At 60, Wayne Horvitz Is Protecting — And Expanding — His Musical Language | KUOW News and Information

At 60, Wayne Horvitz Is Protecting — And Expanding — His Musical Language

Dec 7, 2015
Originally published on December 6, 2015 3:41 pm

Wayne Horvitz is one of those musicians who does almost everything — from leading a small group of improvisers to conducting a big band, and from composing for symphony orchestra to running a nightclub. The Seattle-based keyboard player turned 60 this year, and he's celebrating by adding even more to his schedule: playing birthday concerts on both coasts.

Back when Horvitz decided to move from his native New York to Seattle in 1988, many of his East Coast cronies predicted it would change his work. In fact, the musical voice his New York friends knew was forged in California, where the musician attended college.

"I like to joke, and I've probably said this too often, that I've been recycling the same 8 licks since I was 17," Horvitz offers. "I like that. Having a personal language is important to me."

Horvitz brought that style back to New York in the mid 1970's, where he became part of the downtown music scene, alongside friends like guitarist Bill Frisell and composer John Zorn. But two decades of big-city hustle eventually wore him down.

"I just wanted a quieter place," he says of the Northwest. "Of course, within three years of moving here, I was just as swamped and overwhelmed. Nature abhors a vacuum, and artists abhor whatever."

Horvitz says he got to the Seattle about two minutes before grunge hit. His first Northwest band, Pig Pen, played the same clubs that hosted the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. He doesn't play rock — and according to him, he doesn't play jazz, either. But that hasn't stopped music critics from lumping him into that category.

"I always laugh at that," he says. "Everyone thinks I'm a jazz musician except jazz musicians, who say I can't play jazz, or what I do is not jazz."

What he does, he says, is two kinds of music: loud and quiet. Horvitz has composed for wind, brass and string ensembles. His latest album, Some Places are forever Afternoon, is based on poems by the late Seattle native Richard Hugo — and that release wwas the jumping-off point for his "Concerto for Orchestra and Improviser," recently commissioned by the Seattle Symphony.

"I don't think Wayne is a composer that writes jazz symphonic music," says Ludovic Morlot, the orchestra's conductor. "He actually comes to the medium in a completely different perspective. He creates his own language and vocabulary by taking that very different approach, through improvisation."

The improviser in "Concerto for Orchestra and Improviser" is the composer's old friend Bill Frisell. He says Horvitz likes to break down barriers between people — and genre.:

"He's a force breaking those things down and bringing people together, so music can happen that might not [otherwise] get a chance to happen," he says. "People meet each other. It's amazing."

Frisell points to the Seattle night club that Horvitz co-owns, The Royal Room. It's a neighborhood joint that hosts everybody from rock musicians to Horvitz' big band, The Royal Room Collective. Most of the members are at least 20 years his junior.

"This is our mentor," says clarinetist and singer Beth Fleenor, "who has really forged this incredible career over decades of commitment to himself, and just to new music in general."

At 60, Horvitz is more active than most artists he knows. And while he's always looking ahead to the next project, he says he hopes he's held onto some of the original voice he sought as a young musician in New York, almost 40 years ago.

"Mozart wrote all sorts of pieces, but they all have his language. Thelonius Monk, you always see his language," Horvitz says. "I hope that's true of my music."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

Wayne Horvitz is one of those musicians who does almost everything from leading a small group of improvisers to conducting a big band, from composing for symphony orchestra to running a nightclub. The Seattle-based keyboard player turned 60 this year, and he's celebrating by adding even more to his schedule playing birthday concerts on both coasts. Marcie Sillman from member station KUOW has this profile.

MARCIE SILLMAN, BYLINE: When Wayne Horvitz decided to move from his native New York to Seattle in 1988, many of his East Coast cronies were shocked.

WAYNE HORVITZ: How's your music going to change because you're in the Northwest and its more mellow and, you know - I don't buy that.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAYNE HORVITZ SONG, "POP CLIENT")

SILLMAN: Horvitz says he actually forged the musical voices New York friends knew as a college student in California.

HORVITZ: I like to joke. I probably have said this too often that I've been recycling the same eight licks since I was 17. But I'm actually - I like that. I mean, having a personal language is important to me.

SILLMAN: Horvitz brought that style back to New York in the mid-1970s, where he became part of the downtown music scene alongside guitarist Bill Frisell and composer John Zorn.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN ZORN SONG, "ASYLUM")

SILLMAN: But two decades of the New York hustle finally wore him down.

HORVITZ: I just wanted a quieter place. Of course within three years of moving here, I was just as swamped and overwhelmed as - I would just, you know - nature abhors a vacuum and an artist abhors, you know, whatever.

SILLMAN: Horvitz says he got to Seattle about two minutes before grunge hit. His first Northwest band, Pigpen, played the same clubs that hosted the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIGPEN SONG, "HARD REGULATOR")

SILLMAN: Horvitz doesn't play rock, and he says he doesn't play jazz either. But that hasn't stopped music critics from lumping him into that category.

HORVITZ: I always laugh that everybody thinks I'm a jazz musician except all the jazz musicians who say I can't play jazz, I mean - or what I do is not jazz.

SILLMAN: What he does, he says, is two kinds of music, loud and quiet.

(SOUNDBITE OF S*** ROBOT SONG, "FEELS REAL")

SILLMAN: Horvitz has composed for wind, brass and string ensembles. His latest album is based on poems by the late Seattle native Richard Hugo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You walk these streets laid out by the insane, past hotels that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try of local drivers to accelerate their lives.

SILLMAN: Here's what Horvitz did with Hugo's "Degrees Of Gray In Phillipsburg."

(SOUNDBITE OF WAYNE HORVITZ SONG, "THE CAR THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE STILL RUNS - DEGREES OF GRAY IN PHILLIPSBURG")

SILLMAN: The new album was the jumping off point for Horvitz's "Concerto For Orchestra And Improviser.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAYNE HORVITZ SONG, "CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA AND IMPROVISER")

SILLMAN: The Seattle Symphony commissioned the work. Ludovic Morlot is its conductor.

LUDOVIC MORLOT: I don't think Wayne is a composer that writes just symphonic music. He actually comes to the symphonic medium in a completely different perspective, which is through that improvisation.

SILLMAN: The improviser in "Concerto For Orchestra And Improviser" is the composer's old friend Bill Frisell.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAYNE HORVITZ SONG, "CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA AND IMPROVISER")

SILLMAN: He says Horvitz likes to break down barriers between people and genres.

BILL FRISELL: He's a force breaking those things down and just bringing people together so music can happen that maybe might not get a chance to happen. People meet each other and come together and it's amazing.

SILLMAN: Frisell points to the Seattle nightclub that Horvitz co-owns, The Royal Room. It's a neighborhood joint that hosts everybody from rock musicians to Horvitz's big band, The Royal Room Collective.

THE ROYAL ROOM COLLECTIVE: (Playing jazz music).

SILLMAN: Clarinetist and singer Beth Fleenor is part of the collective. Like most of the band members, she's more than 20 years younger than Horvitz.

BETH FLEENOR: This is our mentor who has really forged this incredible career over decades of commitment to new music.

SILLMAN: At 60, Wayne Horvitz is more active than most people he knows. And while he tries to look ahead to the next project, he hopes he's held on to some of the original voice he sought as a young musician in New York almost 40 years ago.

HORVITZ: Mozart wrote all sorts of pieces, but they all have his language. Thelonious Monk - you always see his language. I hope that's true with my music.

SILLMAN: Wayne Horvitz went back to New York over Thanksgiving to show his old cronies some of his new work. He says they liked it. For NPR News, I'm Marcie Sillman in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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