a wide variety of sources, such as film music for cartoon films , free jazz , hardcore or Jewish folklore . Zorn often combines short musical sequences in a collage-like form, sometimes in rapid succession. In 1975 he founded his Theater of Musical Optics and initially began working with Chadbourne, Tom Cora , Wayne Horvitz , Polly Bradfield and LaDonna Smith. He achieved international recognition in the 1980s. During the next decade he worked in both New York and Tokyo, where he wrote and performed many works. In 1998 he produced the album 1930 by the Japanese noise artist Merzbow .

Zorn explicitly acknowledges his Jewish origins and uses traditional Jewish elements in some of his projects. He founded the record label Tzadik . In doing so, he formulated a new so-called " Radical Jewish Culture " and adopted a manifesto about the radical Judaism of his music, in which he declared, among other things:

“The Jew has always been the origin of a double questioning: the questioning of the self and the questioning of the 'other'. Since he is never given the opportunity to stop being Jewish, he is forced to formulate the question of his identity. Hence he is confronted with the discourse of the 'other' from the beginning, and his life often depends on it. […] I realized that a Jew is someone who naively believes that if he contributes selflessly to his host culture, he will be accepted. But we are the outsiders in the world. That's what attracted me to the tribe - the culture of outsiders. "

- John Zorn

In 2006 he was a MacArthur Fellow . In 2007 he was a laureate of the ecumenical foundation Bible and Culture for Bible and Music.

Musical work

John Zorn (far right) with his band Masada: Joey Baron (dr), Greg Cohen (b), Dave Douglas (tr); Rome July 24th 2005

The musical work of John Zorn was divided into eight broad categories by Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann in their jazz book :

  1. The free improvisation to which Zorn devoted himself to the Classic Guide to Strategy albums and in his collaboration with trombonist Jim Staley . On these recordings he used so-called duck calls ( decoy whistles ).
  2. Game pieces : works designed to be improvisational and not based on a notated score , but in which the individual musicians can influence the development of the composition process using a fixed sign language. The most important game pieces albums include the early Parachute works Lacrosse and Hockey as well as the Cobra series, in which an ensemble with a variable instrumentation and number of musicians receives "instructions" from the musicians through cards held up by the "conductor" spontaneously interpreted and implemented. Zorn was influenced by the aleatory works of new music (e.g. by Karlheinz Stockhausen or Pierre Boulez ).
  3. File card pieces : In this class of Zorn's works, the musicians involved are given associative instructions that are recorded on file cards . Godard and Spillane are among the most important works in this category . The atmosphere of the nouvelle vague or film noir was the element that was supposed to hold the otherwise very eclectic compositions together.
  4. Naked City , a band with whom Zorn wasable to realizethe file-card aesthetic of the rapid style change live. The other members of the band were Bill Frisell , Wayne Horvitz , Fred Frith and Yamatsuka Eye . Their music combined elements from numerous different genres in very dense pieces, but gradually developed into the hardcore direction.
  5. Combination of hardcore and free jazz : the combination of these two genres (sometimes called jazzcore ) was, according to Zorn, a similar shock situation as the effect of the music of his idol Ornette Coleman in the 50s. He plays a mixture of free jazz, hardcore, punk , noise and death metal with several ensembles (including the late Naked City , Painkiller or most recently the Moonchild Trio ) . Releases from this category were often accompanied by controversy because Zorn gave the tracks obscene titles and provided the covers of the CDs with gruesome pictures.
  6. Tribute to the greats of the jazz tradition: In the course of his career, Zorn presented homages to such diverse jazz musicians as Ornette Coleman , Hank Mobley , Lee Morgan and Sonny Clark . In doing so, he clearly distinguishes himself from the traditionalist movement in jazz around Wynton Marsalis , which he even described as "racist".
  7. New music : In the 1990s in particular, Zorn wrote several compositions for classical concert music ensembles. These include the albums Angelus Novus and Chimeras .
  8. Radical Jewish Culture : since the beginning of the 1990s, Zorn has devoted himself increasingly intensively to the artistic processing of his Jewish roots. This is how the now three Masada Songbooks and the Radical Jewish Culture movementcame about, and at the same time the name of a corresponding series on Zorn's record label Tzadik .

Zorn also composed many film - soundtracks , u. a. for Martina Kudláček's documentary films Im Spiegel der Maya Deren (2001) or Notes on Marie Menken (2006) and has worked for orchestras and ensembles such as B. the Kronos Quartet .

