Bob Gorry’s journey into improvised music started with his ears. Nineteen years ago, the guitarist and engineer picked up the slot for a jazz show on WNHU. He started off playing classic jazz albums, then moved on to records that “young lions,” like Wynton Marsalis, were making.
“And then I started hearing some of these other things, that were jazz and related to jazz and improvised music, and I really connected with it,” Gorry (pictured on right) said. “And then at some point I was going to play with people, and then just started playing, and I made the connections in my head — both ‘I’m doing this already,’ and ‘these other people can do it and I can see what might be possible.’”
That vision, the sense of what’s possible, has led to the New Haven Improvisers Collective celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. This Saturday, it will honor a seminal moment in NHIC’s history — a conduction with jazz legend Butch Morris — with a show at Firehouse 12.
A decade ago, Gorry put up flyers around town advertising a get-together at Neverending Books for musicians interested in improvised music. Ten musicians showed up, ready to play, and Gorry realized he’d struck a nerve.
Meanwhile, Butch Morris, in February 2005, was celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first conduction by holding a conduction every day of the month in New York City (“conduction,” in this case, is the system of hand signals and gestures that Morris had devised over the years to enable him to conduct group improvisations and build compositions out of them — on the spot). Morever, “every Saturday he did a workshop that anybody could go to. It was near where he lived on the Lower East Side in a little performance space,” Gorry said. “I was terrified, but I said, ‘I’m going.’”
So Gorry took his guitar and headed down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was one of only three people to show up. Morris was disappointed; there weren’t enough people to do the music. So he suggested they all just “go to lunch and hang out,” Gorry said. “It was a blessing in disguise because I got to sit and hang out and talk with Butch.” He went down the next week, and subsequent weeks, which had much better attendance, thanks to Butch calling some of his friends — who also happened to be some of the best musicians in the city.
“I was just fascinated with this stuff,” Gorry said. He had given Morris his contact information. “Two months later, three months later, out of the blue, he emailed me and said, ‘what do you think about putting something together in New Haven?’”
The result was a three-week workshop in 2005, in which Gorry marshaled a full band of horns and rhythm section (plus, ahem, one violin, played by this reporter on assignment from the Advocate) to work with Morris in learning his musical language. The culmination was a performance at Firehouse 12, which had recently opened its own doors.
Today NHIC continues as a place for the area’s musicians to congregate and play improvised music together. Musicians have cited it as a reason they moved to town, and a reason they’ve stayed, and it has been catalyst and incubator for numerous musical collaborations, many of which are recorded on one of NHIC’s ten records.
Which is why, a decade on, it is so fitting to celebrate.
The New Haven Improvisers Collective’s show at Firehouse 12 has two sets on the evening of Dec. 12. Elm Fiction — Jeff Cedrone (guitar, keys, electronics), Bob Gorry (guitar), Tom Hogan (drums, vibes), and Adam Matlock (accordion) —perform at 8:30 p.m. Fuchsprellen — Pete Brunelli (bass, electronics, and madness), Peter Riccio (drums), John Venter (saxophones) and guests — perform at 10 p.m. Tickets are $15. Click here for more information.
Click below to listen to the full interview with Bob Gorry about NHIC on Northern Remedy: