Artist in Residence: Ken Vandermark


Artist in Residence

saxophones, clarinets, composition

Photo by Andy Moor

Artist Statement

I am proud to have been asked to be the artist in residence for the Something Else! Festival of 2017. This invitation has given me the opportunity to bring the DKV Trio (with Hamid Drake and Kent Kessler) back to Canada for the first time in years, and to perform with my duo with Nate Wooley for the first time in Canada outside of Montreal.  In addition, working with festival director Cem Zafir to help organize such an outstanding program has been extremely rewarding- it will give me a chance to play with brilliant musicians like Ab Baars, Steve Bates, Hamid Drake, Kent Kessler, Ingrid Laubrock, Joe Morris, William Parker, Tom Rainey, and Nate Wooley in spontaneous configurations each weekend afternoon; and hear such incredible ensembles as Perch Hen Brock & Rain, Eloping With The Sun, Grünen, Quartet Kaze, Togetherness!, in addition to some of the most captivating solo artists working today: Joe Morris, Tatsuya Nakatani, Nate Wooley.  The number of contemporary improvised music aesthetics involved and the international cross-section of artists who are participating makes this year’s Something Else! Festival one of the most exciting music events taking place in 2017.  I am honored to be a part of it.

-Ken Vandermark

Ken Vandermark with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) & Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)–June 18, 2016
Photo by Dwayne Hodgson at 3rd Annual Something Else! Festival at Artword Artbar

Ken Vandermark Bio

Born in Warwick, Rhode Island on September 22nd, 1964, Ken Vandermark began studying the tenor saxophone at the age of 16. Since graduating with a degree in Film and Communications from McGill University during the spring of 1986, his primary creative emphasis has been the exploration of contemporary music that deals directly with advanced methods of improvisation. In 1989, he moved to Chicago from Boston, and has worked continuously from the early 1990’s onward, both as a performer and organizer in North America and Europe, recording in a large array of contexts, with many internationally renowned musicians (such as Fred Anderson, Ab Baars, Peter Brötzmann, Tim Daisy, Hamid Drake, Terrie Ex, Mats Gustafsson, Elisabeth Harnik, Steve Heather, Christof Kurzmann, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Paul Lytton, Lasse Marhaug, Joe McPhee, Andy Moor, Jason Moran, Joe Morris, Paal Nilssen-Love, Eddie Prevost, Eric Revis, Jasper Stadhouders, Chad Taylor, John Tilbury, Nasheet Waits, and Nate Wooley).

His current activity includes work with Made To Break, Lean Left, Side A, Shelter, Fire Room; duos with Paal Nilssen-Love, Tim Daisy, and Nate Wooley, as well as work as a solo performer. In addition, he is the music director of the experimental Pop band, The Margots; and since June of 2015 has been co-curator of Option, a music series held on a weekly basis at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago. In 2014 he began an independent label, called Audiographic Records, created to document special aspects of his work through albums and books. More than half of each year is spent touring in Europe, North America, Russia, Brazil, and Japan, and his concerts and numerous recordings have been critically acclaimed both at home and abroad. In addition to the tenor sax, he also plays the bass and Bb clarinet, and baritone saxophone.

Instagram: ken_vandermark
Audiographic Records:

Citations of Merit:
-One of the “Chicagoans of the Year in the Arts, 1994” (Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1995) for his work with the Vandermark Quartet.
-Selected as one of the “25 For The Future,” the most significant improvising musicians under the age of 40, by Down Beat magazine, June 1998.
-Selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 1999.
-In 2004 was named among the “Musicians Of The Year” by All About Jazz, New York.
-Picked as one of Chicago’s “40 Cultural Heroes” by Time Out magazine in September 2008.
-Was the first musician to be featured leading his own groups two years in a row at the Newport Jazz Festival (the Vandermark 5 in 2009, Powerhouse Sound in 2010).
-Selected as “Artist in Residence” for the Chicago Jazz Festival, 2012.
-Guest curator at the 2013 edition of the Suoni Per Il Popolo music festival in Montreal.
-Chosen as one of the “Music 45” of Chicago by NEW CITY in 2014.
-Invited to program a 12 set residency at The Stone by John Zorn, which featured 25 musicians from New York, the United States, and Europe; January 5-10, 2016.


DKV photo by Petra Cvelbar

Past Present: a partial history of the DKV Trio, 1994 to 2011

“The whole approach of modern artists is in this will to trap, to possess something that constantly slips away.” (Alberto Giacometti)

The DKV Trio formed in the summer of 1994. Our early years of work took place in Chicago at The Bop Shop on West Division Avenue, the Lunar Cabaret on North Lincoln Avenue, and at the original Velvet Lounge, when it was still on South Indiana Avenue. The band’s first album, a limited edition CD recorded by Malachi Ritscher at the Lunar Cabaret and released by Bruno Johnson on his label, Okka Disk, underscored a transformation that was taking place on the Chicago music scene – new groups, new places to play, a new audience, new labels, new media coverage. Over the next several years Hamid Drake, Kent Kessler, and I expanded our Chicago base by touring in the U.S. and performing in Europe. We recorded a number of albums for Okka Disk along the way, three including other artists (“Deep Telling” with Joe Morris, “Double or Nothing” with the AALY Trio, and “Fred Anderson/DKV Trio”), but most of the performances and recordings were made as a trio. We developed our own language during this period, from the mid to late 1990s, one based on an approach to pure improvisation that created spontaneous “song-forms,” self generating structures that were instantly composed. People often asked who wrote the pieces they heard us play, and most often our answer was that the material was created on the spot.

