Blaise Siwula

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Creative improvising saxophonist Blaise Siwula was born February 19, 1950, in Detroit, MI, growing up in a working/middle-class black neighborhood. His next-door neighbor practiced saxophone in the afternoon…
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Creative improvising saxophonist Blaise Siwula was born February 19, 1950, in Detroit, MI, growing up in a working/middle-class black neighborhood. His next-door neighbor practiced saxophone in the afternoon and occasionally allowed him inside to watch him play. Involved with the arts for all of his life, he began studying the alto sax at the age of 14, playing in the middle-school concert band. Hearing John Coltrane's LP Om in 1969, he felt compelled to take the tenor saxophone and make his voice heard on it. Siwula was influenced by hearing Art Pepper in San Francisco, as well as Ornette Coleman, Sonny Stitt, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Blue Mitchell, Elvin Jones, and Miles Davis in memorable live performances around the Detroit area in the early '70s. Cecil Taylor's recordings with Jimmy Lyons were inspirational in a later period. The Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in 1972 and performances by Ravi Shankar and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra were also telling.

At college on and off for an extended period from 1968-1980, he studied theory and composition at Wayne State University, but earned a B.F.A. Siwula's first personal encounters with jazz musicians came around 1971 while living in a hotel near the downtown campus of Wayne State. Drummer Doc Watson had been hanging out while living there and returned to school to study composition. He and Siwula spent evenings talking about music, art, and Charlie Parker. Then the saxophonist got married, moved to San Francisco, and started playing free improvised music in coffeehouses and writing poetry. He was influenced by Spanish Civil War poets like Miguel Hernandez and Federico García Lorca, French poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud, beat poet Gregory Corso, Hart Crane, and W.B. Yeats. After four years in Northern California, he came back to Detroit, then headed for Europe in 1989, working and traveling as a street musician for three months, then returning to the States and settling in New York City.

After periodic explorations of drama, poetry, architecture, and visual art, and quite unable to secure a recording contract initially, Siwula made his music available via independently produced cassette tapes. Since then, the self-determining Siwula has been actively involved with the metro New York improvisation scene, including working with Amica Bunker, the Improvisers Collective, and (most prominently) the Citizens Ontological Music Agenda (COMA) series. Siwula had initially booked shows with Bunker in 1991-1992, and COMA was created, formally staging diversified concerts centered in free music on a continual basis since March 1998. Every Sunday, some type of improvised music assembly was presented, with an open forum session afterwards. Once a year, COMA produced a benefit/festival where over 100 musicians gathered and made music on all the floors, the roof, and the garden of their venue.

During the decade of the 2000s, Siwula as a spontaneous composer has incorporated traditional musical scoring techniques with visual/graphic and performance-oriented presentations. Primarily an alto saxophonist, he plays a number of saxophones, clarinets, flutes, percussion and string instruments, and computer-altered sound files as background for improvisation. His many collaborators have included Doug Walker's Alien Planetscapes, Cecil Taylor's Ptonagas, William Hooker's ensembles, Judy Dunaway's Balloon Trio, Dialing Privileges with Dom Minasi and John Bollinger, Ken Simon, Karen Borca, Jackson Krall, William Parker, Mike Khoury, Eyal Maoz, Jeff Platz, Joseph Scianni, Adam Lane, Carsten Radtke, Peter Kowald, Perry Robinson, Newman Taylor Baker, John Voigt, Wilber Morris, Vincent Chancey, Theo Jörgensmann, Michael Zerang, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Rashid Bakr, Tatsuya Nakatani, Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen, Lukas Ligeti, Sarah Weaver, James Ilgenfritz, Fala Mariam, Ernesto Rodrigues, Hilliard Greene, Joe McPhee, Daniel Carter, Bern Nix, Syd Smart, Brian Groder, Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Matt Sullivan, Tan Dun, Maria De Alvear, Vattel Cherry, and Jeff Arnal.