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Wayne Horvitz: The Pianist And The Poet

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The last time we went to Seattle, we met a piano player and bandleader named Wayne Horvitz. Among other things, he books a club called the Royal Room, teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, directs a high-school ensemble, and writes and performs many different sorts of music. Jazz and improvised music frames a lot of what he does, but as an artist, it's certainly not the only language he speaks.

"I'm an American composer, not a jazz composer," he says. "My whole life, I've [never] thought of myself as a jazz composer. I've always been in this weird gray area where jazz musicians were the only people who don't consider me a jazz musician. Everybody else does."

Ever since he moved westward from New York in 1988 — he's still remembered by some as the keyboardist in John Zorn's band Naked City — Horvitz has integrated himself deep into Seattle's music community. Fittingly, one of his latest projects was inspired by a Seattle-born poet named Richard Hugo, who wrote often about the American West (and the small-town bars he found therein). The songs based on the poems are collected in a new album called Some places are forever afternoon — a line taken from a poem about the working-class Seattle neighborhood of White Center.

That music takes two of Horvitz's bands — a chamber-music group called the Gravitas Quartet and an Americana-tinged outfit called Sweeter That The Day — and melds them into a larger ensemble. Jazz Night In America recently went to the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle to catch a performance of this music, and to learn how exactly the poet triggered the pianist.


Wayne Horvitz, piano; Ron Miles, cornet; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon; Peggy Lee, cello; Tim Young, guitar; Keith Lowe, bass; Eric Eagle, drums.

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