The first Seattle Festival of Improvised Music took place on March 2, 1986 when the late reed player Paul Hoskin organized an evening of spontaneous music-making in a loft space at the Lincoln Arts Center, located at 66 Bell Street in Belltown. Featuring at least two dozen local and visiting artists, the event reportedly lasted somewhere between three to six hours, approximately three of which were recorded on cassette and compiled and released by Hoskin in 2010 as a 3x CD-R box set.
Paul Hoskin, interviewed by Steve Peters (October 8, 2014)
My friends Chris Cochrane and Doug Henderson from New York were touring, and I told them something like, “I have a duo show set up for you, but why don’t we do this large ensemble thing as well?” And they went, “Sure, OK!” So then I sent out invitations to almost anyone that I had played with or seen play in the improvised world at all… I was in a band with Robert Jenkins and Jeff McGrath at that point, so they were part of it. And Brad Stevens, an old reed player friend of mine, was part of it. And the Olympia crowd, Jeffrey Morgan and Harlan Mark Vale were part of it. And it just turned into this large thing… It was fourteen? Sixteen? And it was basically divided [into] three sets, nearly three hours in length, of different small ensembles. It was never a big band. There were a few sextets, though, but it was never everyone playing together at the same time. It was different ensembles… I asked people whether they wanted to just decide that evening, or if they wanted me to do it, and they all said, “Do it, Paul, do it. You do it, please!” Some of them were similar instruments, like a clarinet quintet with James Pelletier and Beverly Setzer and [Brad] Stevens. And then there was a Wally Shoup with electric guitar kind of thing. You know, those arrangements… It was billed as the Seattle Festival of Improvised Music… It was one really long four-hour evening.
Preview by Paul de Barros, Seattle Times, Feb. 28, 1986: “Festival Musicians Make it All Up”
Experimental musicians often speak of “rules” when they perform, rather than the notes, scores, keys, or time signatures of traditional music. An example of a musical rule might be, “No musician may play any note higher than B-flat above middle C, unless it is held for 30 seconds.”
The only rule for this weekend’s Festival of Improvised Music, at 6 PM Sunday at the Lincoln Arts Center, 66 Bell St., is that no musician may play with his or her regular group.
Twenty musicians will be involved. Some of their music will be performed on electronic gizmos, tape, synthesizers and electric guitar, but the majority will come from traditional instruments such as clarinet, trumpet, saxophone and trombone. Members of the Paul Hoskin Trio, the Greinke/Angus duo, Fred, Entropics, Jeffrey Morgan’s New Art Orchestra and the Wally Shoup/Mary Horn duo will perform.
In the past year there has been a remarkable amount of activity – underground and overground – on Seattle’s diverse improvised-music scene. “Improvising” is a fancy word for making up the music as you go along, instead of reading it from a page. At Cabaret Hegel, Soundwork, the 1411 Gallery, The New Melody Tavern, The Fabulous Rainbow, The Oxford Tavern and the now-defunct Here Today Gallery, a small group of improvisers has been presenting concerts regularly.
Paul Hoskin, a bass-clarinetist, has organized Sunday’s festival to celebrate the diversity of the scene as well as to offer a new, casual context for the music.
Donations of $3 are requested.
History Is Messy
There is some confusion regarding the date of the first festival. In fact, Paul Hoskin himself presented conflicting evidence: In the 2014 interview quoted above, he said the year of the first festival was 1985, which contradicts the 1986 date on the CD-R set that he compiled and released in 2010. And in that same interview he first said it was “nearly three hours in length” and then said it was “one really long four-hour evening” – not the six hours claimed on the CD-R cover; so far there is no evidence of what else may have taken place or who may have participated, beyond what appears on the CD recordings. He also said Jeffrey McGrath and Jeffrey Morgan were involved, though neither of them is on the recordings. It is clear that Paul’s memory was not entirely reliable, especially in the last few years of his life.
We have solid evidence that the event documented on the CD-R did in fact take place on March 2, 1986, based on the appearance of Chris Cochrane and Doug Henderson on the recording. Cochrane and Henderson both say that they toured on the West Coast together only once. This poster for a Cochrane/Henderson show in Vancouver, BC on February 15, 1986 places them in the region near the time of the event, and a listing in the Seattle Times has Cochrane and Hoskin playing with poet Judith Roche in Seattle on February 20. On Keith Eisenbrey’s blog, he writes (here and here) about a tape of a Cochrane/Henderson gig at UW’s Brechemin Hall in March 1986, where they shared the bill with Keith’s group Banned Rehearsal (the “duo show” Hoskin mentions in the interview). Eisenbrey has since confirmed the exact date of that show as March 1, 1986 – the night before the festival at Lincoln Arts Center presented on the CD-R set. The 1986 Seattle Times preview above says the festival was on a Sunday, which was on March 2 of that year. The article’s author, Paul de Barros, believes that if it had been other than the first such festival he probably would have mentioned that. A further search of the Seattle Times online archive turns up no mention of Hoskin or a similar event in 1985.
Eric Amrine recalls another large (six-hour) event that Paul put together at Lincoln Arts Center in the Fall of 1985 and feels that was technically the “first” festival, even though it may not have been called that. He believes that this March 1986 festival was actually the second such event that Hoskin organized, and that Hoskin probably conflated the two events in his memory, which could explain why he said the festival began in 1985 in the interview but used 1986 on the CD-R set. Amrine had a cassette recording of part of what he believes was this 1985 event, which he gave to Hoskin to digitize. But Paul never did so and never returned it, and when he died in 2018 the tape disappeared forever. That tape, if it had a date written on it or mentioned on the recording, could have made a case for the 1985 origin myth. So much for Exhibit A.
