“In The Spirit of Don Cherry” to be Performed by the CMS Improvisers Octet Led by Karl Berger

Saturday, September 2, 2017, 8:00pm at Maverick Concerts, Woodstock, NY


 The revamped Creative Music Studio™ will present In the Spirit of Don Cherry at Woodstock’s legendary Maverick Concerts, Saturday, September 2, 2017, at 8:00. Performed by the all-star CMS™ Improvisers Octet led by Karl Berger, ‘In the Spirit of Don Cherry’ will explore Cherry’s compositions as well as music inspired by him and will use those themes as launching pads for exciting improvisation that weave together jazz, world and contemporary music. Tickets are $5 – $40 and available at the Maverick Concert website.

Six members of the CMS Improvisers Octet played with Cherry: Karl Berger (piano, vibes, leader), Bob Stewart (tuba), Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Peter Apfelbaum (reeds, percussion), Ingrid Sertso (vocals), Graham Haynes (cornet); along with Woodstock’s Tani Tabbal (drums), and Adam Lane (bass).

Noted for his long association with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, which began in the late 1950s, Don Cherry became a pioneer of world-fusion music in the 1960s. During this period, he incorporated various ethnic styles into his playing and composing. Cherry, who died in 1995, was essential to the creation and development of the Creative Music Studio he inspired many of its methodologies, taught many CMS workshops and founded his legendary group, Codona, at CMS. A suite of his is included in CMS Archive Project Selections Vol. 2, released in 2015.

“This all-star octet of improvisers will play Don Cherry’s compositions and songs, but is not solely a repertory ensemble,” said Karl Berger, CMS’ artistic director. “Don was unique in opening the way to interpreting music from anywhere in the world in very personal and inspiring ways. His music is always great fun to play and to listen to. We feel his presence, loud and clear; Don’s music speaks to us and everyone in engaging and positive ways. His amazing spirit lives on in this ensemble and in the multitude of musical expressions emerging at the Creative Music Studio.”

The octet was founded 12 years ago and is comprised of players who collaborated with Cherry from the 1960s through the 1990s. Karl Berger joined Don’s quintet in 1965 and played on many of Don’s breakthrough recordings such as “Symphony for Improvisers.” Peter Apfelbaum was Don’s music director in the 90s; he and Steven Bernstein played frequently with Don then. Ingrid Sertso performed with Don on many occasions, including on his album, “Multi-Kulti,” and on her album, “Dance with It”; she also wrote lyrics to several of Don’s songs, including “Art Deco.” Bob Stewart and Graham Haynes played extensively with Don, often internationally.

 About CMS: The Creative Music Studio™ engages musicians and listeners from all backgrounds to deepen and broaden their musical sensitivity, expression and understanding through workshops, recordings and concerts worldwide.  The Creative Music Studio™ and CMS ™ are trademarks of the Creative Music Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation founded in 1971.

New Blood Revitalizes Creative Music Studio

It hardly seems possible but Woodstock’s own Creative Music Studio, that ethereal prodigy of a golden era, has been sent to the gym and returned rippling with muscle. Like the town’s original experiment in freedom (known since 1905 simply as “The Maverick”) CMS remains, first and foremost, a forever tolerant state of mind. So how do “forever tolerant” and “rippling with muscle” coexist? This is how: with a kick-ass new board, a supercharged trio of artistic directors, and the original god-parents of World Music, Karl Berger & Ingrid Sertso, imperturbably at its heart.’ Read journalist Tad Wise’s full story in  the Woodstock Times.

And, if you didn’t see it last week, New York Times‘ music critic Giovanni Russonello wrote an extensive feature article on CMS and its expanded artistic team. Read the full story.


CMS and its artistic team of Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, Steven Bernstein, Billy Martin and Peter Apfelbaum will be in residence this week (June 27 – July 2) at The Stone, John Zorn’s performance space on 2nd Street and Avenue C in NYC. Performances begin at 8:30pm in concerts featuring a wide variety of ensembles and musicians.

The schedule is:

  • June 27: “Vibes, Voice & Bass” (Ken Filiano, bass; Ingrid Sertso, vocals, poetry; and Karl Berger, vibes, compositions)
  • June 28: “Hustling Raindrops” (Billy Martin, percussion; Peter Apfelbaum, flutes/reeds; Jay Rodriguez, flutes, reeds; Dana Lyn, violin; and Falu, vocals)
  • June 29: “Apfelbaum/Rojas/Baptista” (Peter Apfelbaum , woodwinds, keyboards, percussion; Marcus Rojas, tuba, percussion; and Cyro Baptista, percussion, vocals)
  • June 30: “Sertso/Berger Quintet” (Kenny Wessel, guitar; Ken Filiano, bass; Warren Smith, drums; Ingrid Sertso, vocals, poetry; and Karl Berger, vibes, piano, compositions)
  • July 1: “The Directors” (Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Peter Apfelbaum, tenor sax, flutes; Billy Martin, drums; Adam Lane, bass; Ingrid Sertso, vocals, poetry; and Karl Berger, piano, vibes)
  • July 2 “Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra” (Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Curtis Fowlkes, trombone; Charlie Burnham, violin; Doug Wieselman, clarinet; Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone; Erik Lawrence, baritone saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Ben Allison, bass; and Ben Perowsky, drums).

Creative Music Studio Changes Hands at a Critical Moment in Jazz

CMS Spring 2017 Workshop. Photo by Karin Wolfe

New York Times music critic Giovanni Russonello profiles CMS in a feature article,  ‘Creative Music Studio Changes Hands at a Critical Moment in Jazz‘, which was published today. The article was based on months of research, including several days at the CMS Summer Workshop two weeks ago.  Read the full story.




By Martin Longley, a music critic who writes for The Guardian, Downbeat, All About Jazz, Songlines and Jazzwise, among others.
video: geoff baer

Video: Joseph boulet

Opening Concert, Monday 12th June

The opening Monday night concert of the CMS spring workshop displayed the talents of its guiding artists, playing together in various permutations. It’s an initial demonstration of where each player stands, musically, prior to the masterclasses and collective tuition that will follow over the course of the next three days. The Full Moon resort at Big Indian, in the Catskill Mountains, is a secluded encampment of natural quiet, a wilderness haven for the arts, with a particular attention paid to music camps. The Full Moon folks also handled catering for the recent Mountain Jam festival, and will be hosting a King Crimson camp to tie in with the soon-coming tour by those English prog-rock leviathans.

The guiding artists and around 25 workshop participants gathered in the Full Moon reception, everyone introducing themselves, and giving a brief background to their journey towards improvisation. Dinner followed in the converted barn, which was to also serve as the ample space for the week’s coming masterclasses. Around 8pm, all of the assembled ambled up the hill to the Roadhouse. This is Full Moon’s dedicated venue, complete with bar, stage and in-house sound system.


The Chinese pipa player Min Xiao Fen played solo at first, with a release of pent-up energy, contrasting the often dignified and gentle nature of this instrument with a forceful approach that’s immersed in free improvisation and Delta blues traditions. It’s a strikingly aggressive attack, loaded with bent and sliding notes, her palms sometimes spread flat to encompass the maximum number of strings on the pipa’s broad neck. She makes sudden switches of gear, from a driving thrash, into spidering clusters.

