Earlier this spring I attended the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, for the first time. (It won't be my last.) There was so much to love about this experience, which was immersive and inspiring and often thrilling. I wrote about the festival for NPR Music, focusing on its heavier-than-usual contingent of jazz — veritable icons like Roscoe Mitchell and Milford Graves; mid-career explorers like Nels Cline; ascendent pacesetters like Jenny Scheinman and Jason Moran. On the final day of the fest, I saw a great big standing-room crowd go deep on the music of the Tyshawn Sorey Trio. Then I headed over to catch a bit of Rostam, who would have been headlining a cavernous space in any major city. Here he was playing to a small crowd — a lot smaller than the one that had gathered for Tyshawn. Such is the delirious upside-down reality of Big Ears.
One point I tried to make in my piece was an observation implicitly tied to Playing Changes:
No idea whether Big Ears will feature so many improvisers on the next edition of the festival. But it seems more than possible. Whatever happens, I'm going to do everything in my power to be there.