The 1985 date is also listed on the original Festival History and Timeline compiled by Dennis Rea. Dave Knott later found a coffee-stained timeline from 1985 – 2012 that appears to be based on the same one that Dennis compiled, which was probably handed down by Hoskin. But until someone produces hard physical evidence (with a date on it) confirming a 1985 event explicitly called something like the Seattle Improvised Music Festival, we will consider 1986 to be the year of the first festival explicitly named as such.
Eric Amrine, guitar; Rob Angus, electronics/electric guitar; Johnny Calcagno, electric guitar/tapes; Chris Cochrane, electric guitar (NYC); Cri aka Christian Ninaud, saxophones; Philip Goldman, saxophones/voice; Lori Goldston, cello; Jeff Greinke, electric guitar/trumpet/voice; Jeffrey Haloff, percussion; Doug Henderson, electric guitar/alto sax (NYC); Mary Horn, voice/movement; David Hoskin, synthesizer; Paul Hoskin, clarinets/saxophones; Robert Jenkins, electric guitar/euphonium; Kate Johnston, violin/concertina/voice; Pete Leinonen, bass/tuba; David Milford, bass guitar/cello/tubes; James Pelletier, clarinet/saxophone; Greg Powers, trombone; Charley Rowan, alto sax; Beverly Setzer, clarinets/tubes/voice; Wally Shoup, alto sax; Bradley Stevens, clarinets/tenor sax; Harlan Mark Vale, drums
1. (6:09) Eric Amrine, guitar; Philip Goldman, tenor sax; Jeffrey Haloff, percussion; David Milford, bass guitar; Bradley Stevens, tenor sax; Harlan Mark Vale, drums
2. (7:48) Jeff Greinke, guitar; David Hoskin, synthesizer; Kate Johnston, violin/concertina; David Milford, bass guitar/cello
3. (7:24) Chris Cochrane, percussion; Philip Goldman, soprano sax; Lori Goldston, cello; Pete Leinonen, bass; Beverly Setzer, clarinet
4. (11:29) Rob Angus, guitar/processing; Johnny Calcagno, guitar/tapes; David Hoskin, synthesizer
5. (9:48) Eric Amrine, guitar; Philip Goldman, tenor sax; Jeff Greinke, trumpet; Jeffrey Haloff, percussion; Robert Jenkins, euphonium/guitar; Pete Leinonen, tuba; Greg Powers, trombone; Charley Rowan, alto sax; Wally Shoup, alto sax
6. (4:42) Kate Johnston, violin/concertina; Christian “Cri” Ninaud, baritone sax
7. (7:20) Paul Hoskin, contrabass clarinet; Pete Leinonen, bass; James Pelletier, bass clarinet; Beverly Setzer, bass clarinet; Bradley Stevens, bass clarinet
8. (1:06) Johnny Calcagno, guitar; Doug Henderson, guitar; Mary Horn, voice/movement; Robert Jenkins, guitar
9. (11:04) Doug Henderson, alto sax; Paul Hoskin, alto/baritone sax; Pete Leinonen, bass; Christian “Cri” Ninaud, soprano sax; James Pelletier, soprano sax; Charley Rowan, synthesizer
10. (6:38) Wally Shoup, alto sax; Harlan Mark Vale, drums
11. (3:14) Philip Goldman, voice; Jeff Greinke, voice; Mary Horn, voice; Kate Johnston, voice
12. (6:40) Rob Angus, processing; Johnny Calcagno, guitar; Lori Goldston, cello; Jeffrey Haloff, percussion; Harlan Mark Vale, drums
13. (8:49) Chris Cochrane, guitar; David Hoskin, synthesizer/electronics; Paul Hoskin, alto sax; Robert Jenkins, guitar; Kate Johnston, violin
14. (9:45) Rob Angus, electronics/processing; Robert Jenkins, guitar/euphonium; Pete Leinonen, bass; Christian “Cri” Ninaud, alto/tenor sax; Harlan Mark Vale, drums
15. (8:28) Lori Goldston, cello; Paul Hoskin, E flat soprano clarinet; Charley Rowan, synthesizer
16. (14:03) Eric Amrine, guitar; Johnny Calcagno, guitar; Chris Cochrane, guitar; Jeff Greinke, guitar; Robert Jenkins, guitar; Pete Leinonen, bass; Harlan Mark Vale, drums
17. (5:50) Doug Henderson, alto sax; Paul Hoskin, alto/baritone sax; David Milford, bass guitar/tubes; Greg Powers, trombone; Bradley Stevens, tenor sax; Harlan Mark Vale, drums
18. (3:19) Jeffrey Haloff, percussion; Doug Henderson, percussion; David Milford, tubes; Greg Powers, tubes; Beverly Setzer, clarinet
19. (12:55) Johnny Calcagno, guitar/processing; Mary Horn, movement
20. (14:23) Eric Amrine, guitar; Lori Goldston, cello; Jeffrey Haloff, percussion; Kate Johnston, violin/concertina; Charley Rowan, alto sax/synthesizer; Beverly Setzer, clarinets/tubes/voice, Wally Shoup, alto sax
21. (6:04) Paul Hoskin, baritone sax; Christian “Cri” Ninaud, soprano sax; Greg Powers, trombone
22. (9:13) Chris Cochrane, guitar; Mary Horn, voice/movement; Kate Johnston, violin; David Milford, bass guitar; Beverly Setzer, clarinets; Wally Shoup, alto sax
23. (4:42) Doug Henderson, alto sax; Paul Hoskin, alto/baritone sax; Christian “Cri” Ninaud, baritone/soprano sax; Charley Rowan, alto sax; Wally Shoup, alto sax; Bradley Stevens, tenor sax