John Zorn: Autonomy and the Avant-Garde

Avant 3 (T):329-343 (2012)
Abstract
This essay is an excerpt for a larger paper exploring the concept of autonomy as it emerges in the life and work of the composer, performer, record label executive and club-owner John Zorn. Zorn’s activities over his wide-ranging career span from performing at jazz lofts in the 1970s to winning the MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008, while maintaining his status as a prolific composer and producer of avant-garde music. In interviews, documentaries, and in his music, Zorn often comments on his status as an avant-garde producer, specifically within the context of the record industry and within New York City’s so-called “Downtown” scene. Economics take the forefront in determining artistic attitudes towards both production of music and the music itself, as Zorn has, seemingly, been forced by the “mainstream market” to create a parallel, vertically-integrated economic system to support the livelihood of himself and his collaborators. This excerpt, from the first third of the essay, unpacks Zorn’s relationship with Downtown scene, his conception of the avant-garde, and his attitude towards artists who have set precedents for Zorn’s version of autonomous cultural production. It also notes the idiosyncratic way that both Zorn and his critics have placed Zorn’s music both within and without two distinct traditions: Avant-Garde composition and free Jazz
Keywords John Zorn  New York  Downtown  Avant-Garde  Autonomy
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