The Zorn Bagatelles

By on July 7, 2015
jz_moonshirt_small Photo Credit: Scott Irvine

John Zorn is composing Bagatelles. The iconic saxophone player, the God of improvisation, the eager eyed jazz and avant-guard composer is calling a stack of recent compositions, Bagatelles. Beethoven has the most well known Bagatelles. In more modern times, Bela Bartok’s and Anton Webern’s are of note. Generally written for solo piano, the word literally means “a short unpretentious instrumental composition.”

Every Sunday afternoon at 3:00 pm, starting in July and ending in September, one can hear these pieces that Zorn recently penned, and his players will improvise from. Because Zorn has his own venue, The Stone, an intimate NYC performance space on 2nd Ave and C, it is possible to hear this work so freshly out of his mind. This is exciting on so many levels. The project feels like a challenge Zorn has given himself, and in turn, a brilliant group of musicians and friends.

Beginning and ending this infectious ruse (which is what Zorn is all about) is Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, first with violinist Mark Feldman, and finally with magical Ikue Mori on electronics and Jim Black on drums. Sylvie Courvoisier literally attacks the instrument and lifts out her notes- so Zorn can’t go wrong.Throughout the next Sunday afternoon concerts are solo guitar pieces, duets and trios involving instrumentation such as piano bass and drums. The consummate pianist Uri Caine will tear into Zorn’s work mid August with Mark Helias and Clarence Penn. September is sure to bring a powerful cello duet. The cellists, Erik Friedlander and Michael Nicolas will perform. (Friedlander, a fine composer himself, most recently wrote a stellar series of solo cello pieces inspired by Bach, jazz and ancient texts titled Illuminations) Decades apart in age, Nicolas and Friedlander will dive together into Zorn’s compositions with their masterful gifts.

To hear this intensely created, provocatively named series, in Zorn’s own venue with players who are familiar with his work, is a rare opportunity. I challenge anyone to sneak into the nondescript door of The Stone (for one always feels like one is walking into a hidden room where anything may happen) this summer and fall. I am thrilled Zorn is turning his explorations towards a more classical bent, at least in name.

Here’s a peak into Zorn’s process via a 2007 documentary:

John Zorn’s bagatelles series runs every Sunday afternoon through Sept. 20 at the Stone in Manhattan; 212-473-0043,

About M.P. Snell

MP Snell has been published in No Tokens, Best of Ducts, Nerve Cowboy, Specter. She has recently completed her novel, Planet of Blue and Green. She has performed with John Moran and Ridge Theater, in venues such as Lincoln Center and The Guggenheim Museum. She can be heard on the Point Music/Philips Classics Recording of Moran’s Opera ‘The Manson Family’ with Iggy Pop. She writes articles on the arts, and in particular, has a passion for jazz, avant-guard and classical modern music. She composes music, as well