Ken Vandermark

Ken Vandermark

Ken Vandermark (born September 22, 1964 in Warwick, Rhode Island) is an American jazz composer and saxophone and clarinet player.

A fixture on the Chicago-area music scene since the 1990s, Vandermark has earned wide critical praise for his playing and his multilayered compositions, which typically balance intricate orchestration with passionate improvisation. He has led or been a member of many groups, has collaborated with many other musicians, and was awarded a 1999 MacArthur Fellowship. He plays tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; in about 2000, added baritone saxophone to his arsenal, and often favors the instrument, particularly in larger ensembles.


Boston and Montreal

Vandermark grew up in Massachusetts, graduating from Natick High School. His father, Stu, is a noted jazz critic. Vandermark performed and led groups while in high school and at McGill University in Montreal which he graduated from in 1986. He is mostly self-taught as a musician, but studied intermittently with George Garzone in the early 1980s.

Returning to the Boston area after graduation, he led or co-led groups (including Lombard Street and Mr. Furious) in Boston. Compositions/arrangements for the Boston-based groups set the groundwork for and predicted approaches to recordings and live performances developed in Chicago. Although a trio, Lombard Street incorporated “suite forms” characteristic of later arrangements for groups of both substantial and limited instrumentation. Vandermark’s “dedication pieces” are found first in Lombard Street performances, as in the case of “The Politics of Sound,” which was dedicated to the musicians in Boston-based ensembles Shock Exchange, The Fringe, and the Joe Morris Trio. Works performed by Mr. Furious, such as “Cold Coffee,” include some of the most convincing early examples of Vandermark’s signature free-ranging charts. Developed further in Barrage Double Trio (e.g., “Agamemnon Sleeps”) this simultaneously linear and episodic perspective on arrangement broadly has been the overarching architecture in most of his works for large-ensembles since that time.


Vandermark has lived in Chicago since autumn 1989. Since then, he has performed or recorded with many musicians (including Hal Russell, Paal Nilssen-Love, Hamid Drake, Fred Anderson, David Stackenäs, Paul Lytton, Joe Morris, Ab Baars, The Ex, Marcin Oles, Axel Doerner, Mats Gustafsson, Bartlomiej Oles, Wolter Wierbos, Joe McPhee, Zu, Peter Brötzmann, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Paul Lovens, Lasse Marhaug, Yakuza, Kevin Drumm, and members of Superchunk). He first gained widespread attention while with the NRG Ensemble from 1992 to 1996. He was once a member of Witches and Devils and the Flying Luttenbachers and has led or co-led several groups, including DKV Trio, Free Fall, Territory Band, CINC, Sonore, the
Vandermark 5, the Free Music Ensemble, School Days, the Sound in Action Trio, and Steam.

The "Joe Harriott Project", a brief celebration of Harriott in 1998 in the Chicago area, consisted of Ken Vandermark (reeds), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Kent Kessler (bass), and Tim Mulvenna (drums). The band played the music of Joe Harriott, transcribed and arranged by Vandermark.

In 2002 Vandermark recorded "Furniture Music", his first released performances as an unaccompanied soloist.

After several years of Vandermark 5 performances of his arrangements of works by Sonny Rollins, Joe McPhee, Cecil Taylor, and others, Vandermark in 2005 announced, "Though I have learned a great deal by rearranging some of my favorite composers' work for the Vandermark 5, it's time to leave that process behind and focus more completely on my own ideas."

Vandermark is the subject of "Musician" (2006), one of a series of Daniel Kraus video documentaries on contemporary occupations.


Vandermark won the Cadence magazine poll in 1998 for best artist and best recording. He was a finalist for the 1998 Herb Alpert Fellowship. In 1999 Vandermark was awarded a $265,000 MacArthur Fellowship, a prize then awarded on an age-based scale to creative leaders and meant to enable them to pursue their creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations.

External links

* [ Vandermark's official site]
* [ Discography]
* [ Ken Vandermark's myspace page]

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