Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Horvitz, Wayne (Bartow)
Pianist and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz is best known for his work with 1980s New York avant-garde musicians such as John Zorn and Elliott Sharp, but Horvitz has consistently surpassed his element and demonstrated his facility with a range of styles, including jazz, classical, and funk.
As proof of his versatility, Horvitz can be heard with Zorn’s Naked City ensemble, on solo compositions and in work for theatre and chamber ensembles. Through the years, Wayne has walked a fine line between popular music and avant-garde jazz, challenging his peers with his varied and innovative music.
Wayne Bartow Horvitz was born on September 1, 1955 in New York City. Growing up in Northern California, Wayne’s parents were music aficionados and filled their home with an array of music including jazz and classical music. His older brothers, who listened to guitarist Jimi Hendrix and rock band The Rolling Stones, later exposed him to rock music. As a child his musical tastes brought him to Motown and soul music, tastes that would serve to influence his broad musical palette.
As a child, Horvitz began his musical education by receiving piano lessons, though that was only for a brief time. At the age of thirteen, Wayne began to study classical guitar, but did not enjoy it. The following year, he began to play the piano, inspired by the blues pianist Otis Spann. Wayne spent the rest of his teenage years teaching himself and playing electric piano in local groups.
When Horvitz graduated high school in 1973, he enrolled at the University of California at Santa Cruz where he began to formally study music. While at Santa Cruz, Wayne would practice the piano for upwards of ten hours. During this time, he received private lessons from pianist Art Lande.
Horvitz’s college years are also of importance because there he met his future wife, composer Robin Holcomb while they were both enrolled in a world percussion class. In 1977, Wayne graduated with a bachelor’s degree in “composition for new music improvisation,” a specialized degree.
Upon graduation, Horvitz and Holcomb moved to New York City where he found himself in the middle of a burgeoning experimental scene in Downtown New York. One of Wayne’s first associations in New York was with guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, whom he performed with for a short time on piano and bass.
In 1980, Wayne and Robin married and he continued to experiment with a variety music styles with his Downtown contemporaries Zorn, drummer and guitarist Bill Frisell amongst others. The following year, he released his first album as a leader, No Place Fast.
In 1982, Horvitz appeared with clarinetist Peter Kuhn on his album The Kill with drummer Denis Charles and bassist William Parker. A shining example of Horvitz’s early talents is the song “Being Human.” The song’s airy atmosphere is achieved by Horvitz’s light arpeggios and phrases, which Kuhn performs over with a breezy feel. Wayne’s supplements this idea by using space to excel the overall emotion of the ensemble, not playing in certain spots in order to heighten the strength of the song.
In 1984, Horvitz performed on Zorn’s album The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone. The album was a breakthrough of sorts for Zorn and his luminaries, receiving considerable praise and acclaim from fans and critics alike. Wayne used this newfound momentum in the following year when he released the album This New Generation, which firmly established him in the contemporary jazz scene.
In 1985, Horvitz formed the group The President alongside Kevin Cosgrove, Bobby Previte, saxophonist Dave Sewelson and bassist Joe Gallant. The group performed all throughout the New York City area and upon the release of their self-titled album in 1987, the line-up featured Horvitz, Previte, Frisell, Sharp and bassist Dave Hofstra.
The same year, Horvitz also formed the Horvitz, Morris, Previte Trio along with cornetist Butch Morris. The trio toured all through the United States, Canada and Europe and released their debut recording with 1986’s Nine Below Zero. The group’s second release, Todos Santos, featured improvisatory readings by Robin Holcomb.
1985 also saw Horvitz participating in the documentary Rising Tones Cross by director Ebba Jahn. The documentary is about jazz in New York at that time and the musicians that were involved in the scene. The film features Horvitz, Zorn and Previte as well as trumpeter Don Cherry, tenor saxophonist Peter Broetzmann amongst others.
The following year, Horvitz and Holcomb founded the New York Composers Orchestra, an organization dedicated to commissioning new music in the jazz idiom without the confines of traditional ideas or methods. It was during this time that Wayne began to compose music for theatrical productions including actor Bill Irwin’s production Strictly N.Y.
The same year, Horvitz became a member of the Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet with John Zorn, Bobby Previte and bassist Ray Drummond. The group released the album Voodoo, which was recorded in late November 1985. The album features several Clark standards including “Minor Meeting” and “Nicely.”
1986 also saw Horvitz and Holcomb welcoming the birth of their daughter Nica. With the birth of their daughter, the couple began to assess their lives and believed that changes had to be made. Two years later, the family moved to Seattle, Washington in an effort to be in a calmer environment, but still able to have successful careers.
In 1989, Horvitz became a member of the band Naked City. Formed by Zorn, the group features a mix of jazz, metal and funk influences and featured Bill Frisell, bassist Fred Frith and drummer Joey Baron. The same year, the group released their self-titled debut for the Elektra/Nonesuch label. The album featured renditions of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” as well as a cover of “The James Bond Theme” by composer Monty Norman. Horvitz’s best performance is on the song “Snagglepuss.”