Ken Filiano

The New York bassist Ken Filiano and the Mexican guitarist Omar Tamez begin with soft, granular bowing and agitated picking. Filiano periodically raises an interest in effects pedals (even though most of his gigs feature a purer bass sound), and he’s using these foot-triggerers here, whilst Tamez calls to mind the pliant sound of James Blood Ulmer. Filiano and Tamez are soon heading towards a straight-running momentum. This duo becomes a quartet, as Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso enter, the former implying a South African sound on piano keyboard, the latter flitting between words and scat. Sertso brings in a narrative sense, something that will frequently govern the structure of the following pieces. She might be considering calling their first improvisation “Dance With Life”, a developing phrase in the piece.

Peter Apfelbaum

There’s a further expansion, as tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum and drummer Warren Smith come onstage, with Berger moving across to the vibraphone. A classic Blue Note-ed character moves the music closer to the jazz mainline, with Smith playing on a straight drum-kit, although augmented by an extra floor-tom. Often, when he’s found playing in NYC, Smith favors an expanded tympani set-up. Berger’s solo mixes open resonance with curtailed strikes, developing a freer nature. “When will the blues leave? Never!,” declaims Sertso, as this Ornette Coleman tune concludes.

Warren Smith

Continuing, Smith produces an abstract clatter, and Apfelbaum leads a rugged take-off, Tamez making scything strikes, edged with decorative details, and coming close to a Vietnamese microtonality. The evening’s most unusual line-up featured Min Xiao Fen, Tom Tedesco (tabla), along with Berger and Filiano. Min also vocalized, her immense energy setting off a flash of communal fire amongst her partners. This was improvisation with tension, release, heightened empathy and fine detail.

Masterclasses & Workshop Sessions, Tuesday 13th June

During her vocal/tuning awareness session, Ingrid Sertso is talking about being inspired by working with the recently departed Pauline Oliveros (who also was a Guiding Artist at the CMS Workshop in October, 2016): “Use your speaking voice”, she instructs her gathering of vocalists, in a circle of drone, naturally finding many levels of tone. Even though most of these participants are not professional singers, no one sounds “out of tune,” as the cluster gravitates towards a strata of sonic suspension. Then, Sertso vocalizes across the top of their layers, or perhaps sideways. There’s a very Eastern sensibility to this approach, although ‘east’ can stretch from Tibetan and Tuvan lands, coming back through to the Balkans. The circle gets tighter, the act of standing closer tending to intensify the resultant sound. It’s a kind of organic mathematics, beginning to sound like a Ligeti or Stockhausen vocal work.

The first part of multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum’s masterclass begins with him distributing word-sheets, to be used later in the proceedings. He’s talking about the scale as a foundation, either as something to harmonize with, or alternatively, scrape against. Ashe constructs the ranks, delivering their duties, Apfelbaum introduces the comparison with a Jamaican dub reggae wizard, bringing up the fader on sonic action that is already underway. He instantaneously cues either individuals or spontaneously created groups to rise up, or slip away in the collective spread. He prompts them to enter suddenly, or creep in softly, and incrementally, then he turns his attention to the percussionists, asking them to play busily, but imagining that they’re way off in the distance, much quieter than usual.

Finally, he adds a loping funk drumbeat. The participants might feel like they’re caught in the midst of an efficient and hard-working LA studio recording session, perhaps for a movie soundtrack. Apfelbaum is a master communicator, actively open to accident and spontaneity, but with a very precise idea of a battle plan. He has the knack of giving instructions, but making them seem like suggestions. He’s not locked into his own advance playing: if he hears a player straying, Apfelbaum might decide that they’re worth following.

After all this swift construction, it’s time to introduce some solos, at the same time as building a bridge section. The players have an impressive capacity to memorize their leader’s repeating patterns and involved passage-shifts. Apfelbaum wants the bridge to be looped, in human fashion, with a flexibility for content, but also requiring a dogged repeat, once the content has been decided.

After a break for lunch, the second part of the masterclass has Apfelbaum moving to the drumkit. His chief instrument is the tenor saxophone, but he’s also pretty hot on keyboards and drums. Apfelbaum is breaking down the percussion into separate parts, and this is where reeds specialist Lee Odom (from NYC) solos on soprano saxophone, scooting around with a supple ease, magnifying the excitement of the section. Next, Apfelbaum wants to work on a mostly vocal ensemble sequence, as a prelude to inserting the content of the lyric sheets. Part of this involves a reading of In The Beginning, a poem by Dylan Thomas, tackled by three vocalists: Charles Ver Straeten, Roberta Lawrence and Mary Enid Haines. All of these constituent parts are eventually melded, even though they might seem ungainly in their mass. Apfelbaum has everything under control, though, with his remarkable ability to shape and direct all of these talented artists.

In an unusual move, Apfelbaum’s next step is to work on an arrangement of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April”, perfectly illustrating the wide ranges of sources for improvisation to be found during a CMS workshop. For the last 30 minutes of his masterclass, Apfelbaum constructs a complete arrangement, working with his usual speedy decisiveness. He guides the song towards an easy gliding motion, switching to the keyboards, as trumpeter Steven Bernstein arrives to coincide with the latest downpour outside. He’s a veteran attendee at CMS workshops for the last four decades, with him (15 years old) and Apfelbaum (16 years old) first making their pilgrimage from Berkeley in 1977. Both of them (along with percussionist Billy Martin) are now associate artistic directors with CMS.

CMS Spring 2017 Workshop. Photo by Karin Wolfe

Berger’s daily session begins with a call for the horn players to have ears open for the entire spread of sound, not just their own contribution. Then, all of the ensemble’s instruments become a part of the palette. He prompts single stabs, followed by sustained smears. Bernstein starts completely solo, and the orchestra awakens into a fiercely uptempo number. The music, and Berger himself, lift off, as he stands up, getting right up close to players as he urges them on with detailed hand-gestures, directly addressing the horns. Berger is in control, but he’s also facilitating individual expression, within the structural guidelines that he’s built.

Evening Concert, Tuesday 13th June

Tanya Kalmanovitch

The evening’s first grouping features Berger, Sertso, Smith, Tamez, Filiano, Bernstein, Apfelbaum and the newly-arrived Tanya Kalmanovitch on viola. They weave a winding tale, and the music is suitably filmic in character, as Bernstein rips into a flaring slide trumpet solo. Besides this display, most of the orientation is towards an ensemble nature, creating a levelled group sound. Smith and Filiano begin the next piece, with the latter using a wah-wah pedal to contort his sound, the rest of the players now weighing in with a be-bopped momentum. Kalmanovitch takes a swooping solo, richly embellishing, and the mischievous Bernstein/Apfelbaum team trade curt phrases, in the old-school manner. It’s the typical equality of jazz language presented throughout this workshop’s span, embracing jazz tradition as well as the more wayward extremes of free improvisation, with frequent exploration of global ethnic forms. Berger moves to the vibes, adopting a lightly stippling touch, in a duet with visiting Spanish guitarist Alvaro Domene, who has recently settled in the Hudson Valley area. The combination benefits from a taut dynamism, particularly during their second number.

Masterclasses & Workshop Sessions, Wednesday 14th June

Min-Xiao-Fen (photos Karin Wolf)

Min Xiao Fen’s masterclass uses Chinese traditional music, and Peking opera motifs, as a template for the morning’s improvisational journey. She guides with phonetic patterns, prompting the percussion, and asking the sticksmen (Michael Shore, Joe Boulet) to concentrate on small sounds, perhaps using gongs or woodblocks. Vivid facial expressions and extravagant gestures are just as much a part of her communicating array. Then, along with the music, she sings the patterns. With its alien vocabulary and innate complexity, this musical area is surely one of the most difficult to inhabit, particularly for those musicians inexperienced in this language (probably most of the participants). Given the space of just a few hours, it’s certainly hard to grasp.

