Jesse Stewart and Michael Snow offer a collaboration of improvisation

Michael Snow and Jesse Stewart in concert.

This Saturday at GigSpace, one of Ottawa’s most innovative and active creators, the percussionist, inventor, visual and sonic artist Jesse Stewart, will perform a concert of improvised music with the 87 year old Canadian artist, experimental filmmaker and musician Michael Snow. The two have worked together many times over the past 15 years. In advance of their evening of music, Stewart took time to answer a few questions from ARTSFILE about the concert and their collaboration.

Q. Tell me about this collaboration with Michael Snow?

A. Michael and I have played music together in numerous contexts over the past 15 years. We started performing together as a duo in 2005. We first met and played together at the Guelph Jazz Festival. 

Q. Why do it?

A. Michael and I share a deep love of, and commitment to, musical improvisation. I really enjoy his approach to improvisation. I also enjoy his company: in addition to being one of the most creative forces on the planet (in visual art, film, music, and more), he is a very kind person who is tremendously generous with his knowledge and creative spirit.

Q. How did you rehearse for the performance?

A. We don’t rehearse. All of the music is improvised. Some people would describe it as “free improvisation.” Some people use the term “non-idiomatic improvisation” to distinguish it from modes of improvisation that take place within a specific musical genre  (such as jazz). I prefer “pan-idiomatic improvisation” because it suggests that musical techniques, ideas and aesthetics from all musical traditions are available to contemporary improvisers. Michael will play piano. I will play drums and percussion.

Q. It seems to be a relatively short show at 40 minutes. How come?

A. It may be longer than 40 minutes. It is hard for us to know in advance how long a concert is going to be.  The music can be demanding for both musicians and audiences. So 40-45 minutes of music often feels like enough when it comes to a performance of improvised music.

Q. I know Michael Snow as an innovative visual artist. Tell me about his musical side.

A. In addition to his extraordinary achievements in the visual arts, Michael is a very interesting improvising pianist with deep roots in the fields of jazz and improvised music. In the 1940s, he studied boogie boogie piano with Jimmy Yancey; in the 1950s, he performed with many jazz greats including Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Cootie Williams, and Pee Wee Russell. In the 1960s, the Jazz Composers Orchestra was founded in Michael’s New York City loft. Little known fact: the model for Michael’s famous Walking Woman works was the famed jazz pianist Carla Bley.

Q. Does this collaboration continue?

A. Yes, we will be playing in Toronto in January. Every time we get together to play as a duo, it feels like we are picking up the musical conversation where we left off.

Michael Snow and Jesse Stewart
Where: GigSpace, 953 Glastone Ave.
When: Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.