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George Grella

George Grella is the Rail’s music editor.

In Conversation

HENRY THREADGILL AND JASON MORAN with George Grella and Raymond Foye

Jazz, at its best and most essential, is a way of making music that is embodied in the musicians, in what they are imagining and playing in the moment. A fundamentally oral tradition, and one of the most sophisticated of its kind, jazz is far less ably served by written and recorded documents than almost any other kind of creative human activity. Jazz is the players; know jazz by following them, seeing them, hearing them.

Read This

Music fans are free to like what they like, while music critics, if they’re worth anything, have to be able to explain why they do or don’t like something in a way that might convince someone else. In that sense, Alex Ross is a true music critic and worth quite a bit.


Every generation claims that the pop music it heard when young was classic, and the stuff kids listen to nowadays is crap. Pure crankiness? Well, in the case of pop music of the last forty years, it may be true.

MET 2.0

Lincoln Center is different nowadays. Outside, there is a sleek new fountain and a Parisian-style grove.

Low Art and High Drama at the Met

The 2009–2010 Metropolitan Opera season began with arguments over Luc Bondy’s new production of Tosca. The most aggrieved party was Franco Zeffirelli, whose work Bondy’s replaced.


The roots from which a jazz musician grows are important and interesting to follow, and since virtually the entire history of jazz has been captured by recording technology we can hear the players that other players listened to, followed, imitated, and then moved away from.

BAM Agonistes

In the mid-1980s, I lived on Ft. Greene Place in Brooklyn, a sketchy block in a neighborhood that mixed the grand and the rough-and-tumble.

Songs for Swinging Babies

I’m not a witch; I’m you. Like you, I want to make sure that my musical taste is informed but not stiff, critically based but wide-ranging, privately elite in feel. And I want to make sure I can imprint that taste on my baby, so that not only will she be the hippest among her peers, but that her hipness will reflect back on me. Yes, I’m you: a Brooklyn parent.

ALAN PIERSON: Making “Brooklyn's Orchestra”

The biggest news about music in Brooklyn this year didn’t come out of Williamsburg, BAM, or the banks of the Gowanus Canal. The source was the offices of the moribund Brooklyn Philharmonic, which announced the appointment of Alan Pierson as its next artistic director. It was a classic case of an arts organization acting boldly, rather than just talking a good game.

The Return of the Brooklyn Philharmonic

The Brooklyn Philharmonic’s new Music Director, Alan Pierson, has been clear about his desire to make the ensemble “Brooklyn’s orchestra” and to do so by making music in neighborhoods throughout the borough. More than a traveling show, the orchestra will be making music that has something to say to the culture and history of each neighborhood.

The Meaning of the Village

The answer is simple, really—so obvious that the harder you look for it, the more you work the problem, the easier it is for it to pass by unnoticed, hiding in plain sight. In the midst of a country that labels and commodifies every banal feeling and notion and sells it as culture, it is common to overlook the fact that music, every moment of intentional sound and listening, has meaning

Brooklyn is Burning

One of the new things at the Brooklyn Philharmonic is C.E.O. and Managing Director Richard Dare. He spoke to the crowd briefly before the Phil’s closing concert on June 9 and alluded to the stir he’s created with his series of energetic and opinionated essays on the state of classical music and arts organizations.

Brooklyn’s Children are Singing

For decades I’ve gotten the question, “My son/daughter wants to learn music; what’s a good way to start?” There are all sorts of ways to answer this. The parents are usually thinking about piano lessons, which works, but my answer is to have their children learn to sing.

BAM Next Wave, Part I

In the 1980s I witnessed a lot of dreary performance art, which in retrospect might have been amusing except for all those minutes and hours lost, never to return. To think of the constructive things I could have been doing, like drinking beer, masturbating, or listening to Bob Murphy broadcast a Mets game.

The Producer As Critic

Now that everyone has GarageBand, or Ableton, or Renoise or REAPER, or Ardour, and now that everyone has a SoundCloud or Mixcloud account, or is a member at Indaba—yes, I’m guilty many times over—everyone is a music producer.

Zorn @ 60

Musical time is different than the flow of time in which we swim, and so the distance between John Zorn’s 50th birthday celebration and this month’s 60th is better gauged by concepts like magnitudes or dimensions rather than mere years.

The Danceification of Electronic Music

I have two things open in front of me as I write this. On my computer screen is an application window for Reason 7, a digital audio workstation that emulates the look and methods of a hardware-based electronic music studio.

Diary Of A Mad Composer

I seethe when I hear Rand Paul or any of our professional ignoramuses explain to us how a country so rich that it can afford their sinecures cannot pay back miserly levels of support to people who have already contributed to the unemployment system.

Diary of a Mad Composer

River-run, past ghosts and memories—that kind of feeling haunted me on a damp, chilly night in mid-January, stepping out of the premiere of Kamala Sankaram’s strong opera, Thumbprint, then rushing down to the NYU Law Library to check in for Winter JazzFest.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of April in New York City.

Allen Lowe Against the Jazz Tradition

Fine arts and literature each have a well-established academic and commercial establishment that defines—through teaching, curating, buying and selling, and criticism—what it means to be working inside them. “Outsider Art” for them could be something as innocuous and tautological as a painting or a book that was created beyond the limits of what the establishment has set as normative.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the months of December and January in New York City.

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October Listings

Don't miss this month's selection of live performances in New York.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Making music is a social activity. There are exceptions, of course, but ever since human beings started to make music, we have done so with other people, whether in a concert hall or a social ceremony.

Diary of a Mad Composer

This seems to be a golden age for writing about music. The monetary costs to blog, or publish a book, are almost nil (once you have a computer). That leaves inclination, time, and effort, which is a technical way to define passion.

Diary of a Mad Composer

The Metropolitan Opera is decadent and depraved. That's not entirely the Met’s fault: the house is a reflection of the values of its milieu, the world of grand opera. But the Met helps to create and shape this world, which means that the institution has the power (through money, influence, and its place in the public imagination) to affect the confluence in which it stands.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Musically, Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe is known as art song, meaning it’s a set of songs, based on some kind of poetry, written a long time ago in a language other than English. In this case, the songs come together to tell a complete story, like a concept album.

Diary of a Mad Composer

When I was at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, there were times when I went to my composition lesson with Conrad Susa, we would sit down, and Conrad would look at me and say, “don’t you just get sick of music?”

Diary of a Mad Composer

“If only everybody in the world read The New Republic, the world would solve all its problems.” – Ian Buruma Those words—spoken to neo-liberal warmonger, and New Republic contributing editor Paul Berman, and for which I will eternally love Ian Buruma—I would paraphrase as: if only everybody in the world embraced political art …” The appeal of political declarations—whether they come from the endless herd of white men in blue suits yammering on TV or in the pages of political journals, or from an artist painting a slogan in the wilds of, well, there are no wilds left in New York City—is that of a consumer product: a simple, easy to swallow meme that provides instant satisfaction because it goes down agreeably.

Diary of a Mad Composer

I’ve been listening to the blues lately, a lot of blues. I was filling out my ballot for DownBeat magazine’s jazz critic’s poll, and when I got to the blues artist and blues album categories, I had a lot of catching up to do.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Record labels are dead, and good riddance—they controlled and exploited musicians for decades, stole their income, and stifled their musical creativity. So the story goes. It’s true, but it’s also not true. Things aren’t that simple.

Trust in the Label(s)

Look for most of these labels at good record stores, and there are still a few, especially Downtown Music Gallery in a basement space on Monroe Street in Chinatown. You can also order straight from the labels.

Whadda You Got?

Welcome to the new Brooklyn Rail music section. If you don’t notice anything new, if it seems fully congruous with what you’ve been reading for the past few years, then we’re doing our job right.

What Are They To You?