Min manages to direct the large spread of participants with a fair degree of control, carefully working towards the establishment of a unified flow, binding the singers to the instruments. At first, the players find it difficult to take flight, maybe too self-conscious about being precise. As Min cues repeats, a Chinese form of Philip Glass-ian minimalism begins to evolve, as the repeats ripple outwards. She may be rooted in the tradition, but as witnessed with her pipa playing, Min is always working towards either expanding, twisting or maybe even subverting the core Chinese concepts. Quite astoundingly, by the end of the masterclass, the gathered players surmount the challenge, with the final piece of the puzzle being an almost swinging, loping section, its notes articulated with a good amount of swaying and lolloping. Now there’s even more material, as Min takes the vocal repeats down to a hushed whisper.


Time for lunch!

 An exciting aspect of each masterclass is the almost inevitable turn it will take into a completely different musical approach, governed by the concerns, style and experience of its guiding artist. Joe McPhee (saxophones, trumpet) elects to guide the participants towards structured free improvisation, meaning that the naked content of contributions is completely spontaneous, but placed within a framework that is itself spontaneously built by McPhee. It’s improvised conduction, controlling the improvisation of others, but within itself, pure in its freedom.

Before the music starts to sound, McPhee delivers an eloquent description of his early influence under John Coltrane, his disbelief over the revered saxophonist’s untimely death, and the amusing regularity with which McPhee’s and Ornette Coleman’s paths began to cross around that 1967 time. Not least with their slightly tardy viewing of Coltrane’s open casket at his funeral service. It was as though the torch was being passed, as McPhee moved from Coltrane to Ornette, the latter taking him under his wing, the nature of free jazz gradually evolving into something more extreme.

McPhee’s first tactic is to get the drummers to play a figure, and then immediately chase this with something totally different. He asks the string instrumentalists to find a sound, then sustain it, the drums producing a beat, and the other players tacking something onto that mathematical base. Then, after a long moment of silence, all hell breaks loose. McPhee joins in on soprano saxophone, and calmly signals for trumpet and flute to take the space, silencing the guitar wing, a pipa solo emerging. McPhee conducts sensitively, even though the end result might be brutal in being. As this extended improvisation ceases, it appears to be the end of the masterclass, but McPhee quietly suggests that “we can play some more, if you want.” Straight away, the basses and drums set up a meaty groove, and the horns squabble in unison. It’s noticeable that the participants tend to play in a style descended from what they imagine or expect their guiding artist to desire. This is no bad outcome, as it highlights the organic, malleable nature of improvisation.

It’s not officially the second part of her masterclass (that’s due for the next day), but Min Xiao Fen precedes the late afternoon orchestra session with a performance of the work she’d been crafting earlier. After letting it percolate during the afternoon, this time all of the players are primed, waiting to release their energies. Now, all the components are fully integrated. The players have learned their complicated parts, and are freed up to make this later reading more confident, less inhibited by uncertainty. Some special vibration hangs in the ether.

CMS Spring 2017 Workshop. Photo by Karin Wolfe

This aura is intensified during the following improvisation, led by Berger, which is set to be some of the spring workshop’s greatest music. Now there’s a remarkable energy sizzling around the barn-space, its sliding doors opened to reveal the field and forest vistas outside. Warren Smith has joined the drumming team, providing much of the thrust, as Billy Martin (of Medeski Martin & Wood fame) also guests, rummaging in his percussion bag as he stands on the stairs that lead up to the mezzanine’s mixing desk and recording facilities. Steven Bernstein is also still in the house. Berger’s piece (“We Are”) co-opts its elements into a shuffling Afro-Latin New Orleans mélange, with bassist Ken Filiano doing his sousaphone impersonation. Then a samba procession develops, and Berger takes the volume right down, a guitar part suddenly discernible in the quietness. Berger points to the Mexican pianist Dave Trevino to take a solo, whilst the workshop’s Japanese participants, dancer Michiru Inoue and shakuhachi player Ken Ya Kawaguchi, respond to the escalations.

Evening Concert, Wednesday 14th June

 The first grouping at the evening concert is McPhee, Filiano, Tamez, Smith and keyboardist Angelica Sanchez, opting for a luminous abstraction. McPhee chooses soprano, and it doesn’t take him long to graduate from placid reflection to nervy agitation, dragging his colleagues behind him in the rush towards explosive release.

The second piece is delivered by Berger, Sertso, Tamez, Bernstein, Filiano, Smith and Apfelbaum, the night’s mood already inclined towards larger groupings. Berger is on vibraphone, demonstrating his marvelous human-touch echo. Meanwhile, Apfelbaum wrenches out a gutsy tenor solo. Berger moves to piano and Smith glides to the vibes, this duo softly speaking “Body And Soul”, with a poised translucence. The tune is very sensitively traversed, and then we’re snapped out of our reverie by Filiano, who’s adopting a smile-inducing attitude towards emcee-ing. It’s like he’s born into this role, and relishing every exuberant moment!

Next up, a trio with Min, McPhee and Filiano, the latter bowing sonorously, creating another stand-out musical passage straight away. There’s a hog-calling vocal exchange between Min and Filiano, and changes of instrumental dynamics throughout. Min plays her pipa strings with a bottleneck slide, but can swap to thin, gossamer runs, as a sharp alternative. When she ditches her slide, Filiano picks up his bow again, as Apfelbaum joins the trio, encouraging a tense, stalking, pre-release feeling. Berger now delivers a solo version of “Fragments”, with close, dampened strikes on the vibraphone, making soft rubs and quicksilver ripples. This is definitely the night of the guiding artists, all of the combination line-ups imbued with a noticeable vigor.

Masterclasses & Workshop Sessions, Thursday 15th June

Tanya Kalmanovitch (viola) is something of an unknown quantity at the CMS workshop, a first-timer with a novel approach to the masterclass. Of course, all of the other presenters have their quirks, but her elected agenda is to explore the art of the ending, specifically in the realm of improvisation. Beginnings can be almost as challenging: who opens first, and at what level of density, nature of tone and sense of pace. How do they choose? The exact point of finishing is arguably more of a challenge. Sometimes it’s collectively obvious where a piece might conclude, if it rises towards a clear climax, but on other occasions an improvisation might just drift away into the ether, or perhaps come to a sudden (often instinctive, or chance) halt.

Kalmanovitch discusses the concept of potential endings, even if not every player ultimately acts on this possibility. She asks the participants to identify the likely points at which an improvisation might conclude. There might be a single stage, where no argument is offered, or there might be five, six, or more. Perhaps, even if the majority decide to finish, one player might soldier onwards, or believe that there is absolutely no end in sight, so far. There’s perhaps not much of a concrete gain to be made, during this masterclass, as it seems that Kalmanovitch is preaching general awareness and sensitivity rather than opening a clearly defined rulebook.

Following lunch, Min Xiao Fen returns for her second masterclass, continuing to shape the Peking opera-influenced work from the previous day. This time around she’s concentrating on subliminal vocal tones, inspired by Chinese folk songs. This marks a detour into a complementary area of activity. She starts off the participants with a sustained tone, its notes hovering in a highly subtle inhabitation of the space. Hushed guitars, and baritone saxophone (played by Bill Ylitalo) are introduced, with vestigial drum and cymbal sounds around the perimeter.

