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New York, NY: Memorial Concerts for Underground Legend of Avant Jazz Will Connell

As winter descends over Alphabet City, the homeland of radical arts mourns the loss of one of its own. Saxophonist/bass clarinetist/composer Will Connell Jr died on November 19; his music and life are to be celebrated in a Christmas-week event at the Stone. He came of age in the 1960s as an invaluable part of Horace Tapscott’s organization and the LA Black Arts Movement, and stood as an underground giant of NY’s Free Jazz and New Music circle since 1975. His sudden passing occurred just weeks before his planned residency at the Stone (Dec 23-28) and days shy of his 76th birthday. The musicians who were to be a part of Connell’s residency have vowed to keep his vision alive in this series of concerts which now stand in his honor and memory; all of the proceeds will serve as a fundraiser for Will’s family.

The music performed will be an amalgam of Connell’s more than half-century as a performing artist: compositions ranging from those associated with Tapscott to his latest works as well as the free improvisation he was so fond of. The variety of sounds embody Connell’s stage and studio life; his resume sported gigs with Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers, David Murray, William Parker, Charles Gayle, Chico Hamilton, and Anthony Braxton. A core downtown figure, Connell also engaged James Chance, Minor Threat, Black Flag and Ryan Adams in creative endeavors—a performance pedigree ranging from hip Jazz to New Thing to No Wave. From basement clubs to the Newport and Moers festivals to nation-wide TV broadcasts. The musical fabric Connell brings to the Stone also includes his work as a music copyist, laying down the score for Ornette Coleman’s “Skies of America”, the World Saxophone Quartet and many of Motown LA’s best. Known as an understated, quiet giant of the music, Will Connell’s voice is best heard through his alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, drenched in the rich tapestry.

The program at the Stone will open on December 23 with words by Will’s daughter, poet and actress Safiya Martinez, and then move into two powerful sets by Will’s 13-piece band, the Dark Tree Ensemble. This collection of works, “World Peace, With or Without People: Music from the Legacy of Horace Tapscott”, is split between LA compositions and those from Will’s nearly 40 years in NYC. This world premiere, featuring Tapscott’s brilliant music in perspective and also as a reference for Connell’s own compositions, promises to be historic and serves as a statement for these years of ongoing global conflict.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the club is dark, but the residency continues from the 26th through the 28th. The focus will be on Connell’s collaborations with other artists over the years including Vincent Chancey, Connie Crothers, Craig Harris, Jorge Sylvester, Rocco John Iacovone, Golda Solomon, Andrea Wolper, Michael TA Thompson and many more, in large assemblages and intimate combos. The sounds range from free to world music, new composition to latter-day Beat poetry to exploratory visions.

Event: WILL CONNELL MEMORIAL WEEK: Celebrating the Life & Music of the Heart & Soul of Downtown

When: December 23, 26, 27, 28, 2014
Place: The Stone
Ave C @ 2nd Street, New York, NY 10009 (212) 473-0043 www.thestonenyc.com
Admission: $15.

TUESDAY 12/23:
–8 pm
OPENING STATEMENT: Safiya Martinez, Will Connell’s daughter

World Peace, With or Without People: Music from the Legacy of Horace Tapscott, performed by the Dark Tree Ensemble – Music from the Los Angeles experience.
Will Connell (compositions and/or arrangements), Fay Victor (voice), Andrea Wolper (voice), Rosi Hertlein (violin, voice), Ras Moshe (soprano sax), Hayes Greenfield (alto sax), Matt Lavelle (flugelhorn, alto clarinet), Vincent Chancey (French horn), Steve Swell (trombone), Jesse Dulman (tuba), Joe Daley (euphonium), John Pietaro (vibes, percussion), Larry Roland (bass), Jeremy Carlstedt (drumset, percussion)

