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Creative Music Studio Celebration

Steven Bernstein

From the stage at Symphony Space, pianist/vibraphonist Karl Berger wondered aloud: If he mentioned Creative Music Studio (CMS), the entity being celebrated this evening, would people know what he was talking about? It may still be one of the more obscure corners of the jazz universe, but CMS has had a major impact on improvising musicians across several generations. Part school, part artist colony, part performance space, CMS operated in Woodstock, N.Y. during the ’70s and ’80s and hosted many musical giants in the making, including Dave Holland, Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton and Frederic Rzewski. Hours and hours of recordings were made at various CMS sites; the CMS Archive Project is digitizing the tapes with the intention of returning them to the artists (and storing them at Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies). This concert, more than just an homage to CMS and its ongoing legacy, was a way to raise funds for the archiving effort.

If Berger, a CMS cofounder and guiding light, was able to convey a sense of its historical import (Ben Ratliff helped with this in the New York Times of Oct. 21), Steven Bernstein drove the point home like a true entertainer. Fronting his nine-piece Millennial Territory Orchestra (MTO), the trumpeter eased into spoken-word over a dark funk vamp that turned out to be “St. Louis Blues,” reflecting back on his arrival at CMS in 1977, at age 15. His friend Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophonist with MTO, had been there too (he was 16). These were interesting times for impressionable young players. New global sounds colored the vocabulary of jazz, thanks to figures like Don Cherry and Collin Walcott. Others, including Braxton, Rzewski and Roscoe Mitchell, were blurring the lines between improvisation and composition, jazz and concert music. Non-hierarchical approaches to education and performance were gaining ground. More than any one sound or style, CMS was about openness and variance of expression. Bernstein and his group took delight in underscoring this at Symphony Space.

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