While rock & roll was still in diapers, jazz cats like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane were blowing minds with the loud, raw and emotional music known as free jazz. Forty years later, the damage hasn't subsided and -- amazingly -- Orlando isn't out of the loop.
Almost solely responsible for the exposure -- exemplified by this weekend's concert by outrageous violinist Jon Rose -- is the Civic Minded Five, a grass-roots organization that has continued to bring the highest caliber of free-jazz and improvisational musicians to Central Florida for the last three years running. The liberated guitar work of Davey Williams, the Saturnalia String Trio and Other Dimensions in Music have left audiences shaking their heads in amazement and confusion.
"Most of the presenters in the venues in town don't even know these artists exist," concedes the enterprising Matt Gorney, a founding CM5 member, WPRK-FM (91.5) jazz music director and DJ, Park Avenue CDs employee and business manager of Orlando-based saxophone legend Sam Rivers. And the musicians never imagined playing so far from avant-garde centers of New York or Europe. "They're as curious about playing for the crowd as the crowd is to hearing their music."
The CM5 informally began when Lisa Blanning, then-music director of Rollins College's WPRK, budgeted a music outreach program, which spurred an interest to initiate concerts on a regular basis. Now a nonprofit, CM5 is headed by a party of eight -- Gorney, Dave Ousley, Bev Ousley, Peter Barber, Aaron Nies, Jim Ivy, Woody Igou and Annetta Igou -- who kick in $200 now and then to make things happen. WPRK still backs every CM5 show, and corporate sponsor Park Avenue CDs is now on board.
By networking with other independent promoters who have sprouted up in Atlanta and Columbia, S.C., CM5 can help to book a regional tour for musicians. Barber, world-music director at WPRK, points out, "The music business is just unscrupulous, and in art circles it's no different. Even though musicians tend to have a lot of integrity, they're used to getting screwed over on a regular basis. What we're assuring is that we can pay even if no one shows up."
With Gorney's clout as Rivers' manager and the WPRK connection, CM5's potential for snaring high-profile artists is increasing. So far, the most prestigious CM5 guest was 69-year-old London guitarist Derek Bailey, last March. Another highlight was the Sam Rivers Trio, who revealed the impressive, improvisational side of the band, usually seen only at out-of-town university/conservatory concerts. Using two pianos in addition to horns and reeds, Rivers' free-styling surprised those only familiar with Rivers' dynamic nightclub set. In fact, the valuable presence of Rivers -- his trio and Rivbea Orchestra -- has done nothing but help the CM5 movement. Says Gorney, "There were definitely a lot of new ears broken in, and they still are being broken in, by going out to see them."
Future CM5 concerts this season (www.magicnet.net/~pbarber/cm5.htm) might include the Sun Ra Arkestra (directed by Marshall Allen), the ghost of an eclectic group with a notorious mix of ancient history, mysticism, science fiction and black power, and Pharoah Sanders, a pioneering free-jazz saxophonist who collaborated with Coltrane in his 1966-67 turbulence.
"It seems like in a city of a million and a half, we should be able to build up a listening audience of maybe 1,000," says Barber. For the time being, CM5 is patiently establishing one more spot in the world where offbeat artists are anticipated and welcomed.