CMS Legacy Ensemble to perform at Maverick

Karl Berger

The new board members of Creative Music Studio (CMS) have not only brought new life and ideas to Woodstock’s historic, ground-breaking organization, but they have also joined founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso in an all-star CMS Legacy Ensemble. The sextet will perform a rare concert at Maverick Concert Hall on Saturday, August 31, at 8 p.m., honoring jazz great Ornette Coleman, who collaborated in the founding of CMS in the 1970s.

All the band members are also composers, said CMS president Billy Martin, who plays drums in the ensemble. “We’ve written a few tunes each, and we’ll be playing some of them. It’s music in the spirit of Ornette, and we’ll play some of his music too.”

The other members of the sextet are Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax and flute, Ken Filiano on bass, Berger on piano and vibes, and Sertso, vocalist and poet. Their band’s previous public performance was at the 2018 Woodstock Film Festival, following the U.S. premiere of Music Mind, a film about the creation and influence of CMS.

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From 1973 to 1984, at a property near Woodstock, CMS assembled groups of “guiding artists” (instructors) and “participants” (students), representing various musical styles and nationalities. They performed together using principles of improvisation based on Berger’s system of rhythm training known as GaMaLaTaKi. This method teaches what he has called “the common base of all music — sound and rhythm parameters that are found in electronic, jazz, Turkish, African, all kinds of music. It helps you develop a more personal approach to whatever style you play in. People played together here who would never even go to each other’s concerts in New York.” Don Cherry, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Carla Bley, Marilyn Crispell, and many other luminaries spent time at CMS over the years.

When arts funding dried up during the Reagan era, the Woodstock school closed its doors, but Berger and Sertso continued to teach and play music around the world, eventually establishing a twice-a-year five-day workshop series at Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, 22 miles west of Woodstock. In the past year and a half, Martin and the new board members have added an infusion of youth, social media savvy, and new connections, expanding the organization’s reach.

Sertso, Berger, board members, and special guest artists are now teaching weekend workshops three or four times a year at the New School in Manhattan. Attendees range in age from 18 to 70 or more, said Martin. “In New York City, we’re able to work with a wide age range and people from all kinds of backgrounds. People are finding out about CMS who have never head of us before.”

The Full Moon workshops are continuing, and other classes are being offered in Florida at University of Central Florida in Orlando and a state college in Sarasota. A fundraising concert at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg raised $30,000, some of which will go towards a forthcoming online program. With a monthly subscription or a lifetime membership, students will receive access to videos of master classes and interviews with Berger, Sertso, and other CMS teachers, including archival recordings from the 70s and 80s. “It’s the future of education, as far as delivering a certain way of teaching,” said Martin. “People on the other side of the planet and in other states, who can’t get here, will be able to watch and listen without having to travel or spend money for lodging.”

Meanwhile, the CMS Legacy Ensemble have been recording in the studio and playing together at CMS workshops, but the Maverick gig will be one of their few public appearances. “The chemistry we have makes a beautiful sound,” said Martin. Watch for their forthcoming album, but don’t miss a chance to hear the ensemble in person.

Maverick Concerts presents the Creative Music Studio Legacy Ensemble on Saturday, August 31, at 8 p.m., 120 Maverick Road, Woodstock. Tickets range from $5 to $45 and are available at https://maverickconcerts.org. The next New School workshop is September 7-8, and there is a program at Full Moon Resort in Big Indian from September 30 to October 4, with concerts open to the public on weeknights. Visit https://creativemusic.org for more information.

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