Switching back to the Peking opera composition (as it has now become), Min sets it rolling once again, and the trouncing, stomping section increases in power each time it’s invoked, as the ensemble latch onto its propulsive groove. The vocal segment is also amassing energy and conviction. Closing up the session with soft, sustained and sparing sounds, the participants pull the art of contemplation up to its highest level.

The last orchestra improvisation provides another absolute musical peak of this spring workshop. Karl Berger cultivates the stately leviathan of “The Smile That You Send Out Returns To You”, coaxing out a cumulative, ritualistic incarnation of his song. First, Berger lays out the elements, starting a chant around the circle of participants. Gradually, tabla and goblet-shaped darbuka drum are introduced, as verbal and handclapping arrangements are developed. Berger joins in on melodica. Once this structure is in place, he begins an extended improvisation, which eventually re-introduces the song/chant, following this elaborate improvised genesis.

The combined duration was probably approaching 90 minutes, but so engaging was the music that timepieces were not required, as there was no single moment where it wandered, stalled or dispersed into routine. The electricity of Berger’s commanding presence, and the charge set up around the players, filled the circle with a glowing possession to match that of the previous day’s session during this same late afternoon time-phase. These two orchestral improvisations were amongst the most exciting musical spells of the entire workshop.

Evening Concert, Thursday 15th June

As the participants get to know each other, both socially and musically, over the four days, the wheels of improvisation become well-oiled, as groupings form during the final day’s evening concert. One such impromptu band features Ted Orr (tabla), Bill Ylitalo (wooden birdcall plunger-whistles) and the Japanese duo, with Inoue dramatically bursting out of the rest room just a few rows from the left side of the stage, swinging its door open violently, to initiate her dance, gliding towards the stage in a genuinely startling piece of choreography..!

A grouping of Berger, Sertso, Tamez, Filiano, and Smith (on vibes) essays “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”, followed by a radically more unusual pairing of Chuck ver Straeten (voice) and Min Xiao Fen (voice/pipa). She gurgles into a plastic cup of water, whilst Chuck smacks his lips and puckers, finding a dramatic and arresting performance art outlet, both of them speaking in tongues. It’s a dialogue that you might imagine emanating from the neighboring apartment of your worst married couple conflict scenario nightmares. Min pants and they squeal in unison, making noh theatre-type ululations and growls, like a radically avant garde John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

Apfelbaum, Filiano, Kalmanovitch, Smith (on vibes), and Joe Boulet (drums) make a skeletal funk construct, a soft strut implied more than labored. Apfelbaum echoes Kalmanovitch, whilst Boulet uses puffball sticks, reined in within the open sonic space. Smith makes supple crystalline shapes, with one unexpected moment where he ratchets the mallets across the vibraphone’s resonator pipes, always aware of the sideways percussive opportunity.

Another highlight arrives close to the end, with alto saxophonist Paul Goldberg shining out on Monk’s “In Walked Bud”, with Berger (vibes), Filiano and Apfelbaum, the latter now ensconced behind the drumkit. Goldberg had already impressed with several citrus-streaming solos during the daytime sessions.

Even though most of the participants weren’t firing off aggressively individualistic solos throughout the workshop, their stances became markedly strengthened, and their collective sensibilities enhanced as the days progressed. There was an increasing integration between the guiding artists and the participating workshop players, as bonding and confidence increased. Playing permutations were flying spontaneously, particularly by the time of this last evening’s Roadhouse concert. There was also a valuable contrast between the elaborate scale of the daytime’s large ensemble work, and the off-shoot intimacy of the night-time small group promiscuity.


Once again, we retreat deep into the Catskills where mobile phones don’t work to create a community centered around music, nature and human creativity. Guiding Artists fill our ears with music and brains with wisdom, none more so than Karl and Ingrid. People come as strangers and leave as friends, colleagues, musical co-conspirators. Bonds and bands are formed. We’re well-fed musically, but also physically by gorgeous mountain surroundings, sumptuous food and caring friends at Full Moon Resort.  Ears and bodies well taken care of, our spirits soar.  What’s really surprising is that this is typical of CMS Workshops – each reaches a new height. We always think we’ve reached a pinnacle…and then another workshop happens and the bar is set higher.

Special thanks to our guiding artists – Min, Peter, Tanya and Joe – along with Ken Filiano, Warren Smith, Omar Tamez, Angelica Sanchez, and special guests Billy Martin, Steven Bernstein and Timothy Hill.  And of course to Matthew Cullen (sound), Geoff Baer (video) and Karin A. Wolf (photography) for capturing the sounds, images and spirit of this workshop.  Thanks to our friends at Full Moon for making us always feel at home (and for finally making the coffee strong enough!).

See you in for the CMS Fall Workshop October 2-6.

– Rob

Mary Halvorson, Billy Martin and Omar Faruk Tekbilek To Lead Creative Music Studio Fall Workshop


Guitarist, composer and bandleader Mary Halvorson, Creative Music Studio (CMS) associate artistic director and percussionist Billy Martin, and Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Tekbilek join CMS co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso as Guiding Artists for the CMS Fall 2017 Workshop intensive, October 2 – 6, 2017, at the ear-inspiring Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY.

CMS’ Fall Workshop, in the height of the blazing autumn colors, features one Guiding Artist(s) working with participants in two workshops each day, creating multiple opportunities for artists to work directly with participants as individuals or in ensembles. As in the past, there will be daily CMS basic practice (body movement, breath work, rhythm and vocal training), as well as 90 minutes each day with Karl Berger leading orchestra of improvisers.   Bassist Ken Filiano, saxophonist Maria Grand, along with additional Guiding Artists will be on hand to work with participants on a more personal level, informally coaching, playing and tutoring daily.

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Series Features Small Ensembles to Orchestras, From NYC to the Catskills

Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso

May 30, 2017, Woodstock, NY – The enduring spirit if the Creative Music Studio™, nearing its fifty-year anniversary, will be showcased in a month-long series of concerts from New York City to the organization’s home base in upstate New York. The twelve June performances will feature CMS artistic directors – Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, Steven Bernstein,  Billy Martin and Peter Apfelbaum – in various settings from small ensembles to full orchestras. A complete schedule is below.

Steve Bernstein

The performances commence on Saturday, June 10 with the CMS Improvisers Orchestra at the El Taller Cultural Community Center at 215 East 99th Street in Manhattan. CMS co-founder Karl Berger will conduct the Orchestra, comprised of twenty or more soloists, and this performance will feature percussionist Valerie Naranjo. It begins at 8:30pm with a rehearsal that’s open to ticket holders at 7:00pm. Tickets are $20 ($15 students) at the door.

Peter Apfelbaum

Evening performances in conjunction with the CMS Spring Workshop in Big Indian, NY, will take place from June 12 – 15. Each night at 8:15pm, ensembles comprised of the workshop’s Guiding Artists will take the stage in the Full Moon Resort’s intimate Roadhouse.  Artists performing in these four upstate concerts will include: Karl Berger (piano/vibes), Ingrid Sertso (vocal), Peter Apfelbaum (reeds, flutes), Warren Smith (percussion), Min Xiao Fen (Chinese pipa), Joe McPhee (reeds), Tanya Kalmanovitch (viola), Ken Filiano (bass), Angelica Sanchez (piano) and Omar Tamez (guitar). Suggested donation is $20.

On Sunday June 17 at 7:00pm, Karl Berger’s new group, “Together,” will perform at the Falcon in Marlboro, NY. The group features Karl Berger (vibes, piano), Ingrid Sertso (poetry, vocals), Kirk Knuffke (cornet),

Billy Martin

Billy Martin (drums), Kenny Wessel (guitar), Ken Filiano (bass) and special guest, Peter Apfelbaum (reeds, flutes). Suggested donation is $20.