–10 pm
OPENING STATEMENT (poetry by DH Lawrence): Safiya Martinez

World Peace, With or Without People: Music from the Legacy of Horace Tapscott, performed by the Dark Tree Ensemble – New Music in New York.
Will Connell (compositions), Fay Victor (voice), Andrea Wolper (voice), Rosi Hertlein (violin, voice), Ras Moshe (soprano sax), Hayes Greenfield (alto sax), Matt Lavelle (flugelhorn, alto clarinet), Vincent Chancey (French horn), Steve Swell (trombone), Joe Daley (euphonium), Jesse Dulman (tuba), John Pietaro (vibes, percussion), Larry Roland (bass), Jeremy Carlstedt (drumset, percussion)

FRIDAY 12/26:
–8 pm
I.C.E. : Improvisational Composers Ensemble
Rocco John Iacovone (alto & soprano saxophones, compositions), Ras Moshe (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute), Sana Nagano (violin), Michael Lytle (bass clarinet), Rich Rosenthal (guitar), Phil Sirois (bass), John Pietaro (hand drums & percussion), Dalius Naujo (drumset)

–10 pm
Vincent Chancey (French horn), Max Johnson (bass), Jeremy Carlstedt (drumset) & Special Guest saxophonist TBA

–8 pm
Jazz & Poetry Choir Collective
Golda Solomon (poetry), E.J.Antonio (poetry), Phylisha Villanueva (poetry), Rosi Hertlein (violin, voice, poetry), Larry Roland (bass, poetry), Michael T.A.Thompson (conductor & sound rhythm). Special guest: JD Parran (flutes)

–10 pm
Connie Crothers (piano), Andrea Wolper (voice), Ken Filiano (bass). Special Guest: Golda Solomon (poetry)

SUNDAY 12/28:
–8 and 10 pm
Jorge Sylvester’s ACE (Afro-Caribbean Experimental) Collective
Jorge Sylvester (alto saxophone, compositions), Nora McCarthy (voice, poetry, compositions), Waldron Mahdi Ricks (trumpet), Donald Nicks (electric bass), Kenny Grohowski (drumset). Special Guests: Craig Harris (trombone), Jay Rodriguez (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone), Marvin Sewell (guitar)

ARTIST BIOS (in order of performance):

-Will Connell-
The son of a violin prodigy deprived of the profession by racist politics, Will Connell Jr became aware of both music and the struggle for justice as a child of the ‘40s. Jazz served as a source of art and great pride for the African American community, and its impact on Connell was nothing short of visceral: “I heard Billie Holiday at 17. Tears ran down my face like Niagara Falls”. That same year, 1956, Connell joined the US Air Force, serving some nine years. In between tours he purchased an alto saxophone but didn’t dedicate himself to music until surviving a chemical blast that blinded him for several days. Lying in an Air Force hospital in darkness, Connell vowed that if he regained his eyesight, he’d formally study this art that had driven him so deeply. This and the gnawing outrage about the military’s treatment of Black servicemen led to his decision re-join civilian life. Studies at LA City College (Dolphy’s alma mater) led to years of close work with Horace Tapscott wherein Connell served as reeds player and music librarian and copyist. The Tapscott organization was LA’s paramount arm of the Black Arts Movement and its immersion into African American culture and liberation had a lasting impact on Connell. By 1975 Connell relocated to NYC’s Lower East Side where he resided for the rest of his life. Through the decades he performed or recorded with such luminaries as Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Chico Hamilton, Pharoah Sanders, Butch Morris, Roy Campbell, Sam Rivers, Steve Swell, Billy Bang, Henry Threadgill, Oliver Lake, Daniel Carter, Jason Hwang and many others. He also engaged in extensive projects as music copyist, most notably Ornette Coleman’s ‘Skies of America’ as well as for David Murray’s Big Band, the World Saxophone Quartet and a bevy of R & B and pop artists ranging from Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack to Stevie Wonder and Simon & Garfunkel.

Will Connell was a deeply relevant part of this rather unclassifiable musical genre which prides itself on free improvisation as much as post-modern composition, global sounds and the bite of revolutionary politics. Usually preferring to be a member of a band as opposed to its leader, Connell may have been the last of the modest greats. Having served as guest curator at the Stone in 2012, which brought him some note, and featured earlier this year in the Arts for Art organization’s series, and as a member of the Veterans of Free on the Tribute to ‘New York Eye & Ear Control’ concert in June, this master of the New Jazz is now recalled at his rightful place at front and center.

