A man of many parts
by Piotr Michalowski
From the May, 2005 issue
There was a time when most jazz musicians concentrated on doing one thing really well. Some combined composition with instrumental prowess, and woodwind players may have doubled on a variety of saxophones, clarinets, and even flute. In recent years this has all changed, and most musicians do many different things, sometimes for aesthetic reasons and sometimes simply to survive. In our postmodernist times, eclecticism in the defense of music is no vice, but few have managed to do so many things so well as Andrew Bishop.
Bishop began his musical training in his native town of Wichita, Kansas, and after graduating with degrees in saxophone and composition from Kansas State University, he moved to Ann Arbor to pursue his doctorate at the U-M School of Music. I cannot remember any new graduate student whose arrival was so well noted in the local community. He was soon acknowledged, quite simply, as the best tenor sax man in town he also doubles on soprano sax and clarinet and his broad musical talents were sought out by leaders of local bands. He became a permanent member of the Bird of Paradise Orchestra (now the Paul Keller Orchestra), contributing as both a player and a composer, and began to lead his own combos as well. But Bishop feels equally comfortable playing in any jazz style, and so he can also be found every Sunday afternoon playing with Phil Ogilvie's Rhythm Kings, working on arrangements from the first two decades of jazz. For most musicians this would be enough. Bishop, however, is also well known in classical circles as one of the best young composers in the country. He now holds a doctorate in composition and teaches at Albion College. He has garnered prizes and commissions; his larger works have been performed by the Albany and Chicago symphonies, among others; and his duet Accents of Eccentricity was recorded by percussionist Steve Houghton.
Most local jazz listeners know Bishop as
a sideman modernist who can also play in older styles, but when he steps out on his own he favors more adventurous stuff. He began avant-garde explorations in Wichita, where he was a member of Craig Owens's Bodo Ensemble, and when the opportunity presents itself, he puts together projects that reflect his need to press into new musical areas. Indeed, he and Tim Flood are the only musicians to have performed at every Edgefest, the international creative music festival that takes place in Ann Arbor each fall. I still remember the impact of his amazing Hank Williams Project from 1997, which combined Nashville with downtown New York in a singular and idiosyncratic manner.
Other projects have followed, but some of his best work, both as instrumentalist and composer, has been presented over the years in the context of a trio with bassist Flood and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Flood lives in Ann Arbor, but Detroiter Cleaver has relocated to New York, where he is now busy playing and recording with some of the leading players of the new music. They reunite on Tuesday, May 17, at Kerrytown Concert House in celebration of their CD Time and Imaginary Time.
[Originally published in May, 2005.]
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