SIMF #6 – 1991

The 6th Seattle Festival of Improvised Music took place May 16-18, 1991 at the Swan Cafe. Organizers were Johnny Calcagno, John Hawkley, Russell Roman, and Charley Rowan (aka Identity Productions).

Participating artists:

Eric Amrine, guitar (Fauxbatics); Bob Basnich, drums (Dink); Jodi Baum, ? (Sinecure); Myles Boisen, guitar (Notochord; SF Bay); Johnny Calcagno, bass clarinet (Calcagno/Greinke); Ken Clare, sax (Sinecure); Lesli Dalaba, trumpet (Dalaba/Ring/Turner); DINK (Basnich, Fisk, Hosler); FAUXBATICS (Amrine, Galligan, Rowan, Shoup); Steve Fisk, electronics (Dink); Mike Galligan, drums (Fauxbatics); Tom Gorton, ? (Slagwerk); GRINDING GEARS (Hawkley + ?); Jeff Greinke, electronics (Calcagno/Greinke); Chris Hanszek, ? (Hanszek/Hinklin/Junk); John Hawkley, ? (Grinding Gears); Rich Hinklin, bass (Hanszek/Hinklin/Junk); Robert Hinrix, guitar (Notochord); Robin Holcomb, piano; Wayne Horvitz, piano; Mark Hosler, electronics (Dink); Frank Junk, percussion (Hanszek/Hinklin/Junk); Ideophony (members ?); Rob Kohler (Montana), bass (Ideophony); Lars Larson, ? (Slagwerk); Pete Leinonen, bass (Leinonen/Wald); Lowell Lyberger, ? (Lyberger/Powers); Kenny Mandell, sax (One Hand Clapping); Eric Muhs, ? (Notochord); NOTOCHORD (Boisen, Muhs, Hinrix); ONE HAND CLAPPING (Raffel, Mandell); Greg Powers, trombone (Lyberger/Powers); Scott Raffel, sax (One Hand Clapping); Eric Ring, keyboards (Dalaba/Ring/Turner); Russell Roman, guitar (Sinecure); Charley Rowan, ? (Fauxbatics); SINECURE (Baum, Clare, Roman, Taylor); Wally Shoup, sax (Fauxbatics); SLAGWERK (Gorton, Larson); Janet Taylor, ? (Sinecure); Pete Turner, percussion (Dalaba/Ring/Turner); Ted Wald, bass (Leinonen/Wald) 

Preview by Cathy Ragland, Seattle Times, May 10, 1991:

Improvisers To Get Their Licks In — Annual Music Festival Spotlights The Impromptu

For committed improvisers, the annual Seattle Festival of Improvised Music is an opportunity to celebrate, and in some ways validate, an often misunderstood approach to music performance.

Though the process of improvisation in composition or practice is something almost every musician is familiar with, few recognize it on its own as a form of musical expression. Improvised music and those who perform it are rarely part of the musical mainstream, relegated to small, out-of-the-way performance venues and few, but intimately devoted, fans. Part of the problem some people have with improvisation is that it’s not so easily definable as a style or musical technique. Improvised music is closer to an attitude that both responds to and reacts against the more established forms of music such as rock, jazz, blues, classical and pop.

In most performances of improvised music, little is pre-planned and recognized musical genres and instruments associated with them are often taken out of their “established” contexts and interpreted in new ways. For some listeners, this approach to performance may be unsettling and confusing. Many of us have little faith in the validity of music that is composed “for the moment.” Yet, in the hands of seasoned players who are familiar with a variety of musical languages, improvisation can be an exciting, expressive experience for the audience as well as a creative challenge for the musician.

“As an improviser you are composing music as you are performing . . . it’s not written out,” explains festival organizer Charley Rowan. “I do play written music, but it’s great to make it happen through interaction with another player rather than being confined to a written composition. It’s a fresh and exciting experience for the player and the audience. Improvisation is a process not a product.”

Seattle is one of the few cities in the country to have developed a thriving, well-connected community of improvisers, not to mention an annual festival to support it. Now in its sixth year, the festival has evolved from a close-knit gathering of musicians who began by primarily performing for each other, to a more broadly focused showcase of a unique music form that can be enjoyed by non-musicians as well. The festival, like the scene, has come a long way. The first invitation-only series seemed an endless array of solo and group performances presented in different clubs and performance spaces. Now it’s a publicized, three-day event of 20-minute group performances all happening at one location. It’s a less self-indulgent approach, one that offers the uninitiated listener the opportunity to sample from a talented smorgasbord of players and music styles.

“There are a lot of people who think this is music for musicians only,” veteran saxophonist/improviser Wally Shoup said. “I think the festival is a good way for people to see that there are many levels and varieties of improvisation. The festival gives improvisation a sense of focus and it brings out the quality players who have made this music their life.”

Though interest in improvised music in Seattle has expanded over the years as a result of the festival, the bulk of the support comes from the musicians themselves. And though the festival has never received any outside funding and has no “official” organizer, traditionally one or more musicians within the community will feel compelled to take up the task on their own to plan the annual springtime event. This year four longtime local performers – Rowan, Johnny Calcagno, Russell Roman and John Hawkley – formed a planning committee to bring together some 15 groups for three nights of improvisation. With a decidedly “group only” theme, this year’s festival features rare collaborations with top local players along with guest performers from California and Montana.

An active supporter of improvised music in Seattle for 10 years, a past festival organizer, and one of the city’s most prolific solo saxophone players, Shoup will be pairing up with keyboardist Charley Rowan and guitarist Eric Amrine as Fauxbatix. Northwest-based music producer and wizard of tape manipulation Steve Fisk heads up the group Dink with fellow electronic-minded music experimenters Bob Basnich and Mark Hosler (also a member of California’s Negativeland). One of the city’s best-known composers of new music using prerecorded tapes and sampling techniques is Multimood recording artist Jeff Greinke, who will be performing with Johnny Calcagno. Also featured are former New York-based avant-jazz musician/composers Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb.

Performing on a variety of instruments that usually include percussion, saxophone, keyboard samplers, guitars and the like are Sinecure, Slagwerk, Ideophany (from Montana) and Notochord (from San Francisco), which features former Seattle musician Eric Muhs and Robert Hinrix. Experienced local improvisers who perform with a definite jazz edge are bassists Pete Leinonen and Ted Wald and jazz trio One Hand Clapping.

No festival of improvised music would ever be complete without at least a few handmade instruments, which are the featured ingredient in Grinding Gears led by John Hawkley.

As the list of performers stretches on, so do their unlimited, unexpected, and very personal, approaches to music performance and style. And for many local musicians, that’s what will keep the local scene and the festival going for years to come.