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Wild Man, Iconoclast, Dreamer: 60 on John Zorn at 60 (Part 2)

By Paul Schmelzer

Categorizing John Zorn is next to impossible, as many of his friends know. Celebrated cellist Fred Sherry dubs him “a big subject: friend, composer, wild man, confidante, connoisseur, dreamer, idealist. One cannot categorize Zorn, as he can be an angel or a devil, a refined conversationalist or a provocateur, but always ready to understand the situation in which he finds himself.” In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Zorn’s birth, we asked 60 writers, poets, musicians, and thinkers to weigh in on Zorn—his innovations, impact, and legacy—and offer a birthday wish. In the second installment of our two-part series, we feature recollections of Zorn from colleagues and friends, including vocalist/composer Meredith Monk, visual artist Yoko Ono, music writer Jon Pareles, composer Terry Riley, and many others.

George Lewis

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that the power of John’s work lies in his deep understanding of what makes us want to risk our very lives, as he has, to create music. I don’t think that John is in love with “all” sound, a viewpoint that is often attributed to Cage—erroneously, in my view. Rather, it is the evocative and meaningful sound that John consistently finds—not only in terms of history and memory, but also, and more crucially, in terms of its emotionally primordial effects on our bodies. With his refusal of convenient fixities and total opposition to cant, John has opened the ears, eyes, hearts, and minds of many people around the world, and I count myself among them with gratitude.

George Lewis is a trombonist, member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and Columbia University music professor.

Joe Lovano

Happy birthday, my man. Thanks for being so strong in your conviction and passion to express yourself through the years with the power of imagination and creation. In the early ’80s you seemed to appear out of nowhere. You made a strong arrival on the scene in New York, and I was happy to hear this young cat on alto with such a free spirit get the attention you did. Look at you now! I’ve really dug checking you out with some of my close colleagues through the years as well—Masada and Naked City, especially. The scenes in New York that you’ve created for us to share our music and perspectives has also been very inspiring. The Tonic was and The Stone is a part of the fabric that makes the city’s music environment so vibrant. I know you’ve created these places so you can play your music and present your ideas. That motivation is the backbone to why you’ve been able to carry on and inspire so many others. I was thrilled to be a part of the Masada Quintet recording Stolas along with Dave Douglas, Uri Caine, Greg Cohen, and Joey Baron… Man, that was a beautiful session. I loved the music and the way you lead the proceedings… Getting you to join us on one tune on alto was also memorable and a strong statement. All I can say is the years to come are like the icing on the cake. Happy birthday again. Buona Fortuna.

Joe Lovano is a jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader.

Brad Lubman

When I think of all the multifarious things in music that John Zorn has done (and continues to do) with the utmost intensity, sincerity, and integrity, one phrase comes to mind: absolutely amazing! He is, indeed, absolutely amazing and a great inspiration. I am honored and very happy to know him and to have the opportunity to work together.

Brad Lubman is a conductor and composer.

Jon Madof

I first met John Zorn in 2002. I had been a fan of his for many years, and finally felt that I was ready to present him with some of my music. I approached him at one of his “Improv Night” events at the now-defunct NYC club Tonic. I was quite nervous and remember being unable to swallow as I approached him. When he turned around to greet me, the fear dissipated just enough to introduce myself and tell him that I was, to put it lightly, a big fan. He was very gracious as I handed him my demo CD and commented that he liked the cover art.

I received a phone call from John about two days later, asking me if I’d like to record a CD for Tzadik Records. Since then, I’ve had the very great pleasure of working with him on numerous occasions and getting to know him as a person. From working with him in the recording studio to performing with him on stage to listening to his recordings, the openness, depth, and brilliance of John’s music and personality have only become more and more apparent to me during this time. He never ceases to amaze and inspire, and embodies the spirit of artistic vision and commitment more than anyone I know.

Jon Madof is a guitarist and composer.

Reiner Michalke

Irasshaimase!

