In 1971 musicians Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso and Ornette Coleman founded the Creative Music Foundation. Its initial advisory board, comprised of legends from all aspects of music, the arts and philosophy, included composer John Cage, conductor/musician Gil Evans, philosopher/educator Buckminster Fuller, composer George Russell, painter Willem DeKooning and composer/conductor Gunther Schuller. Their goal was to establish a nonprofit organization focused on improvisation and musical cross-pollination that complemented musicians’ academic studies, a place where music as a universal language could be explored and expanded. They called it the Creative Music Studio, or CMS.
Established in New York as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, for most of its 40 years, the organization’s main program was the Creative Music Studio, a physical location in Woodstock, NY where musicians from all over the world lived, played, interacted with each other and created a body of music broad and deep. Based on a 45-acre campus with multiple residences, workshop rooms and performance halls, hundreds of Guiding Artists, including several MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award winners (George Lewis, John Zorn, Cecil Taylor, John Cage, Charlie Haden), lived, played and shared musical wisdom with thousands of participants, many of whom are now well-known musicians, from Steven Bernstein and Cyro Baptista to Peter Apfelbaum and Marilyn Crispell. Over 550 concerts were recorded and were digitized as part of the CMS Archive Project. In 2012, Columbia University Library purchased the CMS Archive to preserve it for posterity. Some of the performances in the Archive are included in recordings made available to the public. Two three-CD sets were produced in 2014 and 2015 and garnered rave reviews from critics worldwide, including being named ‘Best Historical Release’ by Cadence and Jazz Times magazines.
Even without a physical ‘campus,’ CMS has been remarkably active. In the past two years, a new executive director, Rob Saffer, has helped spearhead resurgence in CMS programming. In addition to the CMS Archive Project and CD compilations, CMS Programs include the CMS Oral History Project, a partnership with Columbia University Jazz Studies Program; Improvisers Performances; ongoing residencies, workshops and performances in New York City, Woodstock and around the world.
In 2013, CMS began hosting residential workshops in the Catskills after not offering any for several years. The organization takes over the Full Moon Resort to conduct its four-day workshop intensives. Artists at these workshops included MacArthur Fellows Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey and Steve Coleman, 2016 Pulitizer Prize winning composer Henry Threadgill, Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, John Medeski and Steven Bernstein, among many, many others. A CMS Scholarship Program has enabled roughly half of workshop participants to receive full or partial scholarships, helping musicians from Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Israel, Poland and the USA attend workshops.