Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso Receive ‘Jazz Heroes’ Award
The Jazz Journalists Association named CMF co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso as two of its 2013 ‘Jazz Heroes.’ Based on nominations from local communities and jazz journalists, Berger and Sertso were named for their ‘dedication to local efforts that nurture the spirit of jazz and ensure its transmission to new generations of jazz lovers.’
In announcing the award, Howard Mandel, JJA president, proclaimed:
‘“Jazz Hero” is almost too limiting a term to apply to Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso, the people who initiated the first Creative Music Studio workshops in Woodstock, New York 40 years ago. From the first, CMS presented all kinds of music: Indian bansuri flute virtuosity, Cagean conceptualism, the rhythmic practice Karl called “Gamala-TaKi,” even an hour in the afternoon devoted to silence and meditation (Ingrid’s idea). But jazz, in its terms of being open, innovative, adoptive and adaptable, spirited, unpredictable yet full of feeling, does seem to be at the core of the Creative Music Studio’s philosophy as it was at the base of its birth.
CMS was a music experience inspired by Ornette Coleman -- who wouldn’t give a workshop there “because then people would think I knew something” -- and Don Cherry, who Ornette called “the man with the elephant memory.” It was Cherry who had lured Karl and Ingrid from Europe (both of them born in Germany, both had begun musical careers there) to New York City, then became their Woodstock mainstay, attracting “guiding artists” and “participants” (not teachers and students) from all over the world sort of in the same way he drew melodies out of the sky with the short-wave radio and headphones he wore then, everyplace he went. Cherry may be considered the first prophet of “world music.” Karl Berger, with his doctoral degree and offhand brilliance improvising on vibes and piano, and his wife Ingrid, who sang as if influenced by Chet Baker and Marlene Dietrich, are the founders and bedrocks of CMS, an idea and a place aflame in the ‘70s, dimmed in the ‘80s, never completely gone and far from forgotten, now arising anew with a jazz-star studded intensive scheduled for May 20 to 24 at the Full Moon Resort, another Catskill hamlet not far from the original CMS site.
More explanation: the Creative Music Studio is an outgrowth of the Creative Music Foundation, a non-profit organization Berger and Sertso incorporated as instructed in 1971 by Carla Bley and Michael Mantler, on the order of their Jazz Composers Orchestra Association. Berger, who is heard making beautiful music with Gato Barbieri, Pharoah Sanders, J.F. Jenny-Clarke, Henry Grimes and Edward Blackwell on Don Cherry’s 1966 masterpiece Symphony for Improvisers, taught public school kids, adults at the New School, students in Frankfort (he is from Heidelberg, Ingrid from Munich) before arriving with Ingrid and their daughters in the town where the Woodstock festival wasn’t, but the try-anything musical ethos was.
They fostered a non-competitive, non-hierarchical climate, concentrating on musical fundamentals and processes rather than skills tied to specific vocabularies and styles. It turned into a community, which has been loose but self-sustaining. Early on they were joined by Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Anthony Braxton, Frederic Rzewski, Nana Vasconcelos, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Cecil Taylor, Abdullah Ibrahim and many others, who offered ideas and inspiration to a stellar generation of daring artists very active today. Many of the “participants” remained in the Woodstock area and several -- pianist Marilyn Crispell, flutist Steve Gorn, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, bassist Mark Helias, will be guiding artists next month.
This isn’t as far from the topic of Berger and Sertso’s “heroism” as it might seem, because the two of them have been able to keep a flicker of creative idealism productive even when politics and attitudes turned against that. They have both sustained personal careers, and the faith in their art to give a Creative improvisers Orchestra a try in New York City, starting just under two years ago. Their “try” was an enormous success; in 18 months they led an orchestra of 18 to 25 players, drawn from a rotating cast twice that size, in 45 open rehearsals followed by concert sets in Manhattan’s the Stone, the Jazz Gallery, El Taller (where they resume performances April 4) and Brooklyn’s Shapeshifter Lab. This is an improvising orchestra -- no sheet music is used, no set list imposed, the music flows organically, often with grandeur. Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso learned at least as much as they taught during the initial decade of the Creative Music Studio, and have expanded on the discoveries they made, nurturing many other musicians, presenters, educators and listeners in the process. If that ain’t heroism -- but it is. Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso, Jazz Heroes and creators, still.’