For every culture there’s a counter, in every niche there are yet further discrete splinters, internal disputes that boil down to who has the purest values. Then there are the rare instances of individuals who are cultures solely of themselves, who are sympathetic to this group or that, but who ultimately never conform to anything except their own view of things.

Scenes From The Class Struggle

I must confess; I'm an imposter. I am sincere, and my intentions are good—I am a music maker, and the importance of the art and my values around it are my foundation for criticism. And I’m no dilettante; I have performed over the decades at classical venues, CBGB, and weddings. I compose music that others play. My dedication is serious. Why else write hundreds of thousands of words for less than starvation wages? But as a critic, I’m an imposter. Without comped access, there’s no way I could afford to see any of the musical events I attend. In a way, I’m in disguise as an audience member.

Fake Music For Fake Times

America is a fake country. As a political state, its beginnings were multicultural, multi-lingual, and built on an economic foundation of feudal exploitation via slavery and indentured servitude. Perhaps that explains the virulence of the idea that Americans are, and have always been, white English speakers who worship a (Protestant) Christian God and have earned everything they have.

Out of Time

The joke is right there: it’s ambient music, in a church!

Deep in the Groove of History: The Art of Conduction: A Conduction Workbook

Butch Morris was resolutely on the outside, though from a distance, and with the advantage of time, it seems clear that he wanted to be on the inside, like all artistic innovators who see their work as the most natural, understandable thing in the world.

Blood Memories: Matana Roberts at the Park Avenue Armory

Maybe music is the best means to tell stories.

Swiss Beats

“Like the fella says, in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love—they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” – Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man

Notes Toward the Death of New York

Nobody misses being mugged, but that danger was part of the every day reality of New York City in the ’70s and ’80s. Anyone could get mugged, pretty much any time or any place, including the old Times Square that, through the Vaseline lens of memory, has somehow been transformed into an object of sweet nostalgia.

Do Not Seek For Things Outside Yourself

For anyone who came to Tyshawn Sorey’s own records through his incredible drumming—what seemed a superhuman ability to take the complex sequenced rhythms of IDM, like those from Autechre, play them back and make them swing—in groups led by Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman, and others, the quality of his composing was (and still is) stunning and disorienting.

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October Listings

October’s Highly Selective Listings

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December/January Listings

Winter Listings

Winter Jazzfest

The Known and the Unknown: Winter Jazzfest marathon, January 11-12, 2019

We are all going in different directions. The simplicity of that statement from John Cage disguises how deep it is, how it runs counter to the trends of human experience. We are individuals insofar as we act as such.

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February Listings

The Rail’s February Music Listings

Elliott Sharp’s IrRational Music

Artists and critics on the vanguard these days are suppose to be past the idea of genres, other than to set them up like bowling pins to be scattered by the force and momentum of insight and truth.

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March Listings

The Rail’s Highly Selective March Music Listings

Nothing’s Bad Luck

The irony, of course, was that after so many years trying to kill himself with booze and drugs, it was fucked up when Warren Zevon, sober and otherwise healthy, contracted mesothelioma, the terrible cancer of the lungs that delivered the coup de grace.

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April Listings


Pay the Artist

Roscoe Mitchell needs no more accolades, he's been lauded many times over for what he has created through decades. Yet he does need to be rewarded, meaning he needs to get paid.

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May Listings


Mark Berry's Arnold Schoenberg

It is no criticism of Berry's fine book and clear, illuminating thinking that at its close I did not find Schoenberg any more pleasing. Rather, to his credit, Berry explained to me why I like so little of Schoenberg's music.

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September Listings

September’s Listings


When Milton Babbitt wrote his article, “Who Cares if You Listen?” he unleashed a virus that has proven itself as robust and contagious as the flu. Published in High Fidelity magazine in 1958, the article quickly turned into a totem representing both every piece of new composing that audiences didn't even want to try to listen to and also how irrelevant those audiences were supposed to be to modern composers—and vice versa.