Finally, The Stone in New York City will be home base for CMS and its artistic directors during the week of June 27 – July 2 in a series Karl Berger is curating. Tickets are $20 at the door. The schedule is:

June 27: “Vibes, Voice & Bass” (Ken Filiano, bass; Ingrid Sertso, vocals, poetry; and Karl Berger, vibes, compositions)

June 28: “Hustling Raindrops” (Billy Martin, percussion; Peter Apfelbaum, flutes/reeds; Jay Rodriguez, flutes, reeds; Dana Lyn, violin; and Falu, vocals)

June 29: “Apfelbaum/Rojas/Baptista” (Peter Apfelbaum , woodwinds, keyboards, percussion; Marcus Rojas, tuba, percussion; and Cyro Baptista, percussion, vocals)

June 30: “Sertso/Berger Quintet” (Kenny Wessel, guitar; Ken Filiano, bass; Warren Smith, drums; Ingrid Sertso, vocals, poetry; and Karl Berger, vibes, piano, compositions)

July 1: “The Directors” (Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Peter Apfelbaum, tenor sax, flutes; Billy Martin, drums; Ken Filiano, bass; Ingrid Sertso, vocals, poetry; and Karl Berger, piano, vibes)

July 2 “Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra” (Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Curtis Fowlkes, trombone; Charlie Burnham, violin; Doug Wieselman, clarinet; Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone; Erik Lawrence, baritone saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Ben Allison, bass; and Ben Perowsky, drums).

The Creative Music Studio engages musicians and listeners from all backgrounds and traditions, deepening and transforming their personal experience, understanding and expression of music as a universal language by illuminating its shared elements in workshops, residencies, performances, recording and archival projects throughout the U.S. and around the globe. The Creative Music Studio™ and CMS ™ are trademarks of the Creative Music Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation founded in 1971 that receives funding from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), among others. Its website is: creativemusic.org.

Soloists Include Peter Apfelbaum, Graham Haynes, Jason Hwang,
Warren Smith and Steve Swell;
Concert Features Latino Poet Jesús Papoleto Meléndez
And Songwriter Bernardo Palombo

 Woodstock, NY, May 16, 2017 — The Creative Music Studio™ Improvisers Orchestra, conducted by Karl Berger, will perform Saturday night, May 27 at the El Taller Cultural Community Center at 215, East 99th Street in Manhattan. This performance features multi-instrumentalist and CMS™ associate artistic director Peter Apfelbaum, cornetist Graham Haynes, violin/viola virtuoso Jason Hwang, percussion wizard Warren Smith, trombonist Steve Swell and vocalist/poet Ingrid Sertso. The Orchestra will also back Latino poet Jesús Papoleto Meléndez and songwriter Bernardo Palombo. The performance begins at 8:30 with a rehearsal open to ticket holders at 7:00.  Tickets are $20 ($15 students).

Since its inception in 2011, the CMS Improvisers Orchestra, comprised of 20 or more string, horn, reed, and percussion soloists, has performed nearly 90 times.  Conducted in Karl’s inimitable style developed over decades at the legendary Creative Music Studio™, the CMS™ Improvisers Orchestra explores Berger’s original compositions as well as melodies from the world’s folk traditions and themes by visionary composers such as Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman, creating a platform for musical ideas to arise spontaneously among the orchestra’s musicians. Karl’s conducting blends and harmonizes improvised sounds and rhythms in constantly shifting instrumentations and dynamics.  One of the orchestra’s trademarks is Ingrid Sertso’s unique vocalizations and poetry.

In this special performance, the CMS Improvisers Orchestra will accompany “Poet and Prophet of El Barrio,” Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, and icon of Nueva canción and El Taller founder, Bernardo Palombo, as they perform a poem and a song honoring Antonia Martínez Lagares, a college student fatally shot by police in Puerto Rico in 1970 while protesting police violence . The New York State Council on the Arts and the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation are generously underwriting this performance. CIO will also perform at El Taller on Saturday, June 10, in concert showcasing Valerie Naranjo, a marimbist, percussionist, vocalist, and composer who is exploring the relationships between indigenous music in West Africa and popular music in America.

The CMS Improvisers Orchestra has received numerous critical reviews. In a glowing notice, the Wall Street Journal said the orchestra’s sound “draws on lush harmonies and a well-defined relationship between foreground soloists and background.”  The arts blog Lucid Culture remarked that “the camaraderie and warmth of the repartee between the orchestra and conductor – and among the orchestra itself – was visceral,” and acclaimed jazz critic Howard Mandel wrote that the orchestra “can expand on simple themes paying utmost attention to dynamics and each other through ‘intuited communication.’”

Musicians featured in these CMS Improvisers Orchestra performances may include:, Sana Nagano, Richard Carr, Ernesto Llorens violins, Jason Hwang, Leonor Falcon, viola, Tomas Ulrich, cello; Graham Haynes, cornet, Brian Groder, Thomas Heberer, trumpet; Peter Apfelbaum, Ras Moshe, flute and tenor sax; Sylvain Leroux, fula flutes; Haruna  Fukazawa, Gene Coleman, flutes; Andy Laties, shakuhachi; Lee Odom, Don Payne, clarinets; Michael Lytle, Christoph Knoche, bass clarinet; Richard Keene, oboe; Jason Candler, soprano sax; Welf Doerr, Patrick Brennan, alto sax; Bill Ylitalo, baritone sax;; Steve Swell, Rick Maurer, Westwood Johnson, trombones; Michael Gassmann, Ted Orr, guitars; John Ehlis, mandolin; Ken Filiano, Hilliard Greene, Nicolas Letman, basses; Warren Smith, Aaron Latos, Hollis Headrick, percussion; and surprise guests.

The Creative Music Studio engages musicians and listeners from all backgrounds and traditions, deepening and transforming their personal experience, understanding and expression of music as a universal language by illuminating its shared elements in workshops, residencies, performances, recording and archival projects throughout the U.S. and around the globe. The Creative Music Studio™ and CMS ™ are trademarks of the Creative Music Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation founded in 1971 that receives funding from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), among others.


CMS NYC Workshop Chronicles
By Michael Shore


I’ve only ever been to one CMS Workshop, June 2015 at Full Moon resort in Big Indian, NY. when I was mainly there to chronicle it for the CMS twitter feed and website, while lurking on the outside of the participants’ circle with a bag of small percussion devices…so I would say I was maybe a quarter participant. So, my frame of reference is limited—but I knew this NYC workshop would be very different from typical workshops: not being at a secluded bucolic resort but in the middle of noisy grimy NYC, and breaking up early the first two nights due to scheduled concerts at our host venue, Greenwich House Music School, would surely affect the sense of community that naturally grows among participants upstate. Also, no body awareness workshops ☹ (I still use some of the stretches I learned at Big Indian every single day).

It’s also different for me personally because this time I am a paying participant, bringing my own little 5-piece drum set-up as well as the small percussion. Small as it is, I as a very part-time amateur player still struggle mightily to cart it from my suburban Long Island home to the city via LIRR and subway, in a collapsible canvas duffel on plastic casters which I’m terrified the whole time will break off. They don’t, and I get a good taste of that dreary, back-breaking and unavoidable aspect of The Drummer’s Life. A valuable lesson indeed!

