The Knitting Factory's first press release provides an apt definition of Downtown jazz: "Our aim is to weave strands of art mediums into a whole, from the Wednesday night poetry series to the works on the walls." And, of course, there... [more]
The Knitting Factory's first press release provides an apt definition of Downtown jazz: "Our aim is to weave strands of art mediums into a whole, from the Wednesday night poetry series to the works on the walls." And, of course, there was the music.
The Downtown jazz scene was a product of 1970s New York. Free jazz had already made its impression, with its play "outside" the music -- meaning to play outside the tune, not along with it. Ornette Coleman has been a significant innovator in this area, whereas Charlie Parker and Miles Davis (in his early years) were main figures for playing in.
Downtown musicians were heavily influenced by rock 'n' roll but refused to put a vocalist or a lead guitar up front. The sax remained the pivotal instrument, a major force driving the grinding rock 'n' roll rhythms.
For many reasons, these players weren't accepted into the standard world of jazz. They were primarily white intellectuals with high brow art school educations. They came to New York with the conception of music as collaboration, as performance art in the sense of a happening. They moved into SoHo lofts and sipped tea and discussed painting. One of the most famous early venues was called the Kitchen; it was originally a kitchen in someone's loft.
Although venues like the Village Vanguard and the Blue Note would have nothing to do with the Downtown players, their popularity was increasing. Eventually a new venue was
called for: the Knitting Factory became the first club to accept these artists
into its midst. At John Zorn's first appearance, in 1988, he played his
project "Hu Die," which consists of a narrator reading in Korean over two
guitars. The joint was sold out.
Other downtown players such as Bill Frisell and Alva Rogers began playing there, and soon the record companies got interested. Now, these people are household names to any jazz enthusiast.