Electric Circus

Our recent interview with Wayne Horvitz about the genesis of “Electric Circus”, which premieres this Saturday June 1st at the Royal Room. Show begins at 9pm.


Where does the name Electric Circus come from?

Really from the rock club of the same name. It was in NYC on St. Marks Place right around the corner from the Fillmore East. I went there once with my older brother Lee when I was 13 or 14. It was an off night, like a Tuesday, not a big crowd, and it had the full light show and everything. What was crazy was that it was the Willie Dixon band, so essentially it was four middle-aged black men, in other words to me really old men, all in suits. Willie Dixon was playing upright bass. But it was loud, and the music was amazing. Spoonful, Wang Dang Doodle, Little Red Rooster, all in this sea of psychedelic lights. I found out recently that Andy Warhol had it first, and The Velvet Underground was the house band. I think by 1967 it was actually managed as a real club, and it lasted a few more years.

What has that got to do with this project?

Well I wanted to combine a couple of things. One, I wanted to start doing a groove based project that uses some of the same ideas that I use in the Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble. Two, I want to start encouraging video and light show ideas at the Royal Room. I picked up a few projectors when I premiered “55: Music and Dance in Concrete” last year, and we did one show at the Royal Room with a lot of projections and it was great.

So does this involve “conduction”?

Well in a minor way. I will be using some hand signals to guide the band, and like I do with the other band I will have some written material too.

Your tunes?

No, in fact not even tunes at all. More like fragments. A riff from a James Brown tune or a line from some 60′s psychedelic band. I might plunder a Zony Mash tune so i guess some of my music as well, but not full arrangements. At the same time I will also be using some live sampling, and also samples that we play to set up vamps.

Who is in the band?

Well this will be the first time, and it will be a work in progress, but I have an awesome band for Saturday night.

Tim Kennedy and Ryan Burns on keys, Luke Bergman and Geoff Harper on basses, Bill Horist and Matt Deason on guitars, Claudio Rochat-Felix on drums, Thione Diop on percussion, Alex Guy on electric violin, Andy Clauden on trombone, Hannah Benn on voice. I will be playing some samples and organ as well.

And lights?

Full light show, a couple of friends have been working on it, we have 4 projectors going. Soon the Royal Room will have an overhead projector too, for the old school light show stuff.

Is the music very “60s”?

I don’t think so, though I hope it will be in spirit. I love that stuff, but this will be much more cut up, grooves coming more from soul and funk, but also a lot of very open playing as well. It will be different every time.

Music for the Baroness


The Piano Starts Here series continues Wednesday June 5th 2013 with “Music for the Baroness”.  Performers for the evening include Dawn Clement, Ryan Burns, Josh Rawlings and Tim Kennedy.  Hosted by Wayne Horvitz.baronne-panonica-de-koenigswarte_01

Piano Starts Here has always featured pianists in a solo format. For the “Music for the Baroness” performance each pianist will perform with The Sonny Clark Memorial Sextet, featuring Al Kieth, Craig Flory, Geoff Harper, Andy Roth and Steve Moore.

Tickets for Piano Starts Here: Music for the Baroness are available now from Stranger Tickets.  $7 advance and $10 at the door

In the entry below, David Kastin, the author of “Nica’s Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness,” highlights some the two-dozen tunes that have been written for Pannonica (Nica) de Koenigswarter by a couple of generations of jazz greats.

For more information on David Kastin please visit the Nica’s Dream Facebook Page.

It was early in the research process for my biography of Nica. Having already plowed through all the available secondary sources, I sent out a batch of letters and e-mails to musicians and jazz writers soliciting their recollections of the “Jazz Baroness.” A few days later, a little after 11 p.m. as I was drifting off to sleep, the phone in my Brooklyn apartment jolted me awake: “Hello, David?” a laid-back voice inquired, “This is Horace Silver.”

Oblivious to the three-hour time difference from the Malibu, California address to which I’d recently mailed my letter, it turned out Horace was in the mood to reminisce. Not wanting to interrupt – to explain that I didn’t have my list of questions at hand (or the tape-recorder I’d planned on using) – I managed to make my way to my desk, find a notebook and pen, and began scribbling down his wistful memories of Nica, circa 1956…

By the time she arrived in NYC in the early 50′s, Nica had already acquired a formidable backstory. Born in 1913 into the English branch of the Rothschild family, she’d grown up in the fairytale splendor of London mansions and vast country estates. In 1935, the 22 year-old heiress (and avid aviatrix) took a solo hop across the English channel where she met her future husband, the Baron Jules de Koenigswarter, a fellow pilot and member of the French Jewish aristocracy. Following a whirlwind courtship, the newlyweds settled into a 17th century chateau outside Paris and started a family. When the Nazi’s invaded a few years later, they both joined the Free French Forces in North Africa, where Nica served as a translator and ambulance driver. Following the war, Jules, a war hero (and recipient of the Croix de Guerre), became a diplomat, and it was during his stint as Ambassador to Mexico that the Baroness made the decision to escape what had become a dysfunctional relationship.