The Shed is Falling Down

Two things about The Shed are unsurprising: the banality of its programming and its shoddy construction—making money is the most banal pursuit, and so The Shed reflects both Hudson Yards' purpose and values as well as the cost-cutting and trimming that's all part of being a real estate developer.

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Live performances around the city this winter

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Live performances around the city in January

Quarantine Hall

The playing was agile, sensitive, transparent. The musicians were completely open to the experience, sincere, eschewing all gesture and affect. There was an ongoing feeling that every line and phrase was part of a seminar, relaxed but with focused energy, every word not only spoken with meaning but placed in the most perfect grammatical and syntactical structure.

Lontano (“As from a distance”)

Music making is a social activity, and that fundamental feature of touch at a distance is not just a physical realization of socializing, but likely something that motivated early humans to make this thing we now call music, a social desire for connection that brought about an enormous evolutionary step.

Beautiful, Goodbye

The greatest political music is also protest music and is also great music. The elements go together—it takes mental discipline, craft, and artistry to take something that at least a plurality of people would agree with and turn it into a statement of fact and grievance that can wound a political-social system. It takes no courage to say torture is bad, fascism is bad, racism is bad, and leaving it at that has no effect on the body politic.


Ambrose Akinmusire is the top trumpeter in this year's DownBeat magazine Critics Poll—his mysterious and beautiful January set at the Winter Jazzfest, a penumbra of dark and compelling sensations that enveloped the Irving Plaza crowd, earned my vote.

Home is Nowhere

Ambient music has been the only thing that has truly responded to the current cultural moment. It seems like the only thing that could do so.

Opera in Our New World

Everything has changed for performances, so performances have to change. For opera, this should be an important reckoning as to how the Verdian model is no longer relevant, no matter how fresh the music or timely the topics. The opportunity is here—there’s no stage for a while, just speakers and/or screens.

Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker

The unofficial “Mayor of the East Village” is arguably the Mayor of Free Jazz; as a collaborator and bandleader, he is the literal connection between Cecil Taylor, Matthew Shipp, Cooper-Moore, Susie Ibarra, Leena Conquest, Amiri Baraka, and many, many others.

A Year With Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno’s Diary

And this is where A Year With Swollen Appendices is most insightful. The Appendices are informative, short essays through which Eno presents his thinking and values. The diary part of the book, for the most part, is informative in a different way.

Maryanne Amacher: Selected Writings and Interviews

The clarity, beauty, and fundamental simplicity—and also utter sincerity—of her ideas and work make her intuitively comprehensible.

Where Are We?

Music-making is a social activity, bringing people together into a temporary society and culture that exists around the performance. Culture is how we share and pass on ideas and values, so it is important for venues and institutions to look beyond the pandemic and plan on once again creating these myriad enlivening evenings of small societies with shared pleasures and purpose.

Time, Lost and Regained

This past August, TIME:SPANS combined last year’s postponed programming with a new 2021 schedule and presented 11 concerts. That number of evenings dedicated to music from the first or second Viennese Schools would be definitive, but near a quarter way into the 21st century, a listener is barely getting a partial survey of what’s happening on the contemporary scene.

The Voice of America

We are, as unimaginable as it used to be, entering an era where Black musicians in classical music are conspicuous only for their abilities. Marian Anderson opened that door.

Diary of a Mad Composer

I’m at Carnegie Hall to review a recital by pianist Denis Matsuev. Not sure what to expect, haven’t heard him play in years and my only experience with him has been in Rachmaninoff piano concertos, Matsuev soloing in front of orchestras conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Diary of a Mad Composer

In 1964, Dizzy Gillespie ran for president as a write-in candidate. The campaign wasn't serious, and I have no opinion on Gillespie's ability to administer the executive branch and America's laws—although I am intrigued by the idea of Miles Davis as the CIA director and Malcolm X as Attorney General—but the idea has been simmering in my head since I first found out about this, in my teenage years.

Coming Together: Long Play 2022

Long Play is a Bang on a Can initiative, so that means the festival had concerts dedicated to music by the founders, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars were one of the central ensembles—and yes, they played their arrangement of Eno’s Music for Airports.

