The sixth annual Whatyouwill Festival of Midwest Improvised Music will be held on Saturday, June 11th on the grounds of Old World Stone Carving, 4820 Beard Road, Sunbury, Ohio 43074. After an “artists’ retreat” on Friday (see below), Saturday will feature a full day of improvised music running from 11:30am until about midnight. A donation of $10 to $20 is requested. Festival organizer Gerard Cox was kind enough to answer some questions and give detailed insights into the festival and what to expect this year. Keep reading for further details from Cox, the festival schedule, and links to more information:
Why Whatyouwill? What is the concept or idea behind it?
Gerard Cox (GC): First of all, I wondered why jam band and noise scenes had all the fun. There’s really no other open-air festival in the countryside for improvised music that I’m aware of. Whatyouwill was also conceived of as a focal point event for improvised music in the Midwest. There’s a need for these. Through doing shows and some touring I’ve met some really great people and musicians in the region. The quality of improvised music in these parts can be quite high but we have none of the visibility that you get on the east coast, and we stand much stronger when we can connect all the dots within the region. There is now a fairly regular interchange between different cities, quiet as it’s kept. Saxophonist Hasan Abdur-Razzaq may not be that well-known in Columbus, but he most certainly is in Detroit! He and Ryan Jewell recently opened for members of the Sun Ra Arkestra to rousing applause from a full house.
There’s also a tone or a culture for music presentation we’ve tried to create with WYW. I enjoy improvised and experimental music but I find that a lot of the concert experiences are unnecessarily stuffy and sober. I don’t assume this will ever be “popular” music but I think the nature of the presentation itself tends to create a very self-selecting and homogeneous audience. So Whatyouwill is one idea for an antidote to this, and one that I think is a suitably Midwestern response: an outdoor festival with camping where most of the sets take place out of an open garage. It’s informal and it’s welcoming. The thing I am probably most proud of is that we consistently get a friendly, open, mixed audience while not trying to cultivate this as something to check off a list showing how “progressive” we are; it just happens because the core of people involved are open and not at all scenester-y, and people like that just tend to have friends from different backgrounds. It’s one of the more culturally mixed arts events in this area and the music form that I’m personally aware of.
What kind of music can one expect to hear at the festival?
GC: We book a fair range of improvised music. People who know the programming I’ve done in the past might assume this to be a “free jazz/avant-garde” festival. Yes, there will be a good helping of that, but we also book quite a few more sonorous/tuneful things. This year for example we have Radarhill, Sonikora, and Stan Smith in duo with Lisa Bella Donna. Last year we had the stellar saxophonist Chris Coles play in tandem with some really talented Oberlin students (Dan Pappalardo, Zaire Darden). We also had Ryan Jewell’s Quintet, which plays sharp originals in a modern jazz vein. There’s plenty of really “out” stuff but I try to incorporate some balance and variety so the program has some texture to it.
One unique feature we always have is at least one iteration of a greater Midwest collaborative where every musician is from a different city. This is very much in the spirit of improvisation as these folks have often never played together before- but those first encounters in this music are often some of the coolest, freshest things you will hear.
What are you excited about for this year’s festival? Any big changes?
GC: We’ve always had some open sessions as part of the program, but in response to a regular clamor for more “pure playing time” this year we’ve decided to incorporate an kind of artists’ retreat bookend to the festival. This is Friday June 10th starting at noon, and it’s intended as a day of pure collaboration. We’ll have a number of different open sessions throughout the day, and the environment is large enough that we can have multiple playing areas at once. If you’re interested in participating, we still have room for some more musicians. This experience would be suitable for anyone into open-ended, non-idiomatic improvisation. To be clear it will not be “jamming” in the way of playing riffs over a steady beat. The running joke is saying “Do you like improvised music?” and the response is “Yes I love Phish.” This day will be more in line with jazz improvisation and call-and-response. Please contact me via Facebook if you’d like to participate. There will also be a workshop at 3:30 given by our featured artist JayVe Montgomery called “Swarm/Sync” (taking people through several processes of electroacoustic effecting, looping, sample manipulation and beat representation).
I am also excited to finally be able to connect the line back to Larry Marotta and Steve Perakis. It’s overdue. They were carrying the torch for improvised music and free jazz here before I ever started doing programming, and I got the bug for this music in part from hearing stuff Larry was doing and presenting.
What can you tell us about featured artist JayVe Montgomery?