The song is an excellent example of how the group adds several different textures and styles into one song. What is most noticeable is how Horvitz’s performance serves as the catalyst between the parts. The song begins with a cacophony of harsh and dissonant noise before seamlessly moving into a funk feel with Horvitz playing loose chordal passages that blends well with the over all feel. After the band moves back into the noise part, Wayne plays a classical inspired phrase that brings the group back into the funk feel. At :55, he plays a brief expression which calls to mind the style of pianist Herbie Hancock before moving on to a different texture. The result is a song that encapsulates the entire history of the past twenty-five years of music up until that point.
Following their self-titled debut, Naked City followed up with 1990’s Torture Garden, which was recorded in Tokyo, Japan and Brooklyn, New York and features contributions from vocalist Yamatsuka Eye. In 1991, they released their album Grand Guignol featuring renditions of composer Claude Debussy’s “La Cathedrale Engloutie” and composer Charles Ives’ “The Cage.”
In 1992, Horvitz was a founding member of the band Pigpen alongside bassist Fred Chalenor, saxophonist Briggan Krauss and drummer Mike Stone. The group’s sound was a juxtaposition of improvisational jazz with the intense sounds of rock and roll. The following year, the group released the album Halfrack followed by 1994’s Miss Ann. The group’s last release was 1997’s Daylight.
In late 1995, Horvitz formed the band Zony Mash. Taking their name from a song by the band The Meters, the group featured Horvitz on Hammond B-3 organ, Fred Chalenor, guitarist Timothy Young and drummer Andy Roth. Wayne formed the group as a way to continue performing while his wife was pregnant with their second child. The group became the house band at the OK Hotel in Seattle where they played every Tuesday. In December 1995, Horvitz and Holcomb welcomed the birth of their son Lowell.
Zony Mash’s sound incorporated psychedelic rock and roll, blues and avant-garde styles. The group ultimately grew into a touring act, making appearances at the Montreux, Vancouver, Pori and North Sea Festivals. In 1997, Zony Mash released their debut record Cold Spell followed by 1998’s Brand Spankin’ New. They were active until 2003 with the release of Farewell Shows: Seattle, WA, a live album that chronicled their last two shows.
In September 1996, Horvitz was a founding member of the Four Plus One Ensemble with trombonist Julian Prester, violinist Eyvind Kang, keyboardist Reggie Watts, baritone saxophonist Skerik and sound processor Tucker Marine. With the ensemble, Wayne performed on piano as well as a “prepared” piano, which is a piano that has objects placed between the strings altering the sound.
In 1997, Horvitz formed a group entitled Ponga with Bobby Previte, Skerik and keyboardist David Palmer. The group performs music that is entirely improvised and without traditional forms. Ponga has toured throughout North America, Europe and Japan where they were met with great acclaim.
Shortly after, Horvitz formed a new version of his group Zony Mash. Entitled “Zony Mash Unplugged,” the group featured Timothy Young, Andy Roth and bassist Keith Lowe. On February 15, 2000, Horvitz released the album “American Bandstand” for the Songlines label featuring Zony Mash. The album’s opening number “Ben’s Music” best represents the album and ensemble.
Showcasing a feeling of affection and sensitivity, Horvitz begins the song with light, chordal ornamentations before Young enters the arrangement by playing in unison with Horvitz. Wayne’s haunting timbre and superb melodic devices serve to evoke a certain feeling of love lost or of past times. His weightless and stylish performance is further expanded upon by the breezy performances of Roth and Lowe.
In 2002, Horvitz was the recipient of a Rockefeller MAP grant for the composition of an original piece of music. The result was the piece “Joe Hill,” which had its premiere in October 2004 in Seattle. In 2004, Wayne’s composition “Whispers, Hymns, and a Murmur” had its premiere in March 2004. In 2005, the Seattle-based music organization Earshot Jazz awarded Wayne the Golden Ear Award for “Concert of the Year.”
The following year, Horvitz formed a new ensemble entitled Wayne Horvitz’s Gravitas Quartet. The same year, they released their debut album Way Out East. In 2007, Wayne brought his ensemble, the Gravitas Quartet, to the JazzFest in Berlin, Germany. The drumless quartet features trumpeter Ron Miles, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck and cellist Peggy Lee. The following year, the quartet released the album One Dance Alone.
In 2008, Horvitz and his ensemble Sweeter Than the Day to the Winter JazzFest at the Knitting Factory in New York City. Wayne’s latest release is the Sweeter Than The Day album A Walk In The Dark. Recent projects of Horvitz’s include performances with the Sonny Clark Memorial Sextet and performances with the Washington Composers Orchestra, a newly formed offshoot of the New York Composers Orchestra.
Horvitz lives in Seattle with his wife Robin, daughter Nica and son Lowell.
Select Discography As a leader:
As a leader:
No Place Fast (1981)
This New Generation (1985)
Dinner At Eight (1986)
Miracle Mile (1991)
Live In Poland (1994)
4 + 1 Ensemble (1998)
American Bandstand (2000)
Sweeter Than the Day (2002)
Way Out East (2006)
Walk in the Dark (2008)
With the Horvitz, Morris, Previte Trio
Nine Below Zero (1986)
Todos Santos (1989)
With Peter Kuhn
The Kill (1982)
Live in Poland (1994)
V as in Victim (1995)
With John Zorn
The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone (1984)
Naked City (1989)
Torture Garden (1990)
Grand Guignol (1991)
Voices in the Wilderness (2003)
Contributor: Eric Wendell