John is a strikingly observant person. When he enters a public space, be it a music club, a restaurant, or whatever room, the first thing he does is glance around to see if there’s anyone there he knows—and whether anyone there knows him. This alertness, which leads seamlessly into open curiosity, is the driving force behind his whole personality. He is interested in everything and wants to know everything—preferably immediately. What distinguishes him from most of his musician colleagues is that he doesn’t try to cut himself off from the tidal wave of information that rolls in every day. On the contrary, in fact, he absorbs everything, works with it and makes himself into an inexhaustible source of news. Sensory overload to him is not a threat but a form of artistic stimulation. Even in the moments when his work comes across as being wholly impulsive and random, there’s always a plan behind it. I personally know no other artist who goes about things with such focus and such a clear idea of what he wants as John Zorn.

Reiner Michalke is program director of the Moers Festival, an annual international jazz fest in Germany.

Bill Milkowski

The depth and breadth of John Zorn’s musical vision is as profound as his creative output is staggering. Hard to imagine that a single person can be so incredibly prolific and varied in his musical expression from project to project. While most artists are content and proud to release one new recorded work per year, Zorn routinely turns out 10 to 12 projects annually, each one wildly disparate from the next. And when Zorn pours equal amounts of conviction and focus into producing a grinding, thrashing power trio album as he does a tender chamber music album or evocative meditations on mysticism, grandiose cinematic works, tributes to William Burroughs or William Blake or Arthur Rimbaud, gorgeous etudes, violently intense guitargasms, radical new Jewish music, or hauntingly beautiful madrigals sung in Celtic, you have to wonder whether he’s got multiple personalities going on or if he’s just a frickin’ genius. When I first met Zorn in 1980–81, he was playing duck calls in a bucket of water. Thirty years later, he’s an internationally renowned force of nature who has amassed a catalog of over 400 recordings for his Tzadik label and continues to kick out potent new projects at a staggering rate. Yeah… the guy’s a frickin’ genius!

Bill Milkowski writes for Down Beat, Jazziz, and Jazz Times. He is the author of Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius and co-author of Here And Now! The Autobiography of Pat Martino.

Meredith Monk

I was first aware of John Zorn in the mid-1970s when I received a tiny note written in tiny but exquisite handwriting. It was about my opera Quarry, and was signed “John Zorn.” I wondered who he was. Just the name was intriguing.

Then I heard more and more about John and began going to his concerts. I was delighted by the combination of playfulness and rigor in what I heard. A spirit of mutual respect and generosity permeated the performance, and all the musicians had incredible chops.

John and I became good friends over the years. One time in the late ’90s I was complaining about the noise and smoke from a bar that had moved into the street level of my building. I told him that the irritation and assault were becoming unbearable.

John said: “Meredith, just say the word. I have some friends in the JDL [Jewish Defense League] who would be glad to break some knees.” I replied that since I was a Buddhist practitioner, I didn’t think that would be such a good idea in the long run. John said: “I’ll take the responsibility for the karma!”

That irreverent, indomitable, down to earth spirit is so much part of John. He is one of the most expansive and energetic people I have had the privilege to know. He has always kept the big picture (his love of music) in mind and has shared his resources with countless composers, musicians and audience members. The new music world would never have been the same without him.

Meredith Monk is a composer, singer, filmmaker, choreographer, and director.

Ikue Mori

John has opened up many doors to me. First he invited me into the improvising music community almost 30 years ago. He gave me the opportunity to work with Tzadik to make album covers where I have learned to create visuals digitally. He always pushes me forward to create, and he’ll always be there for support. If I hadn’t met John, I wouldn’t be here as I am now. Happy 60th, John!

Ikue Mori is a composer, improviser, and performer; she is performing as part of the Walker’s John Zorn @ 60 celebration.

Yoko Ono

I always enjoy working with John Zorn. We seem to click in the sweetest way. Now I found that he is a connoisseur of Unica Zürn—and he loves French fries! A lovely combination of things that makes him John.

Yoko Ono is a visual artist, musician, composer, and peace activist.

