Not going back to Birdland

The Knitting Factory's four-city gig is a jazz fest worth staying home for.

Seth Mnookin
June 10, 1999 5:00PM (UTC)

The problem with holding a music festival in New York is that, with rare exceptions, locals would be hard pressed to notice anything going on. Unlike Austin's annual South By Southwest, where hundreds of bands and thousands of industry folks take over central Texas, bushels of bands and scores of record execs are camouflage in Manhattan.

That said, the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival is an impressive event. The fest was previously centered around Michael Dorf's Knitting Factory, but this year, with new corporate sponsorship, it branched out to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. Spanning two weeks, from June 3 to 13, the event includes a delightful range of Knitting Factory-esque avant-jazz, art-rock noise, straight-ahead bop and outfits that can only be described as weird.


The breakdown goes pretty much like this: The Knitting Factory hosts a half-dozen or so regulars per night. During the course of the festival, downtowners like keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, pianist Anthony Coleman and guitarist Bill Frisell play in Dorf's TriBeCa space. Downtown further still, at the Seaport Atrium, the more rock-oriented acts show off: Morphine, Medeski Martin & Wood and G. Love and Special Sauce have all played there already. Scattered around downtown are other, mostly smaller venues like Dharma and the Lotus Club. The festival is also sponsoring a series of special events, like last Saturday's Roseland Big Bad Voodoo Daddy/Mingus Big Band double bill or this Saturday's Tribute to Betty Carter at BAM.

The best show of the festival should be Sunday's closer. The final gig will feature the New York Art Quartet -- saxist John Tchicai, trombonist Roswell Rudd, drummer Milford Graves, bassist Reggie Workman and poet Amiri Baraka -- for a special, ultra-rare 35th year reunion show with intelligentsia faves Sonic Youth. But even if you can't make it to the once-in-a-lifetime show, you can talk with the musicians or listen to it on the Web. If you're not in New York or your modem is too slow, use the schedule for a crib sheet the next time you go to a record store. Finally, if you're anywhere near New York it's worth trying to catch at least a few of the groups. After all, there probably won't be this much variety in the New York music scene for at least another month or so.

Seth Mnookin

Seth Mnookin is the co-director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT and he blogs at the Public Library of Science. His most recent book is "The Panic Virus: The True Story of the Vaccine-Autism Controversy" (Simon & Schuster). His Twitter handle is @sethmnookin.

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