Common Cause: The long-running experimental music event Edgefest fosters a sense community



The 2019 Edgefest (Oct. 16-19) has been on my calendar for months and I've been meaning to write a preview of this Ann Arbor experimental-music institution for weeks.

This year's theme, "OUT West," focuses on "the rich historical contributions of West Coast artists in the development of avant jazz improvisation and new music." That quote is from the website of Kerrytown Concert House, which is Edgefest's hub, even if all the October 17 concerts are at the sparkling Blue LLama Jazz Club and the large-ensemble finale on October 19 is at Bethlehem United Church of Christ. You can't have Edgefest without the Concert House.

But this and that happened, time got away from me, and I never got around to writing the preview.

Thankfully, longtime music writer and Edgefest musician Piotr Michalowski wrote the festival's program, which is an excellent primer on the dozens of musicians and various ensembles performing at this year's edition. You'll find Michalowski's write-up below, but first, I want to share a story about one specific event at Edgefest -- and why I think it defines the festival as a whole.

Edgefest started in 1997, three years after I moved away from Michigan, so it wasn't until my 2016 return that I attended. I was jobless, rootless, and not sure what to do next with my life, so I started volunteering at local arts organizations, including Edgefest. I drove musicians around, sold merch during concerts, and pitched in wherever I could. It was amazing and I felt like I had a place.

But the one thing that stood out most to me is that Edgefest fosters a true community, even if only for a few days.

Because it's run so well, musicians from around the country come back to Ann Arbor year after year to play Edgefest, so the event has a class-reunion vibe. But that class doesn't exist just among the musicians; fans mingle easily with the artists throughout the four days, including an opening-night dinner party for all Edgepass holders, artists, and sponsors. You get to literally break bread with the musicians you're there to see play.

But one particularly wonderful annual Edgefest event isn't just for connoisseurs of experimental music; it's for anyone who wants to experience large-scale collaboration and creativity themselves. The annual Edgefest Parade always takes place at noon on Saturday, the final day of the festival. It starts in the Kerrytown Farmers’ Market area and features Edgefest musicians standing shoulder to shoulder with Scarlett Middle School band students -- and anyone else who wants to bring an instrument and jam along to whatever easily adapted melody is being performed.

In 2016, the Edgefest Parade's theme was John Coltrane's four-note foundation for "A Love Supreme," and my whole fam played along. The kids were hooting on recorders, my wife rocked the handclaps, and I was hittin' sweet licks on a three-string mini-guitar as we marched along with our fellow Ann Arborites, Michiganders, out-of-towners, and anybody else who wanted to join in with the collective improvisation.

We were a community, even if just for 30 minutes. But the spiritually soaring sensation we shared together will last a lifetime.

Edgefest 2019
Creative director Deanna Relyea; program notes by Piotr Michalowski

wednesday * oct 16 * 6pm
Band and Harding come from very different backgrounds but have created a personal and musical bond that stretches over five decades. This close collaboration has yielded an amazing body of music featuring several different groups and producing five albums. Their duo features original compositions as well as interpretations of classics by composers such as Ellington and Monk.
Lucian Ban, piano
Alex Harding, baritone saxophone 

wednesday * oct 16 * 7pm
Sponsored by Marc Andren and Christine Reardon
Multi-instrumentalist Michael Marcus has led numerous groups over the years, including a quartet that has included different musicians. The version he brings to Edgefest will perform compositions from a forthcoming cd and features famed veteran drummer and percussionist Warren Smith.
Michael Marcus, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and octavin
John Austria, keyboard
Tyler Mitchell, bass
Warren Smith, drums & percussion

wednesday * oct 16 * 8 pm
Opening VIP dinner party @ Fustini’s for all Edgepass holders, artists, and sponsors

wednesday * oct 16 * 9pm
For more than two decades Oluyemi and Ijeoma Thomas have cooperated in the music and poetry unit Positive Knowedge that seeks to elevate the spiritual nature of music, often involving other musicians, including Oluyemis’s pianist brother Kenn. They have performed at Edgefest several times before and released two albums recorded at these concerts. 
Oluyemi Thomas, bass clarinet and saxophones
Ijeoma Thomas, voice
Kenn Thomas, piano
Ben Willis, bass
David Hurley, drums

thursday * oct 17 * 6pm
This novel quartet brings together four experienced improvisers who have played with each other in various contexts, but never before in this specific configuration. The timbral profile of the quartet favors low sounds but the unusual combination of reed instruments offers an unlimited palate of sounds, including multiple sonorities made possible by extended techniques. 
Ken Filiano, bass
James Ilgenfritz, bass
Piotr Michalowski, bass and contrabass clarinets, sopranino saxophone
Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon

thursday * oct 17 * 7pm
Sponsored by Alan Feller
Drummer, poet, and composer William Hooker has been “recognized as an iconoclast, and one of the most innovative musicians and drummers of his generation, William knows no genre bounds and ceaselessly searches for new forms of music, always with the intent to inspire.” In this set he presents new compositions in the company of two long-time associates.
Mara Rosenbloom, piano
Adam Lane, bass
William Hooker, drums

thursday * oct 17 * 8pm

Sponsored by Luis Torregrosa
Pianist, composer, and educator Myra Melford has pursued a creative vision that involves the seamless interaction of composition and improvisation. In her work, divergent idioms and eras coalesce—from jazz, blues and global folk styles to various corners of the classical tradition and the avant-garde. Extramusical influences—for instance, the poetry of Rumi or the spirituality of Indian meditation, yoga and the Huichol Indians of Mexico—have also figured into the mix. Tonight, she first performs with the famed multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia and equally accomplished oboist Kyle Bruckmann, followed by a set in which she presents her new compositions for larger ensemble, in tandem with the UM Creative Arts Orchestra.
Myra Melford, piano
Vinny Golia, woodwinds
Kyle Bruckmann, oboe

friday * oct 18 * 7pm
Andrew Bishop, woodwinds
Peter Formanek, woodwinds
Derek Worthington, trumpet
Karalyn Schubring, piano

friday * oct 19 * 8pm
This March saw the release of Hooker’s cd Cycle of Restoration, recorded a year earlier in concert at Trinosophes in Detroit with two of our area’s finest musicians, Joel Peterson and Mark Kirschenmann. In this collaborative trio, the music is in constant shift, exploring a broad array of textures and rhythms, exploring the boundaries of their instruments, with deep emotional commitment. 
Mark Kirschenmann, trumpet
William Hooker, drums
Joel Peterson, bass

friday * oct 18 * 9pm
In the spring of 2015 Wayne Horvitz, with longtime Seattle collaborators Eric Eagle and Geoff Harper, spent a most of a week in residence at SnowGhost Studios in Whitefish, Montana, recording his first ever piano/bass/drums trio record, which came out last year. Horvitz brings this very group to Edgefest this year, augmented by the bassoon of his long-time collaborator Sara Schoenbeck for a set of “sensual and contemplative” music. 
Wayne Horvitz, piano, amplified piano, live processing, Wurlitzer electric piano, Hammond B-3, Nord lead, TX-7 mellotron
Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon
Geoff Harper, bass
Eric Eagle, drums & percussion

friday * oct 18 * 10pm
Sponsored by Mike Resil
Vinny Golia and Bobby Bradford have known each other for decades, linked by common artistic and spiritual quests and friendship with the late clarinet pioneer John Carter. Their first quartet record, Lineage (Nine Winds) was made twenty years ago, with Ken Filiano on bass and they have continued to perform together in various contexts over the years. 
Bobby Bradford, cornet and trumpet
Vinny Golia, winds
Ken Filiano, bass
Michael T.A. Thompson, drums

saturday * oct 19 * 12am
Scarlett Middle School band students, under the direction Band Director Caroline Fitzgerald, plus Edgefest artists and community members participate in this raucous and exciting moment in the Kerrytown downtown/Farmers’ Market area.]

