The University of Chicago News Office
Jan. 6, 2006 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

Composer-saxophonist John Zorn, Choreographer-dancer Bill T. Jones continue 2005-2006 University of Chicago Presidential Fellows in the Arts Series

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bill jones
Bill T. Jones
Photo by Al Zanyk, Courtesy of the Wener Center for the Arts.
john zorn
John Zorn

Experimental saxophonist and composer John Zorn and provocative choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones will continue the 2005-2006 University of Chicago Presidential Fellows in the Arts Series. Zorn, known for challenging and energizing modern jazz, will engage in a public discussion and perform with his Acoustic Masada quartet on Thursday, Feb. 16, while Jones, who was named an “irreplaceable dance treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition, will reflect on his storied career in his presentation on Monday, May 22.

Zorn is an avant-garde composer of jazz, classical and film music, as well as an acclaimed saxophonist and record producer. The New York Times said Zorn “transcends categories; better, he’s made a notable career crashing them together and grinding them to dust.” His Acoustic Masada quartet mixes Jewish roots music with new jazz to produce what the New Yorker calls “a mix of straight-ahead jazz, film-noir melodrama, free improvisation, twisted blues and bittersweet balladry — all colored with a sly Sephardic tinge.” A founding member and saxophonist of the group Naked City, Zorn has written film scores and cartoon soundtracks as well as composed several works for a variety of instrumentation. Since his first album, 1978’s School, he has been considered a master of making use of the recording studio as a compositional tool. Many of Zorn’s acclaimed compositions exist only in their recorded renditions, which are assembled “moment by moment” in the studio.

Following the example of Duke Ellington, Zorn treats the musicians who play his works as essential, engaging them as collaborators in his compositions. “Kaleidoscopic” has been used to describe his approach to composing, because his pieces present a quick-changing array of disparate sound elements. Readily admitting he has a short attention span, Zorn constructs his music to reflect a mercurial fascination with the fast-paced flow of information. Overall, the individual efforts of the performers are essential to each piece, their personalities translating into discrete musical elements such as chords, meters or themes, to be orchestrated by the composer.

As much as Zorn challenges musical form with his avant-garde compositions and improvisational saxophone technique, Jones challenges perceptions of race, gender and age with choreography that interweaves dramatic text, movement and music. The 10th of 12 children in a migrant worker’s family, Jones choreographed and performed worldwide as a soloist and in duets with his late partner, Arnie Zane, before the pair formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982. The company, and Jones specifically, has cemented a reputation for excellence along the way, demonstrated most recently by the San Francisco Chronicle crowning him “one of the glories of American dance.” Creating more than 100 works for his own company, Jones has also choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Axis Dance Company, Boston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, Berlin Opera Ballet and Diversions Dance Company. He is the recipient of the 2005 Wexner Prize, the 2005 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement, a 2005 Harlem Renaissance Award and the 2003 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. In 1994, Jones received a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius” Fellowship.

Jones gained fame and notoriety for baring his soul in dances about what it is like to be a black man, a gay man and a man who lost his dance- and life-partner to AIDS. Constantly striving to find new ways to make audiences look at and love the human body and the human condition, Jones has made headlines for dancing naked as well as working with dancers of all shapes and sizes — even those without formal training. In 1995, he directed and performed in Degga, a collaborative work with Toni Morrison and Max Roach, performed at Alice Tully Hall. In 2001, he premiered The Table Project, a community work that cast non-dancers in a piece commissioned by the Walker Art Center. In premiere performances, Jones cast six women and men ages 50 and older and six girls and boys ages 7 to 12 to perform the same movement tasks one after the other. He continued to ask the question about how gender and age determine the audience’s perception of a work when he remounted the show in May, this time casting community members from Harlem. It is that innovation that the Washington Post commends as “a stage presence close to majesty.”

The University of Chicago Presidential Fellows in the Arts Series, now in its second year, brings a cross-section of distinguished artists to the University of Chicago for residencies and offers the public a rare chance to experience eminent talent in an intimate setting. Past Presidential Fellows include actress, professor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith and graphic artist Neil Gaiman. Earlier this season, writer, producer and co-president of Focus Features James Schamus was joined by director Ang Lee on campus where the pair presented a sneak preview of the critically acclaimed “Brokeback Mountain,” and discussed the film with an audience of both students and community members. Schamus also worked with University of Chicago film students in the classroom.

The Presidential Fellows in the Arts Series seeks to showcase the vibrant traffic between artistic theory and practice that takes place at the University of Chicago and to foster the vitality of the arts in Hyde Park. Each residency includes both a public presentation and a more intimate educational program for University students and faculty, such as a workshop, seminar or master class. While at the University, Zorn will conduct a class with students in Cinema & Media Studies, while Jones will offer interactive workshops to students in the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture; the Center for Gender Studies; and the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project.

Tickets for Zorn’s appearance go on sale Monday, Jan. 9., while tickets for Jones’ go on sale Monday, May 1. Cost per performance is $15 general, $5 students with valid ID. They can be purchased by calling (773) 702-8080, emailing or visiting the box office at 5720 S. Woodlawn Ave., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Persons with disabilities who believe that they may need assistance may call in advance of the event, (773) 702-8080.

An initiative of the Faculty Committee on Theater and Performance Studies, the University of Chicago Presidential Fellows in the Arts Series is made possible through the support of the Arts Planning Council and the Office of the President, University of Chicago. Other events in the Series include an ongoing, three-year residency with 500 Clown, a Chicago-based circus arts and improvisation performance group whose members will teach classes and lead seminars on subjects such as creative writing, adaptation and clown work, culminating with a major production in 2008.


WHO: Composer and saxophonist John Zorn // Choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones

WHAT: Discussion and performance of the Acoustic Masada quartet // Discussion and presentation

WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006, 7 p.m. // Monday, May 22, 2006, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St. // Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.

TICKETS: On sale Monday, Jan. 9, 2006 // On sale Monday, May 1, 2006
$15 (general) and $5 (students with valid ID)
Phone: (773) 702-8080
Visit: Box Office, 5720 S. Woodlawn Ave., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Last modified at 03:54 PM CST on Thursday, January 26, 2006.

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