John Zorn Filmworks

“All the various styles are organically connected to one another. I’m an additive person – the entire storehouse of my knowledge informs everything I do. People are so obsessed with the surface that they can’t see the connections, but they are there” Zorn

John Zorn (born September 2, 1953 in New York City) is an American avant-garde composer, arranger, record producer, saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist. Zorn is a prolific artist: he has hundreds of album credits as performer, composer, or producer. He has had experience with a variety of genres including jazz, rock, hardcore punk, classical, extreme metal, klezmer, film, cartoon, popular, and improvised music.

Zorn spent time in his teenage years listening to classical music, film music, and, “listening to The Doors and playing bass in a surf band.

” Kagel, “Improvisation Ajoutée.” (1968) I bought this when I was about 15. Still marked: got it at Sam Goody in September, for 98 cents. And it’s a really crazy piece, with the guys screaming and hooting, something that attracted me. I was over at my friend’s house, and he really liked the Rolling Stones. And I just got this record, and I put it on and he looked at me like…who the hell are you? Are you out of your mind? And his mother was there, and she was like [puts palm on cheek] my God, take this off… and right then and there, I decided: this was the music.” (episode of his life, that influenced his subsequent taste for experimental and avant-garde music)

Zorn picked up the saxophone after discovering Anthony Braxton’s album “For Alto” (1969) while studying composition at Webster College in St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended classes taught by Oliver Lake.

While still at Webster, Zorn incorporated elements of free jazz, avant-garde and experimental music, film scores, performance art and the cartoon scores of Carl Stalling into his first recordings which were later released as First Recordings 1973 (1995).

Film music

Zorn’s breakthrough recording was 1985’s The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone, where Zorn offered radical arrangements of the Roman composer’s themes from movies including The Big Gundown (1966), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), and Once Upon a Time in America (1984).

“This is a record that has fresh, good and intelligent ideas. It is realization on a high level, a work done by a maestro with great science-fantasy and creativity… Many people have done versions of my pieces, but no one has done them like this”. Ennio Morricone

Zorn’s versions of Morricone’s compositions incorporated elements of traditional Japanese music, soul jazz, and other diverse musical genres.

Zorn has written music for documentaries, underground films, television advertisements and cartoons which are documented in the Filmworks albums on the Tzadik label.

The Filmworks series

Filmworks 1986-1990 (1991) – Filmworks II: Music for an Untitled Film by Walter Hill (1995) – Filmworks III: 1990-1995 (1995) – Filmworks IV: S/M + More (1996) – Filmworks V: Tears of Ecstasy (1996) – Filmworks VI: 1996 (1997) – Filmworks VII: Cynical Hysterie Hour (1997, originally in 1989 as “Cynical Hysterie Tour”, Japan only) – Filmworks VIII: 1997 (1998) – Filmworks IX: Trembling Before G-d (2000) – Filmworks X: In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2001) – Filmworks XI: Secret Lives (2002) – Filmworks XII: Three Documentaries (2002) – Filmworks XIII: Invitation to a Suicide (2002) – Filmworks XIV: Hiding and Seeking (2003) – Filmworks XV: Protocols of Zion (2005) – Filmworks XVI: Workingman’s Death (2005) – Filmworks XVII: Notes on Marie Menken/Ray Bandar: A Life with Skulls (2006) – Filmworks XVIII: The Treatment (2006) – Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse (2008) – Filmworks XX: Sholem Aleichem (2008) – Filmworks XXI: Belle de Nature/The New Rijksmuseum (2008) – Filmworks XXII: The Last Supper (2008) – Filmworks XXIII: El General (2009) – Filmworks XXIV: The Nobel Prizewinner (2010) – Filmworks XXV: City of Slaughter/Schmatta/Beyond the Infinite (2013)


Some of these film scores are jazz-influenced, others classical, and most feature ensembles consisting of rotating combinations of downtown musicians. Zorn has often used his cinematic and television commissions to experiment with line-ups and forms that would become more established parts of his musical canon.

Zorn Filmography
Money (1985) – Put More Blood Into the Music (New York avant garde music), episode 292 of The South Bank Show, aired Sunday March 12, 1989 – Step Across the Border (1990)

A Bookshelf on Top of the Sky: 12 Stories About John Zorn (2004)

– Masada Live at Tonic 1999 (2004) – Celestial Subway Lines / Salvaging Noise (2005) – Sabbath in Paradise (2007) – Astronome: A Night At The Opera (2010)

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