saturday * oct 19 * 2pm
Sponsored by Niraj Ganatra, Nimish Ganatra and Bonnie Patterson
When Tad Weed died last year, Southeast Michigan lost a unique pianist, composer, arranger, and beloved educator who was an admired and respected by all. A native of Jackson, he fell in love with jazz at a young age, studied piano, and eventually went to Central Michigan University. Sometime after graduating, he moved to Los Angeles where he attended the Grove School of Music, worked on the staff of Discovery Records and played with many musicians of different stylistic persuasions, and was particularly skilled at accompanying singers such as Anita O’Day and Carmen McRae. After many musical adventures, that included more experimental collaborations with Bobby Bradford, John Carter, Rob Blakeslee, Vinny Golia, and others, he returned to his native state in 2000 and very soon became one of the top musicians in our area as well as a professor at the University of Toledo, OH. Tonight, his friends and collaborators from Michigan and California perform his music in tribute in remembrance of his generous spirit.
Andrew Bishop, woodwinds
Ken Filiano, bass
Vinny Golia, woodwinds
Gary Schunk, piano
Pete Siers, drums

saturday * oct 19 * 3pm
Last year Lisa Mezzacappa premiered a new book of music written for her sextet, based opon the incredible Cosmicomics stories about the origins of the universe by the late Italian writer Italo Calvino. As she has observed, “the Cosmicomics are like fairy tales, or creation myths, for philosophically-minded adults. Each story takes a single scientific theory or principal about the origins of the universe --the movement of planets, the distance between galaxies, the evolution of organisms--and humanizes that scientific phenomenon with a charming, often hilarious, first-person narrative. His stories often explore tensions—between opposing forces and bodies, between different worldviews, between seemingly irreconcilable possible outcomes—and have had a big influence on the form and structure of my music in particular.”
Lisa Mezzacappa, bass
Aaron Bennett, tenor saxophone
John Finkbeiner, electric guitar
Mark Clifford, vibraphone
Tim Perkis, electronics
Sam Ospovat, drums

saturday * oct 19 * 4pm
Sponsored by Luis Torregrosa
Tri-plex is a new trio formed this fall that began life with Cooper-Moore longing to hear something different, longing to bring something new we could bring to the typical bass, drums and piano format. The musicians got together and started working out ideas on what they new ideas they wanted to do to bring into the mix, striving for new horizons by means of a collective thought process to create music will involve some form, some free, and some dissonance. 
Cooper-Moore, piano
Ken Filiano, bass
Michael T.A. Thompson, drums

saturday * oct 19 * 8pm

Sponsored by Frank Rubolino
Rova Saxophone Quartet’s musical goal has always been, since 1978, to instigate, to challenge, and to inspire. The group explores the synthesis of composition and collective improvisation, creating exciting, genre-bending music. Rova:Arts, formed in 1986, acts as the umbrella organization for the musicians, facilitating the goals and productions and tours, the collaborations and special projects. Since it’s 40th anniversary on Feb 4, 2018, Rova is one of the longest-standing groups in the music movement that has its roots in post-bop, free jazz, avant-rock, and 20th century new music; Rova draws inspiration from the visual arts, contemporary poetry, contemporary dance. 
Bruce Ackley, soprano saxophone
Steve Adams, alto saxophone
Larry Ochs, tenor saxophone
Jon Raskin, baritone saxophone 

Sponsored by Keith Martin 
Vinny Golia is a multi-instrumentalist of uncommon scope, but he is also a composer, bandleader, record company owner, university professor, and a musical and social catalyst, who brings together artists of different generations and aesthetic predilections together, erasing stylistic boundaries. His Large Ensemble, which he has been bringing together off and on since 1982, has served as the vehicle for the presentation of most “his most fearless combination of the tonal with the atonal, the rhythmic with the arrhythmic, and the melodic with the purely textural” (John Kelma).
Participants include: 
UMS Creative Arts Orchestra Students
Mark Kirschenmann
Derek Worthington
Ken Kozora
Andrew Bishop
Katri Ervamaa
Abby Alwin
Ken Filiano
ROVA Quartet
Kyle Bruckmann
Lisa Mezzacappa Sextet
and more TBA!

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Edgefest 2019 runs October 16-19 in Ann Arbor. Visit for tickets and more info.