Diary of a Mad Composer

The reason there are critics—and that there need to be critics in perpetuity—despite the general and ancient American cultural allergy to “negativism,” is that there are a hell of a lot of bad ideas out there, and more than a few of them are dangerous to the overall prospects for society. If anything, there’s more of a need for critics now than ever before, because it’s easier now than ever before for malevolent buffoons like Elon Musk or Andrew Yang to influence the direction of government.

Notes From Aboveground

Underground music, the stuff at the margins, is vital to the health and longevity of future music. It almost exactly follows the rhythms of human life, with one generation giving birth to and raising the generation that follows and will replace its parents, again and again and again.

In The Eternal Now

The weekend of the renewed Ragas Live Festival, Taylor Swift’s new album, Midnights, also dropped. The two are connected because in a fundamental way all music making is connected, but in a much more salient way because the album—and pop music as a whole—and ragas—and related traditions as a whole—are two opposing ways to solve the same problem; how to establish an expressive link to the listener so that they experience what the musician wants them to experience?

Life on the Contingency Plan

Theory is the thing here, this is a study of theories. It does gesture at practices, but in ways that show how thinking and writing about improvisation are so beholden to theory that the book is full of claims that sound like they are being made by an alien, sent to study the human race and report back on the marvelous, intriguing strangeness of all these creatures.

Kerry O’Brien and William Robin’s
On Minimalism

This is a peculiar book. It is a collection of original source documents from the creation and development of minimalism in music, edited and introduced by musicologists O’Brien and Robin. It is expansive in both time and concept—the first excerpt is by Amiri Baraka, from his article “Miles Davis: One of the Great Mother Fuckers,” which dates from the mid-1980s, and the last is a translation of Éliane Radigue’s 2009 essay “The Mysterious Power of the Infinitesimal.”

Alex Pappademas & Joan LeMay’s Quantum Criminals

Has any band had a longer tail than Steely Dan? Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon has been a consistent seller for decades, but that’s more a murmur of rock in the steady state background of culture. Floyd were a global nova and their long commercial dissipation will continue.

Cecil Taylor, Home At Last

December 1989, sitting next to my best friend at the time, young men drawn to exciting and daring artistic ambitions that we couldn’t quite understand. We’re in Town Hall, witnessing Cecil Taylor and Max Roach playing a concert celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their historic live recording at the Miller Theatre.

Cage at 100

If you surveyed the concert programs of orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music ensembles across the country, then sorted the statistics, you would think that the center of gravity in classical music was slowly rotating through Central Europe—with occasional vacations to France, Italy, and Russia—as it did from the early 18th to early 20th centuries.

BAM Next Wave, Part II

We live in a post–Bang on a Can musical world.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of May in New York City.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of June in New York City.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the summer in New York City.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of September in New York City.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of October in New York City.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of October in New York City.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of February in New York City.

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of March in New York City.

All Gates Open: The Story of Can

One weekday afternoon some time in the spring of 1989, if I've not lost too much to the vagaries of memory, I was in my Fort Greene apartment, trying to occupy myself constructively during one of my frequent stretches of unemployment. I know it was a Monday, because I tuned in to Tony Coulter's Monday Afternoon New Music show on WKCR, and heard the most mesmerizing and unclassifiable music I had yet encountered.

In Conversation

DANIEL LOPATIN with George Grella

The music that Daniel Lopatin—likely better known as Oneohtrix Point Never—makes doesn’t truly have a name at the moment.

Highly Selective Listings

November Listings

November Listings

February Listings

Live performances around the city this month.

March Listings

Live performances around the city this month.

In Conversation

MATTHEW SHIPP with George Grella

Matthew Shipp is one of the most creatively restless musicians in contemporary music. He is most immediately identified with the free end of jazz, and his notable peers have included bassist William Parker, saxophonist Ivo Perelman, and the late saxophonist David S. Ware. His playing is rooted in the blues and features complex harmonies, a sound that is simultaneously rich and unstable—chameleonic.

Jen Shyu and the Music of Loss

There are those times when one encounters talent that goes beyond normal experience, talent that is a pleasure to witness but difficult to grasp—like grabbing smoke, the standard tools are inadequate. That's what it's like at one of Jen Shyu's performances.

Daphne A. Brooks’s Liner Notes for the Revolution

Adored by audiences and critics through the years, Brooks gets behind the pop fandom and the cultural image-making and puts plainly in front of the reader’s gaze how Black women musical artists are, by their very nature, revolutionary cultural figures.

Henry Threadgill and Brent Hayes Edwards’s Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music

It is absolutely a measure of his importance and achievement as a musician that a major publisher has brought out this book, Henry Threadgill’s autobiography (written with Brent Hayes Edwards in a fluid and engrossing style close to that of an oral history). Jazz in general is not a subject the big publishers are interested in, much less for someone like Threadgill who has been a leader in the avant-garde for decades.

Steve Lehman Makes History

Steve Lehman is not the first jazz musician with a Ph.D. in composition—that distinction probably belongs to Mel Powell—nor is he the first to make jazz with the formal and structural tools of the Western classical tradition.

New Venues New York

In the past few years a number of new venues have popped up in and around New York, run by musicians and curators who understand the pivotal fact that it matters where and how you hear music, that spaces matter for a performing art.

A Vocabulary for the World

What does it mean to be a composer? Like many words, its definition and cultural significance have accrued through the ages. The definition—someone who writes music—is plain enough, but the way the word has been used in Western culture for the last 300 years

Time Cycles

Philip Glass’s new memoir, Words Without Music, is an absorbing, graceful, and humane window into the interior life of one of our most important and arguably most famous composers. It also reads—and this is in no way Glass’s intention or fault—as a sad, even despair-inducing silhouette of an economic and social environment, and the room within it for a deeply committed life of creative work, that no longer exists in New York City, and probably not anywhere in the United States.

Diary of a Mad Composer

I don’t think it’s possible to gauge even the approximate extent to which we take electricity for granted. Many of us take vacations where we unplug from the digital world, but still have lights to turn on. We can go camping, and even do so with our phones turned off (do we actually leave them behind?), or any GPS device. But the last time civilization as a whole contemplated a world without electricity was during the murmuring panic about Y2K, which was a dud everywhere except for our bizarre imaginations.

Selling Out to Freedom

52nd Street is gone, Slug’s is gone, even Sweet Basil is gone, but there’s still something of a jazz world around, populated by musicians, fans, and habitués.

Masters of Their Own Reality

Which came first, the string quartet or the String Quartet? There’s semantic and historical interest in the answer. It’s fair to say that the String Quartet, as a compositional genre, began with Haydn.

Winter Jazzfest

Diary of a Mad Composer

The first notes I heard in the Winter Jazzfest were the elegant, intelligent, muscular sounds of trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and his ensemble, Sicilian Defense.

Five Pieces at the Kitchen
The Beautiful and the Good

Beauty is underrated. Beauty used to be an important value in music, but one of the peculiar, and most significant, anomalies in the history of classical music is how beauty came to be distrusted and disregarded.

To Have Not And to Have: O17, Philadelphia, September 14 - 25

John Cage’s Europeras 1 and 2 were scheduled to premiere at the Frankfurt Opera House on November 15, 1987. Three days before opening night an unemployed, former East German resident broke into the building, looking for food, and ended up setting a fire that gutted the place.

Songs About Fucking and Killing: Diamanda Galás at Murmrr Theatre, October 31

At the end of Diamanda Galás’s generous and delicious encore to her spell-binding Halloween show, she sang “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill” and “Gloomy Sunday.” A man in the row behind me wept loudly.

Music: A Subversive History

Songs about fucking and killing—that would have also been an appropriate subtitle for this scintillating new book from Ted Gioia. He’s already written three valuable books about the place of music in society and human experience, Healing Songs (2006), Works Songs (2006), and Love Songs: The Hidden history (2015). Music: A Subversive History builds on those by digging down into the fundamental nature of music, how it is made and how it affects us.