Jon Pareles

The stairs down into the basement of a Greenwich Village pet store—with the unforgettable name Exotic Aquatics—led me to the first of many John Zorn performances, sometime in the late 1970s. I’m pretty sure it was one of his game compositions: improvisations guided by rules that the musicians knew and the audiences didn’t, with Zorn signaling enigmatically when the next one would go into effect. It was a night of squawks and clatters and twangs and conniptions and crashes and silences, with intensely concentrated listening taking place onstage and in the audience, along with laughs when the sounds got silly enough. And it was, like so much of the music Zorn would go on to make, both conceptual and visceral, both serious and playful, something to enjoy in the moment but also something to make you think about the nature of music-making.

Zorn was just getting started on a career that has defined independence. He has made and recorded more music than most mortals can keep track of, in a wild assortment of idioms and inspirations: klezmer, cartoon soundtracks, jazz, hardcore, and beyond. And along with his own enormous repertoire, he has also created and maintained an infrastructure—a record label (Tzadik), a club (The Stone)—for music and musicians that are far from commercial. Back then in the Exotic Aquatics basement, no one could have guessed that Zorn would have such a long game.

Jon Pareles is chief pop music critic for the New York Times.

Zeena Parkins

Zeena Parkins is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, improviser, and harpist.

Paola Prestini

There are few compositional careers that have really inspired me; John Zorn’s is one that I have aspired to emulate, for many reasons. His life, heart, and art, have filled my own musical and personal life in so many ways.

In a time when the musical establishment was more about narrowing doors than opening them, John burst through. But he burst through not just for himself, but for a legion of artists looking for a home: a corner where one could be heard, nurtured, and let loose.

John’s career has always been about integrity, depth, and exploration. He knows no boundaries, and, as his friends will tell you, he goes to his own limits to help his community and yet manages to maintain a rigorous composition schedule and a sense of humor about life.

My time with John is always cherished. And, I would go to the ends of the world for him! He inspires this in people. I truly believe what it takes to be a 21st-century artist is a combination of skill, foremost, with a sense of entrepreneurship, a skill for educating and communicating, and a certain degree of activism.

John’s career displays a mix of these skills. Listening to his music is an intricate gorgeous map of his life, his interests and his passions. I can’t wait to read the next map. Happy birthday, my dear friend.

Paola Prestini is a composer and founding artistic director of the interdisciplinary arts company VisionIntoArt.

Steve Reich

Happy birthday, John! You’ve stayed with your vision, and who could ask for more? Along the way, you’ve also helped a lot of other composers by getting their music out on your Tzadik label. Just keep it up to 120!

Steve Reich is a leading composer of 20th- and 21st-century music.

Marc Ribot

What can I say after so many sessions, so many gigs, so much Chinese food? I came to NYC in 1978 to do the kind of gigs you could only do in NYC—i.e.: working with New York composers, which ultimately led me into contact with John. I went to check him out at an improv gig at some club on 2nd Street—near 2nd Avenue; can’t remember the name, but some cavernous rock dive. It was in the early ’80s, a brief moment when, as some critic said, rock was “like a bullet passing through the body of pop.” And whacked-out free-prov was like a bullet passing through the body of rock, and Zorn’s sax playing was like…etc., etc., etc.

The first time I met John was on a plane to Tokyo. I was going there with the Lounge Lizards to do a gig. John was eating a huge chopped liver sandwich from the Carnegie Deli (apparently, he believed that airplane food causes jet lag. Who knew?) A few months later, I was playing alongside Robert Quine on my first Zorn recording date—a score for a Japanese children’s cartoon The Cynical Hysterical Hour. It was both. I got my first taste of John’s scores, conduction style, and manic pace of work. One of Zorn’s verbal instructions to Quine: “I want you to sum up your whole life in this seven-second solo.”

Quine: “I’ll just lay out.”

The funny thing was this: neither Quine nor I came from the world of reading conducted classical/new music scores. (Quine got upset if you didn’t give him the music to a 12-bar blues at least two nights in advance). But Zorn not only dug what we did, he composed for it, for us. He wanted to access what we were doing, and he managed to do that in such a way that it didn’t contract what he was doing.

