It seems to me, if you were to sidle up next to John Zorn at the public library, a museum, or an art gallery, it would be likely that you would hear music pouring out of his ears or exuding from his skin or something. I mean, really, does this guy even sleep? Have a look at his oeuvre and you'll see what I mean. He is one of the most prodigious composer/performers of the last 40 years. A truly monumental amount of music, in an amazingly diverse array of styles, has been wrought by the single musical-mindedness of Mr. Zorn. Whatever compulsions drive him to create these intricately composed labyrinths, brooding beauties, and repugnantly hellish beasts are fine by me. It's more to explore.
Like many great jazz bandleaders from the past, Zorn has created a sort of map with which one can choose to go in different directions and enjoy (or be horrified by) a particular journey depending on which direction you choose. By now, you can spend hours upon hours traveling on his byways and along the way you'll encounter a vast and exemplary assortment of confidants, conspirators, and collaborators, each one adding a unique aspect to the musical topography. In turn, each participant of any given collaboration with Zorn has most likely carved out some interesting paths of his/her own. Throw a dart and see where you'll go.
Zorn, who recently turned 60 and celebrated the occasion with a series of concerts, was quoted in a recent New York Times article, “I used to look at composing music as problem solving,” he said. “But as I get older, it’s not about problem solving anymore. There are no solutions, because there are no problems. You just turn the tap and it flows out.” Again, take a glance at his output and you'll get the sense that the tap is opened wide. With such a wild diversity of approaches and sonic qualities in his music there is something for everyone to latch onto and enjoy. You want some ungodly noise? An achingly beautiful string trio? Brutal, hardcore punk-jazz freak-outs? Some klezmer? Some straight-ahead jazz or fierce free improvising? A soundtrack to a film? Musical games? It's all in there, just take your pick.
Invariably, Zorn is referred to as a jazz musician and there is little doubt that he is one of towering proportions, yet his canon reveals that he is also something a good bit more than that. He is a supreme example of a musical auteur working at a high level, with a rotating congregation of very talented musicians, and achieving consistently engaging results. Henry Mancini or Ennio Morricone come to mind as apt comparisons. Zorn explains "The term 'jazz', per se, is meaningless to me in a certain way. Musicians don’t think in terms of boxes. I know what jazz music is. I studied it. I love it. But when I sit down and make music, a lot of things come together. And sometimes it falls a little bit toward the classical side, sometimes it falls a little bit towards the jazz, sometimes it falls toward rock, sometimes it doesn’t fall anywhere, it's just floating in limbo. But no matter which way it falls, it's always a little bit of a freak. It doesn’t really belong anywhere. It's something unique, it's something different, it's something out of my heart."