John Zorn can be defined as one of the most prolific avant-garde composers, arrangers, producers and multi-instrumentalists in America. He can be credited for hundreds of albums, each one incorporating a style different from the other. He has skillfully stroked over several genres such as classical, jazz, pop/rock and film music among others. Zorn is the typical example of an eccentric 21st century musician.
Born on September 2, 1953 in New York City, each of Zorn’s family members indulged in a different genre of music, thereby surrounding his childhood with a diverse set of musical experiences. Not only was he avidly exposed to jazz, country music, doo-wop but also to television music of the 50s, which greatly inspired him. He became interested in avant-garde music during his teens and later went on to study orchestration and composition at Webster College. These influences can be clearly seen in some of his earlier works such as the ‘The First Recording 1973’.
He began his compositions and recordings in the form of game pieces, often inspired by sports as well. They include ‘Track and Field’, ‘Baseball’, ‘Golf’, ‘Hockey’ and the most influential of all, ‘Cobra’. Zorn also indulged in improvised performances, which often incorporated duck calls; Such performances include ‘The Classic Guide to Strategy’ and ‘Locus Solus’. These smaller works led Zorn to his major breakthrough when he was signed on by the Warner Bros and released the hit, ‘The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays The Music Of Ennio Morricone’. This piece became famous because of its radically arranged themes juxtaposed with diversely traditional musical genres. Soon he released two more such pieces, ‘Spillane’ and ‘Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman’, both of which proved to be equally successful.
Zorn is a talented saxophonist and several of his compositions emphasized his unique style and talent, such as ‘Voodoo’. His passion for jazz also led him to form his own punk jazz band, named ‘Naked City’; The band released several albums such as ‘Grand Guignol’, ‘ Heretic’ and ‘Absinthe’ all of which also highlighted Zorn’s interest in hardcore improvisations. He formed another band named ‘Painkiller’ in 1991, both of Zorn’s bands received international acclaim for its works. Painkiller’s most famous releases include ‘Guts of a Virgin’, ‘Rituals: Live in Japan’ and ‘Talisman: Live in Nagoya’.
Not only is Zorn praised as a jazz musician, but also as a music composer for documentaries, cartoons and films. He was approached by several independent film makers such as Rob Schwebber and Raul Ruiz to compose soundtracks for their films, ‘White and Lazy’ and ‘The Golden Boat’, respectively. Zorn worked mainly on composing film scores in the 90s since he found it personally more appealing and fulfilling, he usually composed for underground films conveying strong messages. He compiled a large volume of his film scores under the series named ‘Film Works 1986-1990’. Later on, he turned to classical music and began composing chamber music an example of which is ‘Elegy’, a suite that he wrote in 1992. He also revisited his Jewish heritage through albums such as ‘Kristallnacht’ and the later ‘Radical Jewish Culture’ series.
In 1995, Zorn took charge of his career and formed his own label, ‘Tzadik Records’. He released several of his works through his label such as ‘Bar Kohkaba’ , ‘Cartoon S&M’ and ‘Madness, Love and Mysticism’. Well into the 21st century he continued to produce several awe-inspiring pieces that are undoubtedly the hallmarks of his legacy, such as, ‘The Gift’ and its sequel ‘The Dreamers’. His unparalleled work has been honored through awards such as a McArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grant’ and ‘Jewish Cultural Award in Performing Arts’.