Zorn has always worked with a community of musicians, and he has a very finely calibrated sense of how far he can push each player—in terms of reading, chops, etc. He can be really demanding in the studio and live, but I have to say that I’ve done some of my best work on Zorn sessions. He has the deepest inside knowledge and compositional language for the electric guitar of any composer I’ve ever worked with—and the experience of recording The Book of Heads, Asmodeus, and any number of other projects has really opened up my playing. The border between through-composed, improvised, conducted, and improvised within parameters can be very hard to hear in Zorn’s music. So many people told me they dug my “solo” in the last movement of Kristallnacht: I was just playing John’s score. Anyway, I’m honored that John has invited me to perform all these years. It’s been a wild ride, and it ain’t over yet.

Happy birthday, dude.

Marc Ribot is a guitarist and bandleader; he is performing as part of the Walker’s John Zorn @ 60 celebration.

Terry Riley

My irreplaceable Sufi brother in the current of sound, you are the mighty tide that lifts all boats. You are the kick-ass dude that keeps things right. I want to say straight, but your path is an endless curve, that describes the world from Boogie to Nada Brahman. You show the possibilities of our Meat-Wheel endeavors, blast gravity to bits, rocket us out there to your kaleidoscopic landscapes. I know it is hard work keeping your head above water while the Universe thrusts the endless stream of masterpieces through your being, but you make it look easy. Thank you for your million inspirations. Thank you for your band of crazy angels that complete the vision. Thank you for your awesome support that props up the young ducks and old Ustads. Thank you for the incredible blueprint of how to navigate 60 meaningful years. Thank you for the tears that come to my eyes when I hear Erik Friedlander play “Harhazial.”

Terry Riley is a composer and pioneer of the minimalist music movement.

Ned Rothenberg

It’s hard to believe it’s 35 years now since John and I used to practice Charlie Parker solos together. His prodigious accomplishments in creative music are simply unrivaled in their scope and diversity and yet the touchstone of a singular aesthetic identity infuses every effort. John’s artistic vision is amazingly focused, open to extraordinary breadth of sources, yet direct and decisive in its execution. Finally, you must add to that the fact that he is a total mensch. I cherish his friendship and congratulate him on this 60th year celebration.

Ned Rothenberg is a multi-instrumentalist and composer.

Jay Sanders

New York is full of secret histories. John Zorn is a living extension of the most radical and hermetic energies of Manhattan’s past 50 years. In his own works, his collaborations, and his utterly crucial endeavors to bring forth the art and music of countless others, he has mapped much of the terrain on which we now all traverse to find our aesthetic salvation. On days when I get discouraged or uninspired, I really always remember a quote by John about truth in art, “it’s here … it’s always been here … if you can’t see it, that’s YOUR fucking problem!”

Jay Sanders, a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, co-curated the 2012 Whitney Biennial.

Yuval Sharon

“Extreme” and “limitless” are the words that first come to mind about John Zorn—not just in terms of his musical language, which pushes performers to a virtuosity they didn’t even know they possessed, but also as a way to characterize his own insatiable curiosity for all types of expression. I went to hear John perform countless times in the Lower East Side before having the privilege to present a workshop of his opera La Machine de l’Être at New York City Opera’s VOX. Even though John’s extreme writing wasn’t the most comfortable fit for the City Opera Orchestra at the time, it was thrilling to help bring John’s piece to life, and I was overjoyed that the workshop did nonetheless lead to City Opera fully producing the work. Here’s to another 60 years of defying the limits!

Yuval Sharon is an experimental opera director and artistic director of The Industry.

Fred Sherry

John Zorn is a big subject: friend, composer, wild man, confidante, connoisseur, dreamer, idealist. One cannot categorize Zorn, as he can be an angel or a devil, a refined conversationalist or a provocateur, but always ready to understand the situation in which he finds himself. It all comes out in his music whether composed or improvised. John is a student of all instruments and possesses an instinctive grasp of continuity and an uncanny ability to put together a wide variety of influences and inspirations in his work.

A word which comes to mind when thinking of John Zorn is generosity. It comes out as sympathy for friends and colleagues, professional support for worthy musicians and an everyday respect for people of all occupations.

