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IMPROVISED MUSIC AT HOMEWOOD STUDIOS

Scott Newell
Milo Fine

A brief forward

George Roberts

In 2003 Milo Fine — a neighbor and musician/composer, a long-time under-the-radar kind of gentle man — came into Homewood Studios with an idea. What about regular concerts by a group of his friends and fellow musicians who were all committed to exploring the whole notion of making music — a particular kind of music — together? Concerned the music industry has become corporatized, and music itself institutionalized and profit-driven, formulaic and without a clear sense of originality, these musicians seek to take themselves and their audiences in a different direction, toward an “every-moment new” experience.

There is a weekly Homewood Tai Chi class at Homewood Studios because a neighbor asked, once, if such a class was possible. So too the NorthSide Writers Group. Milo's request stepped into a growing practice of making room for local artists to work in their own community.

And so, on September 4, 2003, Improvised Music at Homewood Studios was born. Milo and former northsider Davu Seru, (a North High graduate and former student of mine), played this inaugural evening — creating an ear-opening conversation on their drums, other percussion instruments and soprano sax and setting an elegant standard for evenings to follow.

Since then, a small group of committed musicians have formed a group of “regulars,” three or four of whom play on any given evening. Charles Gillett, one of those regular musicians has also taken informal photos at most of these concerts. It is those photos which accompany these texts. Our thanks to Charles for his foresight.

In 2007, as we approached a fourth anniversary, I proposed making a place on our web site for information about improvisational music and this group of intrepid musicians. All readily agreed. I proposed four questions for the musicians to answer, in whatever way each saw fit. Run your cursor over the photographs and click the “Artist's Statement” links to read their responses.

There is room here for you, as well, to enter the conversation about improvisational music. Leave a comment and your remarks will be appended to this page.

My many thanks to Milo for risking that first question. Six evenings a year of unrepeatable and unforgettable musical journeys have grown form that courage. For me, reason enough to have opened Homewood Studios in the first place.

IMPROVISED MUSIC, An Introduction

Milo Fine

It's always something; or, necessity is a mother...

Two circumstances precipitated my approaching George Roberts about the possibility of presenting concerts at Homewood Studios. As has often been the case, the West Bank School of Music, where the Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble has held forth the first Friday, every other month since 1983, seemed to be teetering on the edge of collapse in 2003. (Having begun practicing self-determination in 1970, the School was the sixth venue I had utilized in these efforts, which are integral to the development of my work.) Not wanting to have to scramble at the last minute should the worst possible scenario come to pass, I remembered an article about Homewood Studios in the NorthNews. Ah, how wonderful would that be; to present my work in a venue less than a mile from my home; and be able to share it with the immediate community (regardless of their overt interest). And this is where my having to remove an old piano from the house came into play. Most likely Homewood wouldn't have a piano, and being it is one of my primary instruments, I came up with the idea of offering it as a gift to Homewood. So, if George thought my proposition was a viable one, I would at least be bringing something to the table.

Backing up.

I first encountered George at a community meeting about a northside arts center, which never materialized. I don't think we directly spoke, but, we did, I believe, take note of one another. My second encounter with George and his wife Bev was at best absurd; at worst, embarrassing. In an attempt to “give back” to the community, I allowed myself to be recruited for a committee dealing with housing issues. Not surprisingly, my stance in support of neighborhood stabilization almost always put me at odds with the rest of the committees' agenda of neighborhood gentrification. In the midst of this came the Roberts', looking for money to help in the establishment of Homewood Studios. However, the committee only had the authority to fund housing projects. No matter what George and Bev said, we couldn't legally authorize any funds whatsoever. So, after they left, I asked another member of the group what that was all about, and was met with a statement to the effect that, despite the fact the committee could do nothing for them, they had a right to present their case. As the caveman so rightfully intones on those insurance commercials, “Uh, what?!”

A cynic's assessment.

I didn't quite know what to make of George in these encounters. While Bev did almost all of the talking at the latter exercise in futility, he made an earnest presentation at the earlier arts center meeting. But experience has shown me time and again that the agendas behind earnestness, particularly when it came to establishing a center or organization, were all too often painfully self-serving; mirroring the grab for power and control one readily sees in business, religion and government.

A cynic's reassessment.

But given the circumstances, and despite my characteristic ambivalence (about almost everything) I contacted George and arranged a meeting. Within minutes of our shaking hands and sitting down at Homewood Studios, any doubts I had regarding his earnestness evaporated. Seldom have I encountered such graciousness and generosity of spirit. He made what for me was a difficult, awkward situation almost effortless. Additionally, he seemed to almost immediately grasp what I was on about, the good, the bad & the ugly. To wit, he couldn't use the piano -- there was simply no room. But he was interested in starting a concert series. And thus, Improvised Music at Homewood Studios, the second Monday every other month, was born, and, as the hoary old cliche goes, we haven't looked back.

Working.

The series has allowed me to regularly engage diverse groups of highly creative musicians in spontaneous public discourse. Most of these groupings would not have had a forum were it not for Homewood Studios; this wonderful music would never have been realized. The room itself, the “feel” of the gallery is something quite special. Certainly, as an improvisor, it is incumbent upon me to use any environment to my “advantage,” as an elemental catalyst for creation. More often than not, this involves working “against” (or in spite of) the venue. Not so with Homewood Studios. The respect accorded the musicians and the music is palpable. And, almost to a person, everyone who has been part of the series has commented on the overall feel of the space, to say nothing of the resplendent acoustics. And, for me, there is the sense of quiet satisfaction I get from presenting my work in the community where I live, as the floor-to-ceiling windows allow passersby on the relatively busy Plymouth Avenue to catch a glimpse of this music. Never mind almost no one is interested or curious enough to come in. It is enough that we do the work. The work speaks and is heard regardless of whether or not anyone is actually listening.

Dangling bit.

By the way, the West Bank School of Music weathered the storm of 2003, and seems to be on somewhat solid footing as of this writing. So the Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble continues its explorations there, alternating months with the series at Homewood Studios.

And, of course.

George & Bev: Thank you yet again and again and again. Onward...

Discussion

Care to join this discussion on improvised music? Leave a comment and your remarks will be appended here.

 

About the Artists

 

About the Musicians

To learn more about the musicians depicted on this page, run your cursor over the photos. Photos by Charles Gillett, Amy Myrbo, and George Roberts.

The majority of PERCUSSION MUSIC; IMPROVISED was recorded at Homewood Studios on June 14, 2004. Along with other CDs, LPs and a video, it is available at the concerts. Following are some samples:

Upcoming Concerts at Homewood Studios

    Performance details in the Calendar.