"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.