Here’s to you, John!

Fred Sherry is a cellist.

Yoko Shioya

I could never properly articulate just how unique of an artist John Zorn is. John is an eternal challenger of musical creation, a humble leader for his peers, and, I must mention, a wholehearted lover of Japan and Japanese music! Over the past decade, Japan Society has been privileged to work closely with him as a curator of our Tzadik Music Concert Series, for which he invited Japanese experimental musicians from his Tzadik label roster. John was also the key initiator behind the Society’s 12-hour-long earthquake and tsunami charity concert, organized in the immediate aftermath of the March 2011 disaster. This year, we are extremely excited to be a part of this birthday celebration and will present a special concert to honor the occasion—a duet with Ryuichi Sakamoto—in October. Otanjoubi omedetou, John!

Yoko Shioya is artistic director of Japan Society.

Melissa Smey

John Zorn is one of my all-time favorite composers. He is boundlessly imaginative and energetic, with hundreds of recordings and compositions to his credit. He is also an incredibly smart, generous, and thoughtful colleague. Through his performance venue, The Stone, and his record label, Tzadik, he has helped build and continues to support a vibrant and diverse community of artists, musicians, and composers. In my first several years as director of Miller Theatre, John has been one of my most valued advisors and creative partners.

We first worked with John at Miller Theatre on a Composer Portrait concert in 2001, and we’ve been lucky to have him back nearly every season since then. We’re planning an amazing three-night tribute this September which will honor his 60th birthday and Miller’s 25th anniversary. I have great memories of attending the 50th birthday celebrations at New York’s Tonic, which included the classic Masada quartet and my first exposure to Cobra, so for me personally it is really special to be one of the presenters collaborating on this 60th birthday cycle.

Melissa Smey is executive director of Arts Initiative and Miller Theatre at Columbia University.

Wadada Leo Smith

Happy birthday, Mr. John Zorn. This is from your closest friend and greatest admirer. I am greatly thankful for all the work you have done providing opportunities for musicians around the world, to showcase their music and their critical thoughts and concerns in the artistic dimension. Your research and influence in music composition/performance cannot be measured by all the good wishes you are receiving on your 60th birthday, but it should be noted that without your presence on this planet, the state of the artistic community would have been very different.

I love you, and please enjoy this 60th birthday day.

Wadada Leo Smith is a trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, improviser, educator, and member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

Tim Sparks

John Zorn is to me the epitome of postmodern multitasking because he easily works on so many levels. Perhaps music has cultivated this unique hierarchical state of mind… or perhaps he was just born that way. He relies on a rock solid instinct for what is authentic to juggle elements of a complex cultural vocabulary while composing and curating his label Tzadik Records with an infectious enthusiasm. He is confidant, passionate, and decisive… kind of a whirlwind.

Tim Sparks is a guitarist, singer, arranger, and composer.

Kiki Smith

By a miracle of disasters, many of the tenement buildings on the Lower East Side were abandoned in the ’80s and many buildings were sold to people for a nominal fee. This enabled many people, who otherwise would not have been in a position to consider owning apartments, to acquire them and have the stability of a community; which meant that it turned out that many of what would be considered the radical musicians of my generation have been able to live in proximity to one another in the East Village for the past 30 years. So it is quite often that when I leave my house and walk down the street I see John Zorn going about his life and I am reminded of his rich contribution to the neighborhood, his support of other musicians through the Stone and other avenues, and his generosity to younger musicians. Happy birthday, John.

Kiki Smith is a contemporary visual artist.

JG Thirlwell

John Zorn sets the bar ridiculously high. The term “genius” is bandied about way too freely, but I think it genuinely applies to Zorn. He has music flooding from his fingertips; he’s a visionary and generous spirit, who has galvanized a community of hundreds of players and composers in New York City and around the world thru Tzadik, the Stone, and a million other projects. He can simultaneously be an iconoclast who can peel lead paint from walls with thunderous abandon and a master of colliding styles, the work dizzying in its complexity, creating exquisite beauty and transforming worlds. I admire the hell out of him. Thanks, JZ, we love you.