Finally, because I am much more participant than chronicler – and acutely self-conscious at how rusty and out-of-practice I am – I apologize up front for how different these notes will be than last time, with far less blow-by-blow detail and more hazily recollected impressionism. Due to my daily focus on focusing and not embarrassing myself during each master class, much of the weekend is a blur!

At Greenwich House we all meet and mingle during orientation, after setting up our gear…my fellow drummers and I somehow figure a way to fit all 5 kits onstage with the help of superhumanly patient production manager Alex. I’m suddenly grateful to have such a microscopic kit. In keeping with the spirit I’d felt so keenly at Big Indian and in all my dealing with CMS, everyone is cool and the vibe is mellow. The room gradually fills, a few faces familiar from the 2015 workshop I attended at Full Moon.

Eventually CMS Artistic Director/Co-founder Karl Berger calls us to order in a circle on the recital hall floor and asks us to introduce ourselves briefly. What an interesting group! The drummers include a student of Day 2 Guiding Artist Susie Ibarra’s, who will do wonderful gamelan-gong-type things with some small nesting metal mixing bowls, and one who works at the Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz In The Schools program – so cool! There are around a dozen guitarists, including a “classical/theater composer by day, punk rocker by night,” another who’s brought a Chinese sanxian lute, and a long-haired young shredder who says he’s looking to learn how to contribute cool creative noises. There are names and faces I recognize from the stages at various downtown avant-rock and jazz gigs over the past few years. Someone came all the way from Washington state. There’s a dude with samplers and toys – “untrained”/”non-musician” company for yours truly! In fact, a lot of us say they’re like me: passionate music fans who put their instrumental dreams aside years ago to focus on family and/or career, but have rekindled that old inner mounting flame that never ever quite goes out.

CMS co-founder Ingrid Sertso leads us in the first of her daily vocal exercises, focused largely on deep breathing and long vowel sounds. It’s great to see her so healthy and energetic where two years ago she’d been weakened by illness. Her deep-breathing exercise is just the refreshing system-cleanse I need – the kind of thing someone like me always forgets to remember to do each day as mundanities and work and such get in the way. I actually begin feeling a sort of a buzz from all the extra oxygen intake from the deep-breathing, combined with the joy of making music – and I swear, just as I feel that buzz, Ingrid says “you know, some tribes around the world use these exercises as a way to get high.” My jaw drops open at how she’s read my mind. She also teaches us a lovely somber South African hymn: “We are going, Heaven knows where we are going…”

Karl Berger then outlines the basic ideas behind the workshop and provides some basic guidance and practice in rhythm, using his Gamala Taki method of counting rhythms in divisions of 3 and 2, having us sing out “ga-ma-la ta-ki” with different accents to different meters, then having us sing only certain syllables while keeping in rhythm – a great way to treat silence as another musical note, and to make rhythm more musical and less pure-math. Karl calls it “beat for beat attention.” It reminds me of one of my favorite chants by one of my favorite artists, Sun Ra: “music is silence too, music is silence too…” Karl then leads us in similar exercises using the singsong chant “time is, time is in, time is in time…” which I recalled from the 2015 workshop. Then he acknowledges the elephant in the room, that we had set up our instruments and must be itching to play them so let’s hit it and see what we can do. All I remember is focusing on the basslines from assistant Guiding Artist, the great Ken Filiano, who’s right in front of me onstage, and trying to follow Karl’s conducting gestures. Feels good to bash a bit for sure. The first day ends with “listening meditation”: Karl asks us to focus on sound and its disappearance – again, like the object lesson in the note value of silence, the kind of against-the-grain zen-koan lesson in which CMS seems to specialize – then he strikes a cymbal… and does it again… and again… and again… Faint street noises mix in with the ever-more-discernible overtones of the decaying cymbal crashes. The focus in the room is palpable. Great training for the ears, and a good start to the weekend!


The first full day of CMS NYC begins with several of us early arrivals outside at 8:45 am, waiting for someone from Greenwich House to show up and unlock the place, breakfast having been called for 9am. We can hear someone upstairs practicing piano but they can’t hear us calling “helloooo” and banging on the door. Possibly a reminder that the calendar says it’s April 1. Someone does show up not long after 9, and the day proper starts with breakfast, and CMS Executive Director Rob Saffer putting out the word that today’s Guiding Artist, Wilco guitarist (among other pursuits) Nels Cline, wants us in a big circle with the drummer spaced out evenly around it. I immediately run upstairs to set up, wanting to make sure I have a spot. Breakfast is a welcome, delicious and filling reminder that the food at Big Indian in June 2015 was plentiful, naturally healthy and yummy. The spread includes eggs, chicken sausages, steamed potatoes, fresh berries, yogurt, Granola, OJ and coffee or tea…at least I think there were big skin-on spuds. Maybe I’m mixing that up with lunch or dinner. What I definitely DO remember is those sausages – and the herb that so powerfully and wonderfully flavored them…sage? Whatever it was, my compliments to Hailee the caterer!

Back upstairs we do more breathing and singing exercises with Ingrid, including a song by the great South African pianist (and onetime CMS Guiding Artist) Abdullah Ibrahim. Ingrid notes that once upon a time, before the oceans split continents apart, what we now call North America was joined with Africa – and that “we are all Africans,” something I have long felt in my bones. How next will this bruja read my mind???

We then take our places in our big circle around the floor of the Greenwich House recital hall, guitarists flanking me in the area by the front windows, reeds and keyboards across from me towards the stage. Karl Berger gives some brief “basic practice” CMS guidance – such as the instruction that music and rhythm can be like a train, a commuter train, that runs the same circuit repeatedly, so if you feel lost at any point wait til the train comes round again to your “stop,” that part you recognize and feel comfortable with, and come back in there. He also says, at one point, “there’s no such thing as an A” – before introducing Nels Cline, who will repeat “there’s no such thing as an A” more than once and remark how liberating he finds that concept. Nels takes his place at the center of our circle, a tall, gangly, extremely affable guy who tells us of his own musical journey on the road to open-eared listening, name-checking familiar radicalizing signposts from Zappa and Beefheart to Coltrane and Sun Ra to Harry Partch and Anthony Braxton, and telling school-days tales of his brother, master-drummer Alex Cline, and SoCal’s answer to Braxton, reedman Vinny Golia.

Nels begins loosely organizing an initial getting-to-know-you group-improv session, moving slowly around the room, pointing to different musicians to see what they could do. A warm-up, so to speak, similar to what we did with Karl yesterday. As Nels goes round the room to single out certain individuals and small groupings, I am instantly impressed by the playing of some of my fellow participants, especially in the reed and string sections, and all the other drummers again scare the heck out of me with their technique.

After a lovely lunch of hummus, babaganoush, pita, cucumbers-and-feta and olives that has me ready to smash plates in a Zorba dance (and with Karl, Ingrid, Ken and Nels sitting amongst all us participants in typical no-hierarchical CMS fashion), Nels gathers us and speaks about noise and microtonal music. At some point I recall him mentioning the weekend warriors among us reigniting our passion for playing, and saying how he honors that as much as any full-time player – very gratifying to hear! He also mentions the very audible 60-cycle hum in the room, which as a noise fan he enjoys as a legitimate audio element in the mix, and remarks upon the old wiring in the building. This will prove the next morning to have been a most prophetic remark
Nels says he wants us to create “something beautifully microtonal, Harry Partch meets Sonic Youth, over a 6/8 groove,” Oh sure Nels, no sweat! He also tells us he’s going to use cue cards to conduct this piece. In the name of microtonality, he “prepares” the guitars a la Fred Frith, offering the guitarists chopsticks to place under their strings. He says he had to borrow them from his wife, musician Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto fame, and that he’ll need them back! Nels’ cue cards say things like “A# minor” and “leave lots of space” and, at one point, “SCREAM!” – which Nels himself raucously joins us in doing. He also uses hand gestures and eye-contact, of course, to cue certain players or groups to start, stop, get louder or softer or harder. He tells the keyboardists onstage at the two Greenwich House grand pianos (yes, two grand pianos) he wants them to play inside the pianos – and during the jam he goes up onstage and ducks under the raised lids to show them how to really get in there and strum the guts of those pianos, like punk harps.

