Medeski Martin & Wood Offers Lessons for Making Music, and Living Life
In the early 1970s, the nonprofit educational program Creative Music Studio (CMS) opened in Woodstock, New York, with an unconventional aim: invite artists—regardless of their musical ability, socioeconomic status, or culture—to live and play together, using the universal language of sound. It became a breeding ground for musical cross-pollination and spontaneity, hosting numerous virtuosos, including MacArthur “Genius” Grant winners John Cage, John Zorn, and Charlie Haden, and redefining music-making as an act of listening, observing, and reacting.
Today, the organization is helmed by experimental artist, drummer, and composer Billy Martin, who’s introducing its methodology to a new generation. (A friend of The Slowdown, he also wrote the jingle for our Time Sensitive podcast.) Martin recently unveiled Creative Music Workshop, an online platform that builds on CMS’s legacy with free masterclasses and an ever-growing library of archival footage from workshops past. This week, it began the first of five week-long digital presentations by the jazz-fusion band Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW), of which Martin is the drummer, called “Inside the Minds, Outside the Lines.” “Our general philosophy is to continuously reinvent ourselves,” Martin says of MMW, which plans to detail strategies for others, musicians or not, to do exactly that. As with CMS, which has long believed that anyone’s innate creativity can create something new, Martin sees beauty in moments where people simply let things happen. “Being playful, not thinking too much, not conceptualizing ahead of time—you can use those ideas every day,” he says. “Improvisation is a metaphor for life.”