-The Dark Tree Ensemble-
This large band was created and led by Will over the years, featuring a wide variety of New York’s circle of free jazz and experimental musicians. Named for the 1969 Horace Tapscott composition “The Dark Tree”, really a staple of Tapscott’s concept of the African American cultural tradition, this band offered a vision of the legacy. Will acted as a keeper of this flame and offered new arrangements of many of Tapscott’s compositions as well as his own pieces created both during his years with Tapscott or inspired by them. A version of the Dark Tree Ensemble was featured, with Will at the helm, at an Arts for Art concert dedicated to Tapscott this past April. That line-up was largely re-assembled by Will for this residency’s opening gala–which now stands in dedication to the legacies of both men.

-I.C.E. : Improvisational Composers Ensemble- http://www.roccojohnmusic.com/rocco_john_music/home_Rocco_John_Music.html
Veteran saxophonist and composer Rocco John Iacovone created this extended band as part of a 2012-13 series he curated at two celebrated downtown performance spaces, Pianos and Arlene Grocery. “The Improvisational Composers Ensemble is a forum that spotlights new musical works featuring improvisation and compositional structure. Comprised of high-level improvisors, I.C.E. fosters the development of ideas within a community that encourages and embraces experimentation”. The ensemble has included an array of NYC musicians and Will’s bass clarinet stood as an important asset among them.


Will formed Sadhana more than fourteen years ago–a concept more than a band. Through various personnel shifts, the vision of a multi-world soundtrack to a make-believe film took shape. The ensemble paints adventurous sound explorations into the new music canon, fueled by deep roots in the jazz tradition. Celebrated jazz French horn player Vincent Chancey joined in 2009 and the project became truly shared. Will recently recalled: “Vincent stood as a perfect player, and a perfect gentleman. Sadhana,(this iteration), started when The University of the Streets began its series, and I found a place to create”.

-The Jazz & Poetry Choir Collective-
This ensemble, directed by percussionist Michael TA Thompson and largely fronted by poet Golda Solomon, had its inaugural performance in May, 2011 at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village. Will was a founding member, offering an assortment of reeds and woodwinds to the palette over many performances; his absence from their ranks is shattering. “This group of musicians and poets comes together to share original pieces and pay homage to those who have worked with poetry and jazz improvisation. Jazz & Poetry Choir Collective members bring experience, narrative and playfulness to the concert stage, taking the art of spoken word fused with jazz to a new level”.

This cooperative trio is comprised of jazz veterans with expansive views of their individual art. TranceFormation fuses them into a decidedly non-traditional realm, offering freely improvised works and meditative structures over interwoven musical roles: “the altered, trance-like state that is the source of free and uninhibited expression; deep listening; curiosity; the depth of trust -in the self, in one another, in the music- that allows them to be in the musical moment with ears and hearts wide open”. Each member had deep associations with Will and warmly recalled performances in common with him; he was slated to be the guest artist on their set.

-Jorge Sylvester’s ACE (Afro-Caribbean Experimental) Collective-
The ACE [Afro-Caribbean Experimental] Collective is a group of improvising musicians created and led by saxophonist/composer/arranger Jorge Sylvester. “The music is original and draws from the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora, jazz and the free music art forms…it utilizes the rich spectrum of rhythms from the Caribbean and other Latin American countries as a vehicle to create new and undiscovered rhythmic melodic lines within the jazz tradition. Collective and Free improvisation is an essential part of the concept utilizing juxtaposition and retrograde as main components of the experimentation”. Leader Jorge Sylvester and vocalist Nora McCarthy were close friends of Will’s and had engaged in many projects with him. Will was scheduled to be a guest soloist of ACE for this event.


Will Connell, Full Obituary: “Loss of a Quiet Giant” by John Pietaro, AllAboutJazz: http://news.allaboutjazz.com/loss-of-a-quiet-giant-will-connell-1938-2014.php?width=1024