I’d like to hear this piece back to see how it really sounded but it was a blast to play, in more ways than one, though also a bit nerve-wracking for yours truly, with my extremely limited experience actually Playing With Other People. Nels is able to get us to a level of instant-cooperative music- and noise-making. He’s relentlessly chill, upbeat and supportive. His style as a Guiding Artist is a world apart from my last CMS workshop two years ago, where Steven Bernstein and Amir al-Saffr both spent a lot of time talking as one might expect a music teacher to talk, about chords and scales and modes and in Amir’s case, particular ethnic rhythms, before then applying them to carefully arranged improvs around specific themes. This is much looser and more open-ended. What I like about it is, it both assumes and offers a certain level of respect – to my mind, giving a palpable “you’re out of the nest, now fly!” sense of what it might or must be like to actually improvise music with fellow musicians and for listeners who have come to create or listen with you. Without even ever consciously specifically voicing it, this makes me profoundly aware of how terrifying and exhilarating a responsibility it is to be in such a position. It’s around this time, during a lull, that I remember to resume my role as CMS Twitter Feed Poster, and tweet out a couple of pix of Nels leading the workshop. I see that another participant, keyboardist Sugar Vendil, has mentioned CMS in a tweet: “@ music improv workshop today Karl Berger looked in my direction but I ducked so I wouldn’t get called on to solo #fear #hsjazzbandflashback.” Followed by: “I won’t duck tomorrow!” Sugar, I sure can relate!

Before our next and final improv with Nels, he talks more about what he’d heard and what he hoped to hear, and he says something that I think could serve as a sort of CMS credo: “We all belong, and it’s cool not to belong, too.” More prosaically, he asks the guitars to act as a Greek Chorus throughout our next improv, commenting on whatever had just come before he cued them. Nels feels good enough about this improv to stop guiding and take his guitar and solo at one point, then to sit down and lay his guitar across his lap and bang on it like a drum. Having Nels point to me at one point to solo, I am again made aware, in this minimally “directed” workshop, of the intimidating infinitude of choices anyone purporting to be a creative musician has to make at any time.

The day ends with Karl doing a brief gamala taki exercise, followed by his asking us to play an on-the-spot improv based on his “Time Is” tune from the day before, which he plays on a melodica. Because the tune adds and then subtracts melodic cells over an odd meter (I think), it’s not quite as simple as it sounds, at least for an unschooled out-of-practice drummer like me, so I only remember trying to both stay on time and in rhythm and loosen up enough to actually play. That, and Nels sitting in with us participants, “teacher” grinning from ear to ear as he improved along with the “student” orchestra. Another concluding and very focused listening meditation, and while others take their axes to locked closets downstairs, it’s time for us drummers to break down our kits and cram them into Alex the production manager’s office, somehow, to make way for tonight’s Greenwich House concert. In classic CMS fashion, what at first seems laughably impossible turns out to be surprisingly doable.


After two days of damp chilly weather, the last and longest day of CMS NYC is beautiful and sunny. But it is about to begin with some unexpected drama.

After arriving and running upstairs to set up my kit, I run back down to grab breakfast. The dining areas, which border a courtyard/garden in back of the school, are packed and buzzing with conversation. Just as I walk into the first of the dining rooms – the lights go out. I stop dead in my tracks and wonder aloud if someone leaned on a light switch. Reed player Lee Odom is the one who first notices there are FLAMES BEHIND A WALL OUTLET – an apparent electrical fire! Amid the general uproar I scurry through adjoining rooms til I find a fire extinguisher. Alex the production manager happens to be standing right next to me, so never having worked a fire extinguisher in my life, I hand it to him and he expertly puts out the fire with a quick blast or two. Someone calls the fire department , and no fewer than three hook-and-ladders arrive in what seems like moments. Welp! Breakfast – some sort of bacon facsimile and eggs – is flavored with the tang of baking soda-like fire extinguisher powder and electrical-fire smoke in the air…and relief that Greenwich House is still standing. After wolfing down breakfast, still tasty despite the fire, I overhear one of the firemen asking Alex if they offer guitar lessons at Greenwich House. Only then do I recall Nels Cline yesterday, remarking on the old wiring in this building. Oh, it’s gonna be a barn-burner today alright!

Back upstairs, today’s Guiding Artist, jazz and avant-garde drummer Susie Ibarra . arrives and when I ask, pronounces herself totally fine with the circular setup with the drummers spaced out around it. Now however we have to fit in the house kit she’ll be using as well. Somehow this works out. Susie manages to call us to order and introduce herself – and this in itself is quite a feat, because as great a drummer as she is (and she is great) she is incredibly soft-spoken. It’s actually hard at times to make out her requests and instructions, but I can tell you that at points she says “I’m going to ask you to, for instance, play texture…or play patterns…” As with Nels Cline, her actual “instruction” is minimal: remember, CMS calls them “Guiding Artists,” and sometimes effective guidance is that which leaves us participants to figure things out for ourselves. I’d call it an object lesson in spontaneously coordinated collective improvisation – not just on the level of the actual playing and music-making, but in the respectful and responsible way in which everyone responded, shared, and alternately led and supported. In a way, I think Susie and Nels were both letting us learn how much we already “knew.”

The first, morning piece to play is, like the day before with Nels, a sort of warm-up and getting-to-know-you session, with Susie checking out various groupings by instrument, then breaking us up into different smaller groups with guitars, reeds, keys and drums more or less evenly distributed in each. Again, I must apologize to you readers that my nerves and effort at focusing kept me from better remembering the blow-by-blow after everything happened, but I vividly recall Susie Ibarra slowly walking round the inside of the circle checking us all out as we played, at times staring at us, at others looking down at the floor to really focus on what she was hearing… gesturing at times to change dynamics or recombine us… demonstrating “texture” by gently tossing some small strung-together wooden rattles up and down in her hands… and I also recall more and more of my fellow workshop participants impressing me with their playing.

We break for lunch, which most of enjoy out in the garden since it’s so nice out. Soup, tabbouleh and arugula salad, some cold noodle-veggie salad…it’s all delicious.

For the afternoon improv Susie asks someone to provide a melody. Lee Odom offers one on her clarinet: a lovely, descending birdsong which Susie immediately cottons to. I wish I could recall and describe exactly how Susie Ibarra managed to keep us all focused and contributing for more than an hour and a half on this, without seeming to do much of anything…but somehow she did. I am told we went at it for an hour and 42 minutes nonstop, as the music swelled and subsided, from delicate and tentative, to supple and lyrical, to bumptious and noisy, from thin to thick and hard to soft, with Susie’s hand gestures cueing everyone. At one point she sits down at her drums – finally – just a few chairs to my left, and lets loose, displaying masterly efficiency of motion, thrashing out kaleidoscopic polyrhythms while hardly seeming to move at all – her arms steady above the center-point of her 4-piece kit, pointing downward toward a spot right between her snare, mounted tom and floor tom, only her wrists and fingers moving in real-time time-lapse. Don’t mess with Ms. Ibarra cos when she plays, she don’t play!

