paradise of flowers where peace might build her nest." - Percy Shelly
For 13 years
the Vision Festival has led a nomadic existence. Wandering from one
venue to another, this brave band of Visionaries, which I am proud to be a
part of, with the ever-present, stalwart & persistent Patricia Nicholson
Parker at the helm & a sometimes shifting cast of characters amongst the
faithful, has plodded thru the institutionalized, gentrified, money-hungry
waters of the lower east side bringing with it always a sense of unity, community
& creativity in the arts.
The festival is a floating institution of architects without a permanent structure
yet with all the blueprints ever needed to perfect the perfect architecture.
One of harmony and productive Utopian ideals, surviving all the adversities
that follow something new, vibrant, anti-commercial & fiercely independent.
Its roots go way back into jazz history. Mingus's Newport Rebels in
the 1960's. Such organizations as The AACM out of Chicago and Black
Artist's group from St. Louis. And here at home, the Loft Jazz scene
with such venues as Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea that produced the famous Wildflowers
sessions. Studio We. Environ. Lady's Fort. Rashied
Ali's Ali's Alley. Ornette's Artist House on Prince Street. The
Sound Unity Festival in the mid-80's. The Stork Festival and Vision's
direct parent, The Improvisers Collective in the early '90s.
What makes these unique is that they were completely artist-run. Most,
though, as with Mingus' attempt, were short lived and some, like with Rivers
and Ornette had "permanent" homes.
After two years of presenting mixed media concerts at The Improvisers Collective,
dancer/choreographer Patricia Nicholson Parker along with saxophonist Assif
Tsahar decided to go for broke and begin an all-out inter-disciplinary festival
that would last for more than a week. Since then it has ranged in scope
from five to eleven days and began to
include commisioned pieces as well as praise days for special musicians both
living and dead each year, such as Jimmy Lyons, Fred Anderson, Billy Higgins,
Bill Dixon and this year the legendary Kidd Jordan.
Most of the money has been raised privately or through grants. And it
can be said that this is the first time in U.S. history that an artist-run
not-for-profit "Avant-garde" jazz festival has survived this long "with
minimal marketing, careful budgeting and consistently high caliber performances."
It has at this point become an international phenomena and now many
festivals around the world include in their programs a Vision night.
Originally called Vision for the 21st Century (a name it has more than lived
up to), the festival began at the Learning Alliance (Lafayette and Houston
St.) in 1996 moved to The Angel Orensanz Foundation (Norfolk St.), where it
has been presented most frequently and then to such venues as the basement
of St. Nicholas of Myra Church (10th St. & Ave. A) in 1999, the former
Electric Circus (New Age Cabaret, 23 St. Markís Pl.) in 2000, the new Knitting
Factory (74 Leonard St.) in 2001, back to Orensanz then on to St. Patrickís
Youth Center (268 Mulberry St.), then back to Orensanz and now this year to
Clemente Soto Velez (Rivington and Suffolk St.) It has also spawned
several spin off series that continue all year round.
Here's a sampling of some past participants:
Musicians: Bill Dixon, William Parker, Fred Anderson, Milford Graves, Charles
Gayle, Matthew Shipp, John Zorn, Thurston Moore, Yo La Tengo, Marilyn Crispell,
Cat Power, Henry Grimes, Joelle Leandre, Sabir Mateen, Dave Burrell, Sunny
Murray and Daniel Carter.
Dancers: Yoshiko Chuma, Trevor Offut, K.J. Holmes, Gus Solomon, Parker
herself, Elaine Shippman.
Visual Artists: Richard Nonos, Alain Kirili, Yuko Otomo, Luccio Pozzi, Kiki
Smith, Marilyn Sontag, Katie Martin, Jeff Schlanger, Kazuko Miyamoto, Jorgo
Schaffer and Jo Wood Brown.
Poets: Jayne Cortez, Amiri Baraka, Daniel Berrigan, Tracy Morris, Bob
Holman, Edwin Torres, David Budbill, Chavisa Woods, and Steve Cannon.
Many of the artists, too numerous to mention, from the above categories, have
at various times collaborated together to create inter-disciplinary works.
This yearís Vision Festival will run from June 10 - 15th and though it leans
heavily toward music, it will, as always, present dance, poetry and visual
art. Two theaters will be employed. One for music, the other for
dance and poetry, while both will exhibit two massive installations.
Some of the artists included are: Oliver Lake, Hamiuett Bluiett, Yoshiko Chuma,
We would all hope to aspire to the credo "IN ORDER TO GIVE PEACE YOU MUST
HAVE PEACE" as Albert Ayler so aptly put it and that waging war in the name
of peace is just not the paving stone of Unity. We all know that
itís about building. Communicating. Working together for the greater
good. Playing together in a big band in this big brutal sandbox in the
most musical, magical ways possible.
The WAYS of CREATIVITY.
Touching the spaces of peopleís lives with the deepest chords imaginable.
Making connections. Always connecting somehow. This is not scientific
but IS about the science of LOVE and deep deep friendship in all its possible
combinations. JOY. ANGER. SADNESS. FRUSTRATION.
Itís about human beings searching in an ever-expanding world that, still in
the 21st century, is out of touch with itself and has so little knowledge
of its own creative forces & infinite possibilities for growth in a non-consumerist,
productive way. Itís about seeking that way. Finding that way.
It is almost Miraculous in the true sense of the word that the Vision
Festival is celebrating its 13th anniversary. I've had "Visionitis"
for quite some time and I hope it never goes away. So I leave you with
the usual chant: LISTEN. OPEN UP YOUR EARS and LISTEN.
version of this piece first appeared in The Brooklyn Rail.