JG Thirlwell is a singer, composer, and producer (Foetus, Manorexia, Steroid Maximus).

Jalal Toufic

I wrote in the second edition of my book Distracted (2003): “A cinema … can exist without cameras (as was made manifest by such films as Len Lye’s Colour Box, 1935, and Free Radicals, 1958, with their painted or scratched film stock; and Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight, 1963); without editing (Warhol’s Sleep); without projection, in an art for the dead à la that of ancient Egypt …” or in an art addressed to angels (whether or not the work’s title invokes them). Elsewhere in the same book, I implied that it can also exist without a filmstrip, performatively, through my rhetorical question: “By the way, is Duras’ L’Amant de la Chine du Nord ([The North China Lover;] Gallimard, 1991), with its, ‘This is a book. This is a film,’ part of world cinema?” Regarding cinema, John Zorn is neither just a musician who has made music for film (including, in Filmworks IV: S/M + More, for my Credits Included: A Video in Red and Green [1995]) nor just the writer of a script, Treatment for a Film in 15 Scenes, of which four filmmakers have already made cinematic versions; some of his works, for example, Spillane, confirm that cinema can exist without a camera, filmstrip, and projector—without this being accomplished performatively. In the absence of criteria of who is a poet, a thinker, a musician, or a filmmaker, one can infer that one is a poet by the circumstance that someone ceased writing poetry on account of one’s writings: “On reading Hegel, I ceased considering myself a philosopher and trying to write philosophy and turned instead to other kinds of writing; what confirmed that I am a poet was that some so-called ‘promising young poets’ ceased to try to write poetry when they read my work.” I can very well imagine someone saying: “I stopped considering myself a filmmaker and trying to make films on hearing John Zorn’s Spillane and Godard. Inspired by many of his other works, I became a musician.” John Zorn is not only one of my favorite musicians but also one of my favorite filmmakers.

Jalal Toufic is a thinker, mortal to death, and author (Undying Love, or Love Dies).

Hal Willner

In the first volume of his memoirs, Bob Dylan wrote about when he first heard the Brecht/Weill song “Pirate Jenny”: “It was a new stimulant for my senses / I’d become rightly impressed by the physical and ideological possibilities / Woody (Guthrie) had never written a song like that.” It liberated his thinking on music and composition—showed where it can go. Freedom. Of everything I have gained from listening, seeing, working with, as well as being a friend of John Zorn for the past 36 years (geeezzzzusss), it is that freedom and the possibilities of what music can do that his art has shown me.

In the ’80s, I somehow had various opportunities to expose some mainstream audiences to “avant-garde” artists—and, for better or worse to my career—I took advantage of that. I will never forget putting John on national television (NBC) performing “Snagglepuss” following Aaron Neville singing “Tell It Like It Is.” At first the audience was jaw-dropped shocked. (Imagine the crowd shot in Mel Brooks’ film The Producers after seeing “Springtime for Hitler.”) But then I actually saw in quite a number of their faces the realization of that freedom and (really) it changing things for them. That is the power of music and what it can do.

Happy birthday, John. I’d like to say something about the next 36 years, but, well, it’s not possible.

Hal Willner is a music producer for recordings, TV, and film.

William Winant

I was taken by John Zorn from my very first encounters with his music, hearing a game piece (I think Rugby?) in Hartford during a New Music America Festival in 1984, playing Cobra for the first time with Zorn in San Francisco 1987(ish), and hearing Naked City in Chicago in the early ’90s. I was blown away each time by the musicianship, the creativity, the energy, and originality of the music. It’s so fresh and vital every single time!

It’s quite an honor to consider him my friend and colleague. I’ve learned so much from knowing and working with him over the years. He’s been a great source of inspiration not only to me but to a multitude of musicians and artists from around the world!

Happy 60th birthday, dude!

William Winant is a percussionist.