Took me awhile to locate my lower jaw after that…. After Susie Ibarra’s afternoon master class, Ingrid leads us in the final vocal workshop: giving us different sounds, from sighs to coos to grunts, to make as she arranges and on-the-spot chorus. Then each of us taking turns inside the circle, instantly and intuitively harmonized notes – “mmmm,” “aaaaaaaahhhh,” “ohhhhh,” “ooooooo,” “eeeeeee” — sung at us, so we really feel the vibrations. We sing the solemn South African “we are going…” one last time and knowing it is the last time this time feels bittersweet. Karl then has us back in the big circle for a final session of “basic practice” with Gamala Taki, which I handle with much more confidence than the previous day, even though there are moments when I, and others, audibly come in early or late with a sounded syllable. I am reminded, again, that putting in actual physical practice time – especially for a drummer – is so important. The body has to develop that sense-memory of the actual activity. It’s the same with something seemingly as nursery-rhyme simple as remembering when to say “ma” and “ki” after several silent beats. Or singing “time is, time is in, time is in time…” It’s not easy – til it is…

Then Karl takes out his melodica to lead us in the last official orchestral piece of this CMS workshop. It’s another disarmingly and deceptively simple tune, his “Five Feelings,” which is, yes, in 5. And Karl arranges it so each drummer gets to take a quick 2 or 4-bar solo. This is big fun. No – it’s HUGE fun. After two-and-a-half days we are starting to get a real feel for each other, maybe…and that combined with the knowledge that this is out last collective shot, I think, has us all really leaning into it. I suspect the long-haired young guitar shredder would agree – I distinctly recall him, as the whole group absolutely ROARED, nodding his head in time, lifting both his arms aloft and making devil horns like some avant-garde Beavis or Butthead. I feel quite buzzed by the time it’s all over.

We break for dinner — lasagna and roasted veggies and some really amazing cheesecake – then concluding participant jams organized by Ken Filiano who’d set up a sign-in sheet for anyone who wanted to play. There are several small groups, all engaging in free-improv from quiet to stormy, often making sound use of silence (pun intended). Sana Nagano on violin, Lee Odom on clarinet, Ras Moshe on tenor, and all the drummers still left make big impressions on me: Aaron Latos absolutely attacking one poor ride cymbal as he erupts from a whisper to a thunderstorm… Will Glass living up to his name with quicksilver free playing that reminds me of Original Free Drummer Sunny Murray’s classic self-descriptive quote that he was trying to play “the constant cracking of glass”… Susie Ibarra’s student Michael LaRocca with ferocious technique and intensity – and then inventive in a whole other way in another, aleatoric ensemble, crouched on the floor making unearthly sounds with electronics. Guitarist Lorin Roser is kind enough to let yours truly sit in on a groove-oriented trio late in the evening, with bassist Dan Dybus – thank you Lorin and Danny!

Of course the other drummers and I are last to leave. As we lug out our gear, I’m pondering the techniques, philosophies and approaches I’d learned by doing during this weekend – and how, if applied with any consistency, they could help me improve both my playing and my listening. I am also confident there will prove to be dividends from this weekend I have yet to even realize. And I am struck by the distinct possibility, the likelihood even, that we took lemons and made lemonade this weekend, making positive use of the difference I mentioned earlier in this workshop vs the ones at Full Moon – dispersing at the end of shorter days into the surrounding big city, rather than being together an entire weekend at a remote bucolic location. I think that may have helped us all focus more intensely and urgently in the more limited time we had together. Making this, perhaps, the streetwise in-your-face CMS workshop. Big thanks to Rob Saffer, Ken Filiano, Nels Cline, Susie Ibarra, Ingird Sertso, Karl Berger, Hailee Powell, Alex and Rachel from Greenwich House, the NYC Fire Department and all my fellow participants!


It was a great experience overall for me. I think the inclusionary and non-judgmental aspect to CMS was very comforting. Everyone has a very open and giving spirit.

Awesome! Everything was very engaging, for me. I can’t say that I ever got bored, or even less than excited. The material is amazing in how it engages musicians of different abilities and backgrounds.

CMS is one of the best things to ever happen to my playing and listening, and I am still processing what I learned at the most recent workshop. These days when I hear live or recorded music, I immediately pick up on how much the musicians are listening to one another – or not. Also, the CMS tends to attract nice people.

Basic Practice was truly, deeply illuminating and I will think of the breathing and rhythm exercises probably every day of my life, certainly every time I sit down to my instrument.

I noticed that since going to the workshop, “There is something different” in my playing. I can’t put my finger on it but there is a noted difference. (And, I’ve been playing nearly 50 years!

CMS is hands-on, learn-by-doing workshop that treats music at its most basic, universal level, developing principles that can be applied to any style.

CMS is the opportunity to get in a room with a rotating crew of legendary musicians to learn their processes in a wonderfully open-minded, accepting environment.

I particularly liked the phrases in compound meters (i.e. ta-ki ta-ki ga-ma-la) and the way that it kept the whole group attentive no matter their background.

A CMS workshop focuses on what is at the core of all music making. A participant can refine and take these elements into their life’s work no matter their specific path. That holds true even for the non-musical participants.

I found the content new and engaging.  As a self-taught musician who does not read music, I was a little concerned that there might be moments where I felt a little behind, but this did not prove to be an issue.  I am really glad that the CMS website accentuates that all levels of musicians are welcome, because that was one thing that really inspired me to “take a chance” and sign up.  And I am so glad that i did because I learned so much and felt at home.

Working with Karl and Ingrid will stick with me for many years.  Their approach to the universality of music and the curiosity with which they approach the unknown has given me a brand new perspective.

For me, a lot of this workshop was about getting back to the very basics – breathing, singing, using the body as an instrument. And Karl is such a good teacher, the basic “gamala taki” does not get old for me. At least not yet – ask me again after I’ve done another five workshops. He’s an extraordinary teacher. He says things that people have tried to tell me for years, but now I finally get it.

Nels Cline had good things to say, and for me the biggest takeaway was his open, welcoming attitude, the idea that almost anything can work in music as long as everyone is listening to one another and allowing room for one another. I also liked what he said about the ups and downs of being a visionary pioneer, that if you want to be totally original, it’s the hardest road to take, because that means you have to convince other people to do things your way. For the rest of us, said Cline, we have to learn the common language of notes and chords. That was insightful.

The secret weapon of the CMS? Ken Filiano! What a musician. No offense to the guiding artists, but as a practical matter, I learned more from talking with Ken or overhearing him in conversation. For instance, when you want to learn a short, staccato phrase, practice it slow, and *don’t practice it legato*. Even if you are practicing at a slow speed, stay true to the sonic image you want to achieve. Practice it staccato and keep the spaces between the notes proportional. Then speed it up. Wow – so obvious and so true. He said that when he tunes his bass, he doesn’t just tune one string to one note on the piano. He uses harmonics on the bass to tune to different octaves on the piano, so he is tuning the entire bass to the entire piano. Wow. And he said he hears first with the belly and only later with the ears. As for volume when playing with an ensemble, he said, “I can hear myself for four hours a day. When I’m playing with a group, I don’t need to hear myself. If I can hear myself, I’m playing too loud.” I would love to attend a workshop of Ken Filiano just talking about how to feel the “one.”