Sunday, March 29, 2009


Cobra!!  This is my cobra post on the blog.  For those not in the know, Cobra is an improvisational game, written by great New York composer John Zorn, out of a multitude of other game pieces that came before it, like fencing, archery, or lacrosse even.  Cobra is his most popular piece in the idiom, and has been performed with Zorn and recorded with him many times over the past twenty years, since it's original inception in 1985.  I was fortunate enough to have a connection with the composition professor at UNC, Paul Elwood, who has performed the piece before, and had an extra set of the rules available for me to scan, study, recopy, and put together a student ensemble to perform it.  On top of that, the rules were compiled by a pianist named Stephen Drury, that has performed the work with John Zorn, and written a pretty comprehensive "score" from conversations with the composer.  This lines up, because Paul Elwood is bringing Stephen Drury as a guest artist in a few weeks, and he will be conducting the piece with our group.

  I have put together a group of eighteen people, including myself, off an on rehearsing this piece for several weeks leading up to this, and believe we are "ready."  We will have one rehearsal with Stephen Drury to work out the kinks, and essentially have an hour to an hour and a half performance with him.  Some of the rules were vague, and I need to still compile a list of questions I have for him, but other than that, the players are solid and this will go well.

Putting on John Zorn's Cobra is one of the most musically rewarding experience I have had to date, and bringing something like this to the seemingly conservative jazz school of UNC is a great experience.  I was nervous about this school when I got here, but finding some of the musicians that I am currently working with, I realize that there are people that can think outside the traditional "box" and can continue my work with continuing music as a progressive art, rather than as museum piece (i.e. Wynton Marsalis and his Lincoln Center vibe).  Although saxophonist virtuoso Ellery Eskelin put it best by saying that these schools of music are arguing over which one is right, Wynton arguing that music that is 55 years old is the "true jazz" or New York Downtown artists saying that 45 year old music is the "true music," like the Ornette/Free Jazz scene.  Ellery's point is that you can use all of that as material to grow from equally, without prejudice one way or another.  His own music comes from his influence of his parents, his mother being a blues organist, and his father an eccentric songwriter, but I digress.

So I am hoping to videotape our performance of Cobra and find someone good with computers to help me slice it up and put it online, on youtube/google videos.  There are existing John Zorn versions of Cobra here, and here to check out.  There are non-Zorn versions of Cobra here, here, and here.  My main complaint with the non-Zorn cobras, or "amateur" cobras as John Zorn puts it, is that they don't interact with the conductor, and it is the conductor that arbitrarily makes all the calls in the game.  I am personally trying to realize it as best I can, with the fullest letter of the rules, so I can play it with Stephen Drury conducting, and then also conduct it myself at a separate performance.  Either way, I will update this blog when the performance happens, and if I can get it posted online eventually.  So check out the videos if you like, and check out the music of Ellery Eskelin, and have fun with music, outside of judging it for what it should or shouldn't be.

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