Born: September 2, 1953 Primary Instrument: Sax, alto
John Zorn is an American composer and saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist.
As a child, Zorn played piano, guitar and flute. He studied at Webster College (now Webster University) in St. Louis, Missouri, where he discovered free jazz. Dropping out of college and moving to Manhattan, Zorn gave concerts in his small apartment, playing a variety of reeds, duck calls, tapes, etc. He eventually became a major participant in the fertile Downtown experimental music scene.
In the mid 1980s he signed to the Elektra-Nonesuch label. Since then, Zorn has been quite prolific, usually putting out several new records each year.
In 2006, Zorn was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Every once in a while, you can catch him live at Tonic club in NYC where he hosts jazz jams and marathon regularly.
His breakthrough recording was perhaps 1985's The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone, wherein Zorn offered a number of often radical arrangements of Morricone's famed songs from various movies. The Big Gundown was endorsed by Morricone, and incorporated elements of traditional Japanese music, soul jazz, and other diverse musical genres.
Zorn owns the Tzadik record label and has worked with a large number of experimental musicians, particularly in improvised music. He is inspired by other artists and different musical styles. He has a special attraction to underground artists and musical styles that are extremely loud, wild, or creative. He is perhaps best known for his work with Masada, with Joey Baron (drums), Dave Douglas (trumpet), Greg Cohen (bass); Masada is an Ornette Coleman-influenced band playing compositions based on Jewish scales. The Masada songs are part of the songbook with several different arrangements. These include the Masada String Trio, Bar Kohkba, and Electric Masada. He has also played with Painkiller (a mix of grindcore and free jazz in which he is joined by Mick Harris of Napalm Death) and Naked City (an often aggressive mix of jazz, rock and thrash metal). He has also worked with musicians such as Bill Frisell, Gary Lucas, Wayne Horvitz, Derek Bailey, Cyro Baptista, Trevor Dunn, Mark Feldman, Fred Frith, Erik Friedlander, Keiji Haino, Bill Laswell, Arto Lindsay, Mike Patton, John Medeski, Ikue Mori, Robert Quine, Marc Ribot, Jamie Saft, Kenny Wolleson, and the Violent Femmes. He has written music for television and film, which has been collected in the ongoing Filmworks series of records on his label, Tzadik. Some of these are jazz-based, others are classical.
Zorn has also written several game pieces, in which performers are allowed to improvise while following certain structural rules. These works are in the main named after sports, and include Pool, Archery, and Lacrosse, as well as Cobra. He is also often noted for his postmodern, sometimes extreme, use of formal blocks, units which he combines and contrasts in various ways. Zorn discusses his history and the musical philosophy behind his early works in the book Talking Music by William Duckworth.
Most recently, he has become the principal force behind the opening of The Stone, an avant-garde performance space in New York's Alphabet City which supports itself solely on donations, giving all door revenues directly to the performers. Zorn holds the title of artistic director.
Zorn has lived and worked extensively in Japan and performs and records under the name Dekoboko Hajime, collaborating with and producing for numerous artists including Merzbow, Otomo Yoshihide, Melt Banana and of frequent collaborator Yamatsuka Eye. Many of these artists have now released albums on Tzadik and some regularly travel to New York where Zorn is based.