He has recorded and produced a large number of albums on his music labels Tzadik and Avant. A great many works that are published under Zorn's name were merely composed by him. He wrote at least four different songbooks: the first Masada songbook (205 titles), Book of Angels (2004; 316 titles), Book Beriah (2009) and The Bagatelles (2015; 300 titles) from the mid-1990s . They are gradually being set to music by a wide variety of musicians, both by members of the New York downtown scene and by others, e.g. B. Pat Metheny .

In particular, Zorn's early work - the game pieces , file-card pieces , Naked City - are characterized by “maximalism”, in explicit opposition to the minimalism that prevailed in concert music at the time . Zorn's compositions from this period often consist of short, rapidly changing set pieces that draw on different musical traditions (including pop music and elements inspired by animation film music). Melody was hardly a structural element in his music until the 1990s - this was changed above all by the Masada Quartet, with whom he also played jazz for the first time .

In the current edition of the Jazzbuch , John Zorn is described as the outstanding and most influential jazz musician of our time. However, this assessment is very controversial because Zorn's music is not primarily derived from Afro-American music tradition. Rather, this represents just one influence among many. Zorn rigorously rejects the term jazz musician for himself.

The connection of music with visual art, including the album covers, which often led to controversy, plays a very large role in Zorn's work. Zorn works with designer Chippy (Heung Heung Chin) to create the covers for his Tzadik release. The artist himself says about the importance of the visual in his art:

"I think that the visual nature of a presentation in a package is very important, and I love working on it. (...) And I am addicted to the connection of visual with sound. (...) To me, they are intrinsically connected. "

Selection of important albums

John Zorn, September 2013

Video albums

  • Claudia Heuermann: A Bookshelf on Top of the Sky: 12 Stories about John Zorn (Documentary)
  • Antonio Ferrera: Masada Live at Tonic 1999
  • Claudia Heuermann: Sabbath in Paradise


  • Garhard Kaucic / Timothy Liegeti: Guy Debord John Zorn Friederike Mayröcker Philippe Sollers: tel quel jardins des plantes et D mots / scribble and voice. - In: The Green F Abyss. International polylingual journal for green culture / politics. No. 16b / 1996, pp. 117ff.
  • Jazzthetik , July / August 1988: Interview with Arne Schumacher.
  • Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, February 1991: The Architect of Games Interview with Art Lange; Fruits of (John) Wrath - improvised music in the age of simulation .
  • Jazz Podium , May 1995: Article by Mathias Bäumel.
  • Bill Milkowski: John Zorn - Genius at Work ; in Downbeat magazine , October 2013, vol. 80, no. 10, pages 38-43
  • Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, May / June 1998: “Radical New Jewish Culture” - article by Peter Niklas Wilson .
  • Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann: The Jazz Book: From New Orleans to the 21st Century . S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-596-15964-2 .
  • Richard Cook , Brian Morton : The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD . 6th edition. Penguin, London 2002, ISBN 0-14-051521-6 .
  • Tamar Barzel: New York Noise: Radical Jewish Music and the Downtown Scene . Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indianapolis 2015, ISBN 978-0-253-01557-0 .

Lexicographic entries

Web links

Commons : John Zorn  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Sources and Notes

  1. All That Brooklyn Jazz The borough is where it's at , Village Voice, January 23, 2013, accessed December 6, 2013
  2. What is Jewish Music?, January 25, 2002, accessed April 15, 2011 .
  3. ^ Foundation Bible and Culture - Awards. Retrieved December 27, 2019 .
  4. Das Jazzbuch , 2011, pp. 233–238.
  5. “I think it's racist in a way. Everything that excludes other perspectives or other forms of expression is, in my opinion, racist ”, quoted in Das Jazzbuch , 2011, p. 237.
  6. News on the Tzadik website, accessed on August 14, 2015.
  7. Barzel (2015), p. 90.
  8. Barzel (2015), p. 124.
  9. Barzel (2015), pp. 93–95.
  10. Quoted in Barzel (2015), p. 93; Translation: “I think the visual nature of the presentation [of an album] is very important and I love working on it. (…) And I'm addicted to combining the visual with sound. (...) For me, the two are intrinsically connected. "
  11. The selection of important albums by John Zorn took place in view of the large scope of his work on the basis of the evaluations of the Penguin Guide to Jazz in the 6th edition of 2002. Only albums were recorded that received the highest (****) or second highest (*** (*)) rating. The authors see the album The Big Gundown (1985) as Zorn's best work , which they also awarded the title of crown in addition to the highest rating. They consider the Morricone project “one of the most essential works of the 1980s”. The third edition of the 7th edition of 2011 provides a further basis for the chapter on the records of jazz in the jazz book by Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann .