Check out Creative Music Studio’s workshops, jam sessions in Big Indian

Amir El Saffar

The Creative Music Studio’s workshops have been bringing the premier names in jazz, experimental and world music to Woodstock since CMS was founded by Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso and Ornette Coleman in the early 1970s. The visiting teachers are called “guiding artists”: a term that both celebrates the distinction of the workshop leaders and highlights CMS’s truly collaborative model of mentorship, a conscious deemphasizing of celebrity and authority and the easing of the structural boundaries between teachers and students.

Still, the names do glow like heck for anyone who knows half a thing or two about jazz, and especially about the avant garde tradition. Guiding artists in 2013 and 2014 included the great composer and reed player Henry Threadgill, the legendary New York trumpeter Dave Douglas, keyboard whiz John Medeski, experimental pianist and longtime area resident Marilyn Crispell and a stellar variety of jazz and global musicians worthy of CMS’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest incubators of liberated music.

“Jazz” and “world” and even “avant garde” are coarse terms of convenience for people like me. CMS stringently avoids using them. In its promotional literature as in its workshops, CMS avoids explicit reference to any styles, traditions or commercial categories, favoring instead carefully worded affirmations of universal musical values: “active listening,” “personal expression,” “improvisation,” “exploration.” Musicians of all experience levels and even non-musicians are encouraged to share in CMS’s celebration of the musical impulse, and to interact musically and personally with guiding artists and other workshop participants in an intimate natural setting.

This year’s guiding artists include the Chicago-born, half-Iraqi composer and multi-instrumentalist Amir El Saffar, whose robust fusion of Middle Eastern, classical and jazz found brilliant expression on 2011’s Inana. Trumpeter Steven Bernstein is a man who has had several distinct careers, one as a regular in Levon’s big band and related projects, another as the leader of Sex Mob and as one of the wilder musical wits of the downtown scene that gave us John Zorn, Bill Frisell and the rest of the radical New York confusionists who so enlivened the ‘90s. One of percussionist Warren’s Smith first serious recording sessions was a date with Miles Davis in 1957, which was not a bad year to be playing with Miles. Smith has gone on to support a wild diversity of legends: Charles Mingus to Janis Joplin; Van Morrison to Anthony Braxton. Talk about the universal musical impulse!

CMS workshops are immersive and holistic, integrating meditation, body awareness sessions and group meals into their daylong flow. This year’s Spring Workshop happens between June 8 and 12 at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian. For rates, registration, daily workshop schedules and full biographies of the guiding artists, visit The Full Moon Resort is located at 1 Valley Road in Big Indian.


CMS Spring Workshop, June 8-12, Full Moon Resort, 1 Valley Road, Big Indian;



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