After acquiring a Rolls Royce convertible and a suite in the elegant Stanhope Hotel, Nica became a fixture in New York’s midcentury jazz scene. She also became a source of material aid and comfort for musicians who were either strung out, or simply down on their luck, and her Stanhope suite became a 24-hour jazz salon where musicians could hang out and spin records on her state-of-the-art hi-fi. Recalling his own times chez Nica, Horace Silver recalled with a ripple of soft laughter, “She had a huge record collection, and Doug [Watkins, the bassist for the Jazz Messengers] and I made a point to visit around dinner time, because she always invited us to eat. We ordered filet mignon from the restaurant downstairs, and the waiters wheeled the meal in on a trolley and served it to us.” As I discovered later, she’d also been a generous patron to the newly-formed Messengers (which Silver had just co-founded with Art Blakey), buying the band a couple of sets of matching suits, and for Blakey, a Cadillac, so he could get them to gigs in style.

Before long, musicians began to repay her kindness in one of the only ways they could – by writing compositions in her honor, and Horace Silver’s soulful, Latin-tinged classic, “Nica’s Dream” was the first. As Silver explained it in our conversation, “She loved the music, and she loved the musicians,” and these tunes were “a tribute to her, because she was so good to us.” Later, when it came to choose a title for my book, I would appropriate the name of Silver’s tune, which for me, conjured up the romantic quest at the root of her life and legend.

Another member of Nica’s inner circle, the under-appreciated pianist, Freddie Redd, also made his contribution to the Nica canon, “Nica Steps Out” (a lyrical melody wrapped in an intricate bebop line) in honor of all the nights that they’d hit the clubs, sip Chivas Regal (“that was her favorite”), listen to records at the Stanhope and talk till dawn. “Everybody loved Nica,” Redd told me in our interview. “I mean, she was irresistible! We needed somebody like her. She gave us so much assistance and respect. It was wonderful.”

Of the two-dozen compositions dedicated to “the Baroness” (as she was affectionately-dubbed by New York’s bebop pioneers), each seems to suggest a different facet of her complex persona. Gigi Gryce’s “Nica’s Tempo” – by turns brash and reflective – evokes her mercurial spirit, while the sultry swing of Kenny Drew’s “Blues for Nica” captures her earthy sensuality; the spare, melodic beauty of Kenny Dorham’s “Tonica” reflects her old-school elegance, and the hipster strut of Sonny Clark’s “Nica (a.k.a. Royal Flush)” her quintessential cool.

Of course, of all the jazz greats she befriended, her thirty-year relationship with Thelonious Monk was the most profound, and the haunting ballad he wrote for her in 1956, “Pannonica,” remains one of the most beloved standards in the jazz repertoire. Prior to recording the tune with a band for his Riverside LP, Brilliant Corners, Monk performed a solo version for Nica that she documented on her reel-to-reel tape recorder. In an unusual gesture, the usually taciturn composer offered a spoken introduction to the tune that alludes to the story behind her unusual name: “It was named after this beautiful lady here…I think her father gave her that name after a butterfly he tried to catch. I don’t think he caught the butterfly.”

When Jon Hendricks, the songwriter and vocalese master, first met Nica at the Five Spot Cafe during one of Monk’s early gigs, he quickly saw past her glamorous image (the fur wrap, cigarette holder and silver flask). “She understood what culture is, and so she approached our culture in that way,” Hendricks explained when we spoke in his spacious New York apartment. “To her, Thelonious and Bird were not just ‘hip jazz musicians,’ they were great cultural artists, and she treated them that way. A few years later, Hendricks expressed his feelings for her in a set of lyrics he wrote for Monk’s “Pannonica.” Taking a cue from the entomological source of her exotic name, he titled his song, “Little Butterfly:”

                                       Delicate things, such as butterfly wings,

                                      poets can’t describe, ‘tho they try.

                                       Love played a tune

                                       when she stepped from her cocoon.

                                       Pannonica, lovely, lovely, little butterfly.


Over the decades, many others would also try to capture her intangible essence in words or music, but just like that elusive butterfly, she continued to evade every attempt to pin her down. Nica died in 1988, and in a final gesture to her adopted city – and to the musician she loved and admired more than any other – she instructed her children to scatter her ashes in the Hudson River, ’round midnight.

Some other Nica Tunes:


“Thelonica” (Tommy Flanagan), “Inca” (Barry Harris), “Theme for Nica” (Eddie Thompson), “Nica’s Day” and “995 5th Ave” [the address of the Stanhope Hotel] (Wayne Horvitz), “Nica’s Gift” and“The Name is Nica” (Joel Forrester) and “Where is Pannonica?” (title of a 2009 CD by Andy Milne and Benoit Delbecq).