In Conversation

ANDREW OUSLEY with George Grella

Andrew Ousley is not an artist or a musician: he’s, in truth, a businessman. His firm, Unison Media, represents classical musicians for marketing and promotion. But he has another organization, Death of Classical, through which he has become an impresario, presenting concerts in two of the most beguiling locations in New York City; the crypt under the Church of the Intercession (The Crypt Sessions), and the catacombs in Green-Wood Cemetery (The Angel’s Share).


In this world, however, jazz and improvised music do have that quality of being a constant undercurrent of thought, imagination, and practice, something that comes through prominently in public at certain times and on certain stages. More than anything else, that’s the fundamental value of the annual Vision Festival, which hit stage and screen at Roulette and The Clemente from June 10 through June 18 with panel discussions, documentaries, and of course a ton of vibrant music.


MATA Festival 2014 was the biggest yet, a week of events centered around six straight days of concerts at the Kitchen (April 14th – 21st). The Rail brings you exclusive coverage of all the concerts.

Noah Creshevsky’s Archives

You could say that Noah Creshevsky sits at the crossroads of the world. He lives in a comfortable apartment—where he keeps his composition studio—a short walk from Times Square, and his music and compositional career are an intersection for several important directions for music, old and new, high and low, traditional and technological.

Diary of a Mad Composer

August meant a working vacation for me. I was out of the country, but someplace no one thinks of for R&R: the medium-sized, post-industrial Moravian city of Ostrava.

Do We Deserve Beethoven?

You can buy Beethoven in a box. Lots and lots of boxes, or on individual flat discs of various sizes. You can rent him, temporarily and in the moment, through your computer or other streaming device. That is, you can own him, but do you deserve him?

Mark Stryker: Jazz from Detroit

Ask the question, where does jazz happen, and the likely answer will be New York (or New Orleans, for the historically minded). No one is going to mention Detroit, not even dedicated jazz fans.

Diary of a Mad Composer

With concerts back after a year and a half of pandemic closures, you'd think I'd be happy, if not ecstatic. Instead, I walk the streets and keep asking myself, "why do we even have classical music in America?"

“Trust The Funk”

For most of 2020 and at least half of 2021, musical artists were forced off of stages, out of venues, off the road, and into some form of isolation. Those circumstances brought forth a lot of streaming, remote performances, one-man-band-type recording experiments, and attempts—some astonishingly successful—to collaborate musically while working and playing in separated, remote locations.


We remember a person most acutely in the sharp period after we learn of their passing. After reading about Robert Ashley’s death on Kyle Gann’s blog Postclassic, I went scouring music and book sites to see what recordings and writings of his I might be missing.

Undiscovered Lands

In this issue, we explored far and wide to bring you a group of talented artists, each with strong and unique voices, who deserve to be heard and known by larger audiences—enjoy this guide to our discoveries.

My Year in Music

Every year, I feel fortunate to realize that there is such a consistent stream of interesting, worthwhile, and enduring music being made. The combination of new music and new thinking about older music is a testament to the inherent musicality of human existence: music defines our souls and our civilizations.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

2016 began January 10, the day David Bowie died, and concluded October 13, when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Winter Jazzfest

Winter Jazzfest 2020:
Groove is in the Heart

Rock and roll is Black music. White musicians play it, and play it well—like every other music it belongs as a practice (not an object) to those who make it with sincerity—but it began as Black music. And as this double-bill in the cozy kitsch-chic of The Sultan Room shows, it's at its best in the hands of Black musicians. That's because rock, at its best, is about shit.

Bang on a Can

There’s always been dance music, Haydn and Mozart made it before Chic did, there’s no reason the pop musicians should have all the fun.

Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic

To interpolate an old line about sports, fans hear with their hearts. Hopper is a critic who, like all of us, is originally a fan, and that delineating is often hazy and, in the space of this book, self-contradictory—not in the way that happens to us all, having an opinion about a thing and then later changing our minds, but in terms of values.

Hearing With Your Eyes

Let me begin by dispensing with Walter Pater: occasionally the plastic arts do indeed achieve the condition of music. You can go hear for yourself at two concurrent museum exhibitions in New York City, one for Harry Bertoia, the other for Stuart Davis.

Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion

Steely Dan played the Paramount Theatre in Seattle on the first of July, 1974—there's a live recording—and the MC introduced the band thus: "Ladies and gentlemen, here by popular demand and at great expense to the management, you may like them—personally I don’t—from Los Angeles, California, Steely Dan!"

Highly Selective Listings

Our June Listings

Highly Selective Listings

This summer’s highly selective listings

Where Did Our Lust Go?

In the tidy, fun Punk Lust exhibit at the Museum of Sex, there was a famous photograph of Stiv Bators on stage at CBGB, in front of the Dead Boys, getting head from either one of two people: the club’s waitresses, who had been encouraged by the Dead Boys’ manager Genya Ryan, or else, according to Bebe Buell in her autobiography Rebel Heart: An American Rock ’n’ Roll Journey (2002), “America’s number-one punk groupie, Damita X.”

MATA April 18, 2014
Lives in Miniature

This is my fifth year attending a MATA Festival concert, and though the organization’s steady expansion is welcome—six nights of concerts in 2014, and around 1,000 scores submitted—one key element that has been prevalent across the years continues to be puzzling: the overall conservatism of young composers.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Noise and silence initially appear to be opposite and antagonistic extremes, but in musical terms they are two sides of the same page, using different means and different language while sharing the same values.

Modern Miles

Bitches Brew is a great work of abstract music inside the sounds, beats, and riffs of commercial music, and one of the most unique documents of the recorded era. The effect the album had on jazz and rock was shattering, disruptive in ways that make an abject mockery of the contemporary vainglorious use of that word by people who only wish to make money.

Winter Jazzfest

Diary of a Mad Composer

I want to get the facts out of the way first: the New York City Winter Jazzfest is one of the finest festivals of its kind. It’s the jazz event that this city—the center of the jazz universe—deserves: it expands across the history of the music, from trad to free to fusion, and when it reaches outside of jazz it ignores smooth pop and diluted rock, blues, and folk in favor of musicians who work with improvisation: Colin Stetson, Bill Laswell, the Ex, Dither, Kaki King. Jazz is not commercial music, and the non-jazz in the festival is in no way commercial filler.

Abandon Expectations:
Terry Riley Live at 85

With Angel Deradoorian prominent, and Okkyung Lee slicing through with her cello, the music is a vehicle for reaching a state of being separate from the reality outside Pioneer Works. That is Riley’s point, and it’s what makes him special.

Downtown International
Nostalgia in Tompkins Square and Suoni per il Popolo, Part II

I refuse to believe that the combination of age and the passing years is confusing me: I remember July and August in New York as the time when surprising and often enlightening new and experimental music was constantly churning the humid night air.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni premiered in the fall of 1787. The complete original title was Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni, or “the libertine punished, Don Giovanni to be precise.” The Don is a rapist and murderer with a particular taste for underage girls, and he’s eventually dragged to hell by the ghost of the Commendatore, the father of Donna Anna, the woman Giovanni is trying to rape as the opera begins.

Highly Selective Listings

Highly Selective Listings

Live performances around the city this month

Joseph Jarman's Black Case Volume I & II: Return From Exile

A republication of the jazz artist’s self-published 1974 DIY book, this edition maintains its DIY quality filled with typewritten text and photographs. It is a collection of poetry, both in prose-poem manner and free verse, that explores his personal history and the larger world of African-American culture surrounding him.

A Tribute to Steve Dalachinsky

Steve was a force of Nature, driven by compassion & curiosity. He was opened to everything & everyone. He was naked inside & outside with no boundary between.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

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