New York Downtown in the 1980s

It’s amazing how sometimes two things come along that go together — maybe not a match, but one follows along from another, comments on it, contradicts it maybe. In the last 24 hours, we found two such things. We’ll deal with the most recent first, because it may be a scene you know: Peter Gordon’s Love of Life Orchestra performing ‘Siberia’ live at CBGBs. For all the balance and intonation problems, this is a great evocation of the New York scene in the early 1980s.

The other New York connection is less well known: John Kuhlman was a fascinating West Coast composer, associated in the early years with what would eventually be Cold Blue Recordings. He studied composition with Barney Childs at the University of Redlands and played in the Redlands Improvisers’ Orchestra with Jim Fox, Rick Cox, Read Miller, Anne Noble, and Marty Walker in the mid-1970s. Kuhlamn’s early composition had a lovely West Coast jazz-based ‘pretty music’ sound. In 1979, Kuhlman moved to New York, where he and his bands played in clubs like CBGBs, Roulette, the Mud Club, and elsewhere. He also became ‘handyman to the stars’, fixing up lofts and apartments for Yoko Ono and other leading lights of the New York arts scene.

John Kuhlman is not well known because he died young (in 1996). The trombonist, and his former flatmate, Fred Parcells, has put up a web page dedicated to John Kuhlman’s memory, including some recordings of his performances in New York.

This is a fascinating ‘what if’ history of a very talented composer, and a great portrait of a good friend of those who knew him at the University of Redlands and those who knew him in New York.

Author: Virginia

Virginia Anderson is a writer who messes with the EMC Blog. She specialises in the study of experimental, minimalist, and free improvisatory music. She also plays clarinet, and has recorded on Zanja, Advance, and Rastascan Recordings, specialising in new works for Eb clarinet and free improvisation.