Soon after the Royal Room opened its doors in December 2011, the Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble was born. Truly embodying what the Royal Room is all about, music and community, the group consists of some of the city’s most creative players. Next week, with over a year of regular nights at the club under their collective belt (watch videos of  some  shows  here),  the ensemble will embark on their first ever “tour” with a trip to New York City for a week-long residency at John Zorn’s renowned creative music gallery, The Stone  – May 21-26.  Below, bandleader Wayne Horvitz  talks about how the group started and what it has become. READ ALL ABOUT IT:


Sometimes RRCME is referred to as the Royal Room “house band”. Why is that? What does the group represent for the club?

A couple of reasons. One, a lot of the players in RRCME are involved in various other projects that come through the Royal Room a lot, in all sorts of variations. For example – Sam Boshnack’s quintet played last week. Geoff Harper and Eric Eagle are in all sorts of groups that play here. Beth Fleenor curates a Monday night once a month, and so on. I think the other reason is that we play twice a month on Mondays, which have become a kind of “musician’s” night, when people don’t worry as much about audience numbers and can really stretch things out. I’m hoping Mondays become a night where musicians just turn up to see what’s happening.

What is most exciting to you about this project, and why did you choose to bring RRCME to The Stone for your residency?

When Zorn asked me to do a week at the Stone there were so many things I could have done, mostly with NYC musicians. But I just felt like this band was really creating a sound –  it sounded like a real band, not just a group of great players, and it was developing so quickly. I also honsetly feel like there are so many tremendously interesting players in Seattle that no one hears about in NYC, or beyond. So that was another motivation.

This is the first time that RRCME will be going “on tour”. Do you see doing more in the future?

Well, I’d love too. Frankly the economics are really tough with this large a band, but the music certainly deserves it. I also have been taking the music to other large ensembles in other cities and that had been fantastic, but it’s not the same. The band is really special, I feel.

The recently passed Butch Morris was somewhat of an inspiration for this ensemble. Can you talk about that?

It’s funny, I could burst into tears just thinking about how much I wish Butch could hear this band, and even more that all of the musicians in the band could have met him. I never really wanted to do much “conduction” myself, per se. I feel more like a composer when I lead ensembles. In this band we play my charts and I take just a fraction of Butch’s language, along with a few things of my own, and try to make it happen. Historically it’s interesting because back in the day Butch started by taking bits and pieces of written music and working with from there, especially with the David Murray Big Band. In a lot of ways this music has more in common with what Butch was doing when I met him years ago.

The Stone and the Royal Room seem like kindred sorts of venues. 

Well, we are similar in some ways, and exactly the opposite in others. It seems to me that The Stone was created in part to provide a clean and decent venue to perform in for a lot of creative artists who are on the edge, at least to some degree. All the shows are the same price generally, and there is nothing but the space and the music. When I started the Royal Room I felt that Seattle had some great venues for creative music, and good venues for Jazz and touring acts, etc., but what I wanted was a place that really served the local music community as a whole, and the South end in particular. We are a social space. We have all sorts of music. People eat and drink, and we make sure a lot of creative and improvised music gets supported in that. But we also opened the space to the Presidential Debates, and other events that connect the community. We have a Drag Brunch, a Gospel Brunch,  etc. But at its heart it’s inspired by places I used to go to in NYC when I first got there like the Tin Palace where Henry Threadgill would always be hanging out and musicians would always gather along with the audience, and after the music people would keep hanging.

And at The Stone shows you’ll be releasing a live recording, right?

Yeah, a limited edition live recording of Two nights at the Royal Room, all live. We brought in some gear and I think it sounds great!

The Stone is located at the corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street in NYC. The Royal Room Collective Music ensemble will perform May 21-26,  $15 tickets at the door. 


In late 2012, Beck Hansen reminded us of how music used to be distributed: rather than recording his next album himself, he joined forces with McSweeney’s  to publish an entire new record in the form of Song Reader, 20 original compositions that echo the spirit of pop music from the days when songbooks were wildly popular. The project invites musicians to adapt the compositions as they like (visit the project’s website for video submissions from around the world.) Last January, the Royal Room joined in on the experiment, corralling  some of Seattle’s most creative players for a wonderful two show performance jam-packed with fresh interpretation. This Saturday, May 4th, we’re bringing the night back for round two!

Miles & Karina performing in the January show.

Miles & Karina performing in the January show.

Check out videos of stellar performances by Jimmie Herrrod, Carla Torgerson, and Katie Jacobson from the January show.

Beck’s Songreader will take place this Saturday, May 4th. Tickets for the early (7pm, all ages) set can be purchased here. Tickets for the late (9:30, 21+) show can be purchased here