Creative Music Studio concert series in Big Indian

CMS co-founder Karl Berger (photo by Dion Ogust)

Folks who remember the Creative Music Studio (CMS) in Woodstock in the heady days of the 1970s and ’80s must be pleased to know that the seminal think tank/teaching institute that coined the term “worldjazz” is thriving as more than just an archive of hundreds of historically important recording sessions. Co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso are presenting workshop-style concerts that are open to the public. The next series takes place from Monday, September 29 through Thursday, October 2, in the intimate Roadhouse space at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian.

When Berger, Sertso and free-jazz saxophone pioneer Ornette Coleman put their heads together to create CMS in 1971, the idea was to provide a place where innovators in both jazz and world music could come together to jam in an effort to tease out the strands of commonality that underlie all musical forms and styles, similar to the way that cognitive scientists and psycholinguists post-Chomsky delve into the human mind seeking the universal roots of grammar. It was an experiential and philosophical exploration emphasizing “keen awareness, personal expression, intensive listening and cross-cultural communication.”

CMS’s physical headquarters closed in 1984, but during those 13 fertile years, the entity – now incorporated as a not-for-profit foundation – recruited an impressive roster of cutting-edge musical thinkers to collaborate in giving thousands of master classes, workshops, seminars and colloquia in Woodstock and around the world. More than 400 live concerts were committed to tape, and in recent years Berger has been kept busy working to digitize them for posterity in a collection housed at Columbia University.

But working musicians and listeners alike must really have missed the live sessions, because the workshops are happening again, in the spring and fall. Headlining this week’s series of four concerts are two luminaries of avant-garde jazz: drummer/composer/arranger John Hollenbeck and saxophonist/clarinetist/flautist/composer Marty Ehrlich. Joining them in the ethnically omnivorous CMS spirit are Badal Roy, a tabla master known for his willingness to depart from the highly structured traditional Indian rhythmic system, and the mid-Hudson’s own virtuoso of the bansuri flute, Steve Gorn.

The evening concerts, which start at 8:30 p.m., will feature varying lineups of the musicians participating in the workshop week. The show on Monday, September 29 will include Berger on piano and vibes, Sertso on vocals, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Warren Smith on drums and Ken Filiano on bass. On Tuesday, September 30, Hollenbeck on drums, Gorn on Indian flutes, Roy on tabla and Kenny Wessel on guitar will join the teaching core (dubbed “guiding artists” by CMS) of Berger, Sertso, Knuffke, Smith and Filiano. Wednesday, October 1 will add Ehrlich on reeds and Omar Tamez on guitar to the previous mix. The lineup for Thursday, October 2 will be pared down slightly, including Ehrlich, Hollenbeck, Roy, Tamez, Wessel, Filiano, Knuffke, Sertso and Berger. Vocalist Theo Bleckmann has been added to the teaching roster.

The Fall Workshop is also a residential music camp whose intensive daytime learning sessions differ from the usual conception of “master classes” in that they are not geared solely to musicians whose proficiency is at or near a professional level. “Musicians of any instrument, including voice, are welcome, as are non-musicians,” says the CMS website. “Adults who played music earlier in their lives can benefit from this lifelong learning opportunity” – a category that includes an awful lot of people who practiced an instrument all through their middle, high school and maybe even college years, only to drop it regretfully once adult life got too busy. All that is required to join the “orchestra of improvisers” is a desire to share what the Creative Music Foundation’s mission statement calls “our deep connection with the transforming energies of music” – and of course the ability to pay the cost of tuition, meals and lodging, which ranges from $695 for tent camping to $1,595 to a single-occupancy room with private bath.

For more information about how to sign up for the Fall Workshop, visit Admission to each of the evening concerts is by a $20 donation to CMS, collected at the door.

Creative Music Studio Fall Workshop concerts, Monday-Thursday, September 29-October 2, 8:30 p.m., $20, Full Moon Resort, 1 Valley View Road, Big Indian; (845) 254-5117,



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