Stefan Winter

The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comes to my mind when I think about John Zorn. His wild music, no compromising, is shocking, like a deep scar on the face of the bourgeois society. Please do not misunderstand me: I believe art has to be like a scar, but John Zorn’s work is much more then that. On the other side, his great financial and also artistic support for other artists is fantastic. John Zorn stands as an example to all those who care about artistic freedom. He gives other artists not only trust but also help to realize their own potential. He is one of the art world’s most challenging contemporary artists and a great benefactor for other musicians.

Stefan Winter is founder and executive producer of Winter & Winter.

Julia Wolfe

John Zorn, you are one of a kind. Brilliant, creative, passionate, idealistic, honest, ballsy, charming, a leader, a friend, a rebel. It makes me smile to think of you. Two memories come immediately to mind. First memory: John bopping into the RAPP Arts Center to lead one of his pieces at an early Bang on a Can Festival, tearing off his leather jacket and throwing it onto the floor, the music exploding from the stage. Second memory: John coming to rap with my students at NYU, encouraging them all to do their thing, not to be swayed or controlled by outside powers. Then sitting with John afterwards in Washington Square Park on a bench for a long stretch—a great hang—talking and laughing. John, you are totally lit up—like New York—and I wish you continued great music-making, good health, much joy.

Julia Wolfe is a composer and founding director the Bang On a Can Festival (and ensemble).

Nate Wooley

John,
At the height of my own insecurity, you became a friendly voice, not one I was expecting, but one that became very important to me. And I thank you for that. You’ve been a musical hero, but now I consider you a source of strength and inspiration. I’m constantly in awe of your unceasing creativity and your consistent gravity in the reality of any situation, musical or otherwise. There are a few very special people in every generation and I consider myself very lucky to know one. Happy birthday, John, and here’s to many more.

Nate Wooley is a trumpeter and composer.

Charles Wuorinen

I’ve known John Zorn for many years, and though our worlds are somewhat different, they overlap in several crucial ways: concern to maintain high standards of quality, impatience with the cant and nonsense of much of the musical scene, interest in sonic invention, and many others. Zorn is a superb performer and a most inventive composer. And he is a true musical citizen, reaching across many barriers to help and advance innumerable others. As one who has long passed the sixty milestone, I salute him on his birthday, and want to cite what a colleague told me when he was in his nineties: “Cheer up! Things will get worse.”

Charles Wuorinen is a composer and winner of a 1970 Pulitzer Prize for music.

Otomo Yoshihide

John Zorn’s existence has made the Tokyo music scene something rich and something special. Through him I was able to meet many people and find my own music. He is always giving us a lot of deep questions through music that opened up my eyes and ears and then brought me into deep thought and philosophy.

Happy birthday, John! Thank you so much!

Otomo Yoshihide is a composer and multi-instrumentalist.


Read part one in this series, “Visionary, Mensch, Dude: 60 on John Zorn at 60.” Have a birthday wish of your own? Please leave it in comments.

“Yeah… the guy’s a frickin’ genius!” —Bill Milkowski

“An irreverent, indomitable, down to earth spirit is so much part of John. He is one of the most expansive and energetic people I’ve had the privilege to know.” —Meredith Monk

“His music is an intricate gorgeous map of his life, his interests, and his passions. I can’t wait to read the next map.” —Paola Prestini

“My irreplaceable Sufi brother in the current of sound, you are the mighty tide that lifts all boats. You are the kick-ass dude that keeps things right.” —Terry Riley

“He can simultaneously be an iconoclast who can peel lead paint from walls with thunderous abandon and a master of colliding styles, the work dizzying in its complexity, creating exquisite beauty and transforming worlds.” —JG Thirlwell

“He is a true musical citizen, reaching across many barriers to help and advance innumerable others.” —Charles Wuorinen

John Zorn

Photo: Ziga Koritnik

Poster from Zorn’s 1988 Walker performance

John Zorn at Jazz Middelheim 2012

Photo: Bruno Bollaert, Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

Poster from Zorn’s 1986 Walker appearance

John Zorn on the Walker stage, December 1986

With musicians Bill Frisell, Jim Staley, Christian Marclay, Wayne Horvitz, David Weinstein, Carol Emmanuel, Bobby Previte, and Arto Lindsay.

Photo: Walker Art Center Archives