GC: JayVe is quite simply the very kind of artist we like to feature. He is versatile in his interests and he’s very open to collaboration and to people in general. He’s a very dynamic artist but he’s a humanist first and foremost. As a featured artist he not only performs a set of his own but also guests in a number of sets. He comes from Chicago by way of Nashville and is not only a great saxophonist but also does some really creative things in the realm of electronic music and hip-hop. The festival will actually open with a set where he’ll be manipulating ink on an overhead transparency with his horns while a group accompanies and interacts with him. He creates these really great images that he calls “Tantara Sutures”.
Are there any lesser known acts on the schedule that could be a surprising discovery for fans?
GC: Cher Von from Louisville is fantastic. She does a wordless vocal thing that I think many people who enjoy world music and African music would greatly appreciate. I am also really happy to present REINCARNATION from Cincinnati. This is a group of younger guys (Haneef Smart, Josh Strange, Djembe Fola Ayinde) that does some really great modal excursions on flute, vibes, and drums. Our best-kept secret is Tony Zilincik. Most know him from his work with New Basics or as a Capital prof but the guy is a really creative, good-humored improviser and will bring his talents to bear on a few different sets this year.
Do you have any advice for people who have never attended Whatyouwill and are still deciding whether to attend?
GC: Please don’t be dissuaded by the fact that it’s out in Delaware County! Yes, it’s more of a commitment than going to a club or concert hall in town (about a half-hour drive), but the experience is much more unusual and it’s a great way to spend some time out in the country. You can make a full day of it too. You can arrive before noon and potentially not head out until midnight. There is plenty to explore on the land itself (great sculpture garden by host Dale Johnson, woods, pond…) and the hang is no afterthought to the music. People have cool, up-close encounters with creative music, but they also tend to leave with new friends, some funny stories, and feeling very relaxed by being out in the country for a day.
11:30am: Jayve Montgomery’s TANTARA SUTURES with Tony Zilincik (tuba), Caleb Miller (keys), Aaron Putnam (drums), Steve Simula (percussion).
12:15pm: S.B.F: L.A. Jenkins (electric guitar/beat production) with Martin Rippel (trumpet), Chris Weldon (gongs, cello) and special guest JayVe Montgomery.
1pm: ACRID MANTRA: Gerard Cox (piano, Rhodes), Steve Simula (drums, movement art (“Simo-tasia”)), Tom Recchia (wordless vox), Tony Zilincik (brass), Aaron Putnam (drums).
1:45pm: Stephan Haluska (harp) with Cher Von (vox/movement) and special guests Ewan Todd (reeds/flute), Chris Haas (vibraphone), Tom Orange (multi).
2:30pm: I-75 COLLABORATIVE: JayVe Montgomery with James Cornish (trumpet), Tony Zilincik (tuba), Jordon Schranz (bass), Cher Von (vox/movement), Chris Weldon (gongs), Larry Marotta (guitar).
3:15pm: WINCHESTER HOWSE: Dale Johnson (piano), Ewan Todd (saxophones), Steve Perakis (bass), Gerard Cox (drums).
4pm: RADARHILL: Caleb Miller (keys), Troy Kunkler (percussion), Eli Chambers (bass), Jordan Reed (saxophones), Nick Simko (trumpets) Nick Weckman (trombone).
NOTE: At 5 we will begin having overlapping sets on the stage and shop. This is both to accommodate solo/duo sets and to give the wandering spirits something to wander around to.
5pm: Stage: Stan Smith (guitar) with Lisa Bella Donna (drums/synths).
Shop: James Cornish (trumpet) with Jordon Schranz (bass).
6pm: Stage: REINCARNATION: Haneef Smart (flute), Josh Strange (vibes), Djembe Fola Ayinde (drums).
Shop: Chris Weldon (cello, gongs)
7pm: Stage: Hasan Abdur-Razzaq (tenor/alto saxophones), Gerard Cox (keyboards/key bass), Aaron Putnam (drums) with special guests Ken Leslie (trumpet) and John Ray (electric guitar).
Shop: Stephan Haluska (harp)
8pm: Stage: SONIKORA: Chris Haas (Wurlitzer 200), Jason Miles (electric bass), Bob White (drums).
Shop: Larry Marotta (electric guitar)
9pm: Stage: SHEPARD: Bryan Stewart (DJ), Aaron Putnam (drums), Michael Cundiff (percussion).
Shop: SUN TRASH: Caleb Miller (saxophone/clarinet/synths), Nick Weckman (trombone/clarinet).