The Creative Music Guild has been bringing some of the world’s most influential and innovative improvisational artists to Portland since 1991.
The Creative Music Guild has been bringing some of the world’s most influential and innovative improvisational artists to Portland since 1991. Recently, the CMG has changed focus from a mere booking agent for these international avant-garde musicians to a facilitator of their direct interaction with artists in Portland’s own burgeoning noise scene.
The result, still in its infancy, is the PDX Large Ensemble. It’s a nebulous and rotating cast of local so-and-sos including anyone from Pete Swanson of The Yellow Swans, to Bob Jones of The Evolutionary Jass Band, to Reed Walsmith of The Blue Cranes.
These artists are recruited for ad hoc performances with renowned improvisational artists such as Sunn O)))’s John Weise or this Friday’s show with The John Gruntfest Trio.
Some credit for the CMG’s ambitious new direction can be given to their president, Jonathan Sielaff.
When he’s not managing the Stumptown on Southest Division or playing bass clarinet for The Parenthetical Girls, he and the board members of the CMG are working to connect Portland’s small but growing improv scene to the international world of avant-garde music.
Daily Vanguard: In what ways have you tried to change the focus of the CMG?
Jonathan Sielaff: I’ve wanted to introduce a lot more involvement with the visiting artists and musicians in the local community. Rather than just having these bands play and then say goodbye, we’re finding ways and venues for them to interact with local musicians, whether that be on a social level or on the stage.
It’s a way to have a visiting artist pass on their own experiences and their own musical approaches to the artists here in Portland. In every city the community of improvised music is relatively small, so the more you can branch out and connect to communities in other cities and other towns and other countries, the bigger that family gets.
DV: How does being a musician affect your approach to your administrative duties?
JS: As musicians on the board, a lot of us have connections to music scenes around the country and around the world, so it’s easier for us to get in contact with people. We’re not so dependent on people sending us CDs and writing us proposals; it’s a lot of people that we’re in contact with ourselves that we get to perform here. A lot of us are [also] grounded in the local music community, so we can really find ways to pull people into what were doing.
DV: What has been the response among local musicians to these collaborations?
JS: A good response from the people who have participated, definitely. Portland is Portland, and people can be kind of flaky, so I never know who’s actually going to show up to the show. The last large ensemble we did we had a lot of people drop out at the last minute, but we also had a lot of people join in that we didn’t expect, and it was great that they did and they loved it.
It’s a battle though, people are busy and they have other things going on, so the idea is great, but there’s so much planning that goes into it, like, what day is this going to happen on? Is anybody going to be available to even show up for a workshop or for a group rehearsal?
DV: Is performing with local musicians something these visiting artists are used to?
JS: I think they are to a certain extent, they’re definitely used to doing workshops and master classes. I wanted a more casual approach in Portland because I want it to be more like a peer-to-peer interaction, where people are playing with people and connecting on a musical level rather than just attending a class.
I think that is an aspect that for some people doesn’t always happen in a structured way. It’s not an organized workshop and at the same time it’s not just connecting to people that they already know, but facilitating an interaction with local artists.