Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

The Vision Festival: From Upstart to Institution

For two decades, an avant-garde tradition in New York

Hamiet Bluiett conducts his Telepathic Orchestra at New York's Judson Memorial Church, Vision Festival, NYC, July 2015
Patricia Nicholson Parker, Vision Festival, NYC, July 2015

The Vision Festival was exactly one hour behind schedule by the time baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett’s sprawling Telepathic Orchestra began its hour-long closing set in New York in mid-July. No surprise there. Time has been a relative concept at the festival since its debut in 1996, with the schedule often becoming a list and order of performers untethered to a clock. Most performers and audience members know the drill, but there have been exceptions: An annoyed Jaki Byard spent part of his 1998 set conducting an impromptu lecture and banging on piano keys while chanting: “Kiss my ass!”

Some have thought the Vision Festival lost in time because it celebrates an avant-garde brand of jazz often closely associated with the ’60s. Held in a series of synagogues, churches, theaters and funky performance spaces, the festival has indeed always been a “happening” because it includes visual artists, poets, political activists and filmmakers as well as volunteerism and grassroots commerce. “Early on, people seemed to be embarrassed by the idealism of the Vision Festival, particularly in the press,” said founder and artistic director Patricia Nicholson Parker, a few days after this year’s closing night. “They think of idealism as a bad thing. But what I’m trying to do, and this may be corny, is give people hope-that you can be successful doing what you really want to do.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published