There was a significant exception to the approach that the trio took toward using completely improvised material – we loved the compositions of Don Cherry. Hamid had worked directly with him for many years and I believe the rapport he developed with Cherry’s music had a profound impact on the music of DKV. When the band performed a breakthrough concert in Europe, at the “Music Unlimited” festival in Wels, Austria on November 8th, 1998 our performance started after one in the morning. The music that evening had been pushed back due to the delayed arrival of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. To this day I don’t think I have ever been so tired as I was before the beginning of that set. DKV hit the stage opening up with a melodic line from Don Cherry’s “Complete Communion”. I still don’t know where I channeled my energy from that night – perhaps the incredible rhythm section of Hamid and Kent or the creative flow of Cherry’s music inspired me (probably both) – but the trio’s gig that evening became one of our seminal recordings, half of the “Live in Wels & Chicago, 1998” album on Okka.

The second half of that album indicates the other most significant musical relationship for the band, our connection to the creative force of Fred Anderson. Hamid’s ties to Fred were profound, and the group started performing at Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge very early in our career. Those meetings led to the idea of doing a record with Fred, which was recorded at Airwave Studios (also gone) on West Roscoe Avenue in Chicago, just weeks before the live session that turned into the Okka Limited CD mentioned above. In this case all the music was Fred’s. I went down to the Velvet in the afternoons leading up to the recording to practice Fred’s themes with him; the memory of those hours is beautiful for me and remains one of my most significant musical experiences. Throughout the years DKV would ask Fred to join us onstage in Chicago. It was always a pleasure- he invariably had a direct conduit to what is joyful about making music.

At the start of the new millennium the trio started to play less and less often, both in Chicago and abroad. There are several reasons for this but the fundamental cause was logistical – it became impossible to organize tours together because of the increasingly complex schedules involved. Then DKV began to get together occasionally after a new venue for jazz in Chicago, the Hideout, started a series called, “Immediate Sound”; the club remains one of the premier places for improvised music in this city. Speaking personally, these concerts somehow left me dissatisfied. I don’t think that the music was unsuccessful, but for me it seemed like an experience of nostalgia, not one of forward motion. And nostalgia was never something that DKV had been about in the past.

Somehow I feel that the music of Don Cherry was, once again, a creative trigger for the band. We were asked to play at the Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival in Sardinia on August 31st, 2008, during a program that celebrated the music of Don Cherry. From the opening moments of “Brown Rice”, I could feel that something had clicked between Hamid, Kent, and I. The music played itself, the elastic language system we had developed together a decade earlier jumped back and the musical conversation that took place onstage was direct and clear, riveting for the players and listeners who were there. From that point on, it was self-evident that there was a proper reason to continue to play together as a trio. For DKV has a rare chemistry that goes past talent and personnel, beyond our own history together and apart. When we meet that chemistry creates an exhilarating musicality that is joy to explore together.

The recordings in this collection on Not Two Records represent the second phase of the DKV Trio, one that began in Sant’Anna Arresi in late August of 2008 and continues now into the second decade of the current millennium. In a sense, the “career” of the group so far is bracketed by significant concerts at the “Music Unlimited” festival in Wels. The first is mentioned above, the second took place 13 years later during the “Long Story Short” edition of the festival curated by Peter Brötzmann in November 2011. DKV made a short surprise appearance before a blistering set of music performed by a sextet that included Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Massimo Pupilo. It felt great to be back on that stage with Hamid and Kent, I hope it won’t be the last time.

Based on the final concert included with this box set- the band’s gig at the Hideout in Chicago on December 28th, 2011 – I know there is much more music to be explored during the group’s future. The show was way oversold, the audience was SRO from the stage to the street, and the Chicago police and fire department showed up to shut down the performance until enough of the audience left to make the venue safe for those in attendance. There were many, many fans who had come in from out of town to hear the music that night, and some listeners from Chicago were generous enough leave to give the visitors room to stay and hear the rest of the show. While waiting for the crowd to thin out after hearing the music, one of the policemen went up to Hamid and said, “Great set”! If you can convince a member of the Chicago police force that music like this should continue, I think it’s safe to say that it’s time for the DKV Trio to get back on the road – there is so much more for the band to do. This collection of music isn’t an attempt to “trap” a past that “constantly slips away” (to use Giacometti’s words), it’s a way to show the willingness of Hamid, Kent, and I to keep looking forward.

Ken Vandermark, Chicago, August 5, 2012.

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