My College Essay on John Zorn.

 "Johns are always good or bad, never neutral."
 -John Steinbeck
 
 	It has been said that the best role models are the neighborhood 
 doctors, charity volunteers and school teachers who devote their lives 
 selflessly to a community.  
         
         I agree that these people are quite admirable, but I believe they 
 all lack one thing that really makes a hero, the quality of myth.  
 While working so directly with the people who are supposed to admire 
 them, these local heroes lose some of the qualities that only the lack 
 of knowledge can create.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for my 
 teachers and parents, but I have never spoken to the man I most admire, 
 John Zorn. 
 	
         John Zorn is the virtual godfather of New York City music.  
 Besides playing alto sax and composing, he is the head of Tzadik records, 
 where he organizes and produces dozens of albums.  To have done one of 
 these things as well as he does would be a feat unto itself.  To do all 
 three brilliantly strikes me as mythical. 
 	
         I first became familiar with John Zorn the composer.  The first 
 album I purchased by him was with Zorn and his "Naked City" band.  The 
 first time I heard the album I had to laugh.  Each song seems to be 
 written almost tongue-in-cheek, as he satirized and glorified every 
 musical genre from country to jazz to hardcore punk, usually in the same 
 song.  It was a brutal attack on the senses that was shocking by its 
 familiarity.  Although the band would change genres without any sort of 
 bridge or lead, each note seemed a natural extent of the preceding one.  
 What is at first glance a ridiculously random and abstract album becomes 
 a total work after repeated listening.
 	
         Last week, I got a good look at Zorn, the saxophone player.  The 
 setting was somewhat of an informal blowing session.  Headlining were Zorn, 
 keyboardist John Medeski and guitarist Marc Ribot. The drummer had been 
 called in at the last minute.  Officially they were playing the songs of 
 the organ player Larry Young.  In actuality, the Larry Young songs served 
 as a springboard for these four energetic improvisors.  It's  hard to tell 
 how many songs they played, because they simply got up, and didn't stop 
 playing until the set ended an hour and a half later.  Zorn jumped into 
 this open environment with relish.  His solos, while occasionally spiced 
 with avant-gardist pyrotechnics, were as solid and assured as his 
 compositions. However, the tricks he did pull were stunning.  At time he 
 got sounds out of his horn that caused other members of the band to shake 
 their heads in disbelief.
 	
         I have many anecdotes that have polarized the Zorn myth in my mind. 
 I've seen him sit in with other bands, sight reading entire pieces without 
 ever having heard them before. I've heard stories of Zorn telling Madeline 
 Albright to "Shut the f*** up!", because she wouldn't stop talking during 
 a show (A true story BTW, I saw it in the NY Times).  Every time I've seen 
 Zorn, he feels the need to direct the band in some fashion, signaling 
 solos with abrupt shouts and gestures.
 	I suppose I admire Zorn's focus, intensity and need for control 
 the most. This may seem like an odd quality for an improvisor to have, but 
 Zorn makes it seem perfectly natural.  Zorn doesn't play fluff-filled 
 improvisations.  He makes tangible statements. 
 	I do realize that the Zorn I am writing about is probably a far cry 
 from the actual man.  That doesn't really bother me.  The owner of a local 
 record store once told that she never wanted to meet Miles Davis, because 
 the man could never live up to the myth.  This is the way I feel about Zorn.  
 I admire him the same way sports fans admire Michael Jordan, and the same 
 way the ancient Greeks admired Perseus. Although my respect is based on 
 actual accomplishments, along the way I begin to believe in the 
 infallibility of my hero. 
 	While writing this essay, I had the opportunity to see Zorn perform.  
 The theater was virtually empty, with a few people milling about.  I was 
 buying tickets at the box office while  Zorn sat on a flight of stairs a 
 few feet away.  I eyed him nervously, but chose not to introduce myself and 
 express my respect for his music.  I preferred to keep my hero intact. 
 

Home:
Naked City:
Masada:
Filmworks:
Classical:
Various: