Creative Music Studio, Woodstock at Columbia U and East Village

My CityArts – New York column is about the Creative Music Symposium, organized by Karl Berger, pianist/vibist with his wife Ingrid Sertso, who cofounded with free-thinking Ornette Coleman of the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock NY (1972-1984). The symposium at Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies (directed by trombonist and digital music innovator George E. Lewis, once a CMS student/participant) last weekend dipped into the history and practices of the CMS, a paradise where cross-genre visionary improvisers (Don Cherry, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, et al), composer/interpreters (Pauline Oliveros, Frederic Rzewski) and “world music” fusionists (Olatunji, Nana Vasconcelos) taught through oral transmission in an immersion setting. 

Back in the day I wished I was musician enough to attend the Woodstock sessions, and as a budding writer was frustrated there was nowhere comparable to go — so moderating a symposium panel felt like I got to CMS at last.

The good news emerging from the day-long discussions was that John Zorn has agreed to let Berger start a new Creative Music Orchestra at his East Village performance space the Stone, every Monday night for three months. If it’s a success, the ensemble could be ongoing. Every 7:30 there will be an open rehearsal, followed at 9:30 by a performance of the work rehearsed — all for one low $10 admission.

Here’s hoping the new project takes hold — as the initiative to digitize and archive CMS recordings seems to have, with Columbia U’s libraries accepting some 400 boxes of quarter-inch tape and related ephemera, and non-profit Innova Records agreed to release compilation CDs of CMS music starting next fall. There are more than enough brilliant musicians in the five boroughs to fill up five such CMS orchestras, and the study of the fundamental rhythmic exercise “GamalaTiKa,” the overtone series and harmonics offers a young player more direct connection to the “playing” aspect of music than does learning to read scores. 
This is the kind of pedagogy that could take root all over, encouraging spontaneous, personalized music wherever it reaches. That’s what happened last time, as the generation of CMS participants who emerged included percussionist Adam Rudolph, pianist Marilyn Crispell, tambin flutist Sylvan Leroux, bansuri flutist Steve Gorn, alto saxist Dan Davis, guitarist James Emery — all of whom were at the symposium — trumpeter Steven Bernstein, multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum and many others. More good music, mixing tradition and creativity, all the time!
Subscribe by Email or RSS
All JBJ posts

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. says

    Re: Innova-
    I think that Philip and Chris need to pick up the whole kit and caboodle and move it to NY. Innova is here in one way or other so often that they have become an integral part of the Music scene of New York City.
    HM: Richard’s referring to Philip Blackburn and Chris Campbell of the Innova Record label — which is a project of the American Composers Forum.

  2. says

    Thanks, Howard, for helping to keep the CMS story alive. People who want to know more can pick up the book Music Universe, Music Mind ( I hope you won’t mind my plugging it here. It was a great day at Columbia, and you asked the right kind of questions to help guide a memorable and revealing discussion. Bob Sweet

  3. says

    Dear Howard:
    I’m so delighted to see Karl Berger’s name in lights in your column. He, Zorn, Gorn, and many others from the original CMS came to Istanbul last August for the second installment of the IS-CMS, a tribute to a Turkish saxophonist who played at Woodstock.
    Unfortunately, it didn’t get the kind of overall press ink it deserved here, but I did my bit as a critic to give its due respect. (
    Rudolph’s Creative Music Orchestra is something that I would buy a ticket back to NYC to hear again and again. I’m planning on it doing very well at the Stone and elsewhere.
    Best wishes from Istanbul,
    Alexandra Ivanoff
    music critic, Today’s Zaman; arts journalist, Time Out magazine
    Istanbul, Turkey
    HM: Thanks, Alexandra, for commenting here — I’m going to read your article. Please note that it’s Karl Berger who’ll lead the Creative Music Workshop orchestra at the Stone, not Adam Rudolph, who was leading his Global Orchestra at Roulette but isn’t do so right now (Adam will no doubt start again, maybe after Roulette completes its move to Brooklyn). I’m always interested to find out about creative music in Istanbul, which I very much enjoyed visiting for the first or second Akbank jazz festival, now more than 20 years ago (Cassandra Wilson, Butch Morris, David Murray, Nat Adderley and Cecil Taylor on the bill, plus the Erguners and I think Okay Temiz!)

  4. Paul Lindemeyer says

    I would think that any home for creative music outside NY ought to be nurtured right where it is. Unless, of course, we believe creative music is not relevant or tenable outside a single scene.
    HM: Gee, I hope creative musicians live and play and share ideas everywhere. CMS hasn’t abandoned its Woodstock base, though it has not operated as a school there for a long time, due to funding problems. That Zorn will give CMS space to do its thing at the Stone, involving a new generation of artists who can get there, seems pretty nice of him to me. The more creative music spaces the better, and NYC shouldn’t be excluded, either.