MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 1999

Ken Vandermark

Jazz Composer and Performer

Chicago, Illinois

Age: 35 at time of award

Published July 1, 1999

Ken Vandermark is a composer, improviser, and tenor saxophone and clarinet player whose compositions and performances incorporate a breadth of stylistic influences.

Vandermark’s music draws on a range of traditions, including jazz, European classical and folk musics, reggae, rock, and African forms. A number of his pieces bare a striking resemblance to baroque chamber music, while others are more akin to heavy-metal anthems. He leads and performs with more than a dozen ensembles and has recorded over forty compact disks, including Target or Flag (1998), Simpatico (1999), Acoustic Machine (2002), Furniture Music (2003) and The Color of Memory (2004). As exemplified by his Target or Flag recording, Vandermark’s work is characterized by high-energy playing that also includes timbral range and melodic coherence. Though many of his performances are entirely improvised, others include his signature composition style, featuring tightly wound chromatic and counterpunctalfigures played in unison by horns that then release into long solos.

Vandermark first rose to attention in the NRG Ensemble (1989-96) and subsequently through his own ensembles, including the DKV Trio, Witches and Devils, the Vandermark 5, the Joe Harriot Project, and Steam.

Vandermark attended McGill University (1982-86).

Last updated January 1, 2005

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