Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
Eyebrows were raised in the jazz world when it was announced that the relatively obscure and young Ken Vandermark was to receive a 1999 MacArthur "Genius" grant. Previous MacArthur recipients among jazz musicians included Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton -- near-legendary figures who, over the course of long careers, created substantial bodies of work that have (to some degree) stood the test of time. Vandermark, just 35 at the time, was little-known outside of Chicago, and his music was not universally accepted to be as significant as musicians' like Taylor and Braxton. Whether or not he "deserved" such recognition at such a young age is subject to debate, but there's no question that Vandermark is a talented musician. His tenor sax and bass clarinet work is strong and expressive; his technique on all of his horns is as sure as can be, and his improvising and compositional styles are as intellectually engaging as they are original. Vandermark began playing trumpet in fourth grade and then switched to tenor sax as a junior in high school. He attended McGill University from 1982 to 1986. In 1986, he moved to Boston, where he led a trio called Lombard Street and studied bass clarinet. In 1989, he moved from Boston to Chicago, where he first attracted notice as a member of Hal Russell 's NRG Ensemble. His activities increased; he began leading several ensembles and became a mover and shaker, promoting and booking events with influential jazz critic John Corbett. His presence became a constant on the Chicago arts scene; he performs with a variety of bands, including the DKV Trio, Witches & Devils, the Joe Harriot Project, Steam, Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, and the Vandermark 5, the latter of which has released over ten albums, including 2001's Acoustic Machine, 2005's Color of Memory, and 2006's Free Jazz Classics, Vols. 3 & 4. A Discontinuous Line also appeared in 2006 from Atavistic.