A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1971, a young public arts organization called American International Sculptors Symposiums was formed by Verna Gillis and Bradford Graves to foster public art projects.
The Vermont International Sculptors Symposium in Burlington in the summer of 1971 was its first project and eight sculptures fabricated in concrete were placed in rest areas along the Vermont Interstate and are still there today.
AISS, the abbreviated version, rented space at 549 West 52nd Street for sculptors and still maintains one of those spaces today. The 8th floor of this formidable old building is one of the last hold outs of the committment of City of New York to provide affordable space for non-profit organizations.
Part of the Bradford Graves Estate is housed on this floor where Graves created most of his works.
The Macedonia Cultural Center is a special project of Soudnscape and presents on-going exhibitions , poetry readings, concerts and special events with a Macedonian cultural focus. Everyone is welcome.
The next evolution of the organization was in 1979, when Verna Gillis opened SOUNDSCAPE, a multi-cultural concept in music programming. Gillis, a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, presented contemporary music and musicians from broadly based cultural backgrounds. From 1979 through 1984, SOUNDSCAPE produced out of its own space at 500 West 52nd Street, the first multi-cultural performance space in New York City. LIVE IN SOUNDSCAPE a 9-CD series on DIW documents those years.
After 1984, SOUNDSCAPE became a “floating concert hall.” Other venues used included the Purple Barge on the Hudson River, the Miller Pier, the Ritz, La Mama, the Village Gate, Irving Plaza, SOB’s, Symphony Space, Alice Tully Hall, Town Hall and the Beacon Theatre.
As a performance space, SOUNDSCAPE brought together all musics, regardless of genre. It provided an environment that encouraged experimentation, development, and cultural fusions. SOUNDSCAPE presented both established, well-known musicians as well as emerging composer/musicians of exceptional promise. With SOUNDSCAPE, the established musician would find a rare environment in which they were encouraged to try out new ideas without commercial pressures. It provided merging musicians a forum with a reputation for quality and visibility, that has generated national and international enthusiastic press. Many musicians performed and were reviewed for the first time at SOUNDSCAPE, and have gone on to make significant contributions to contemporary music.
SOUNDSCAPE is a respected international resource that acts as consultant to Festivals and organizations around the world for producing concerts and concert series and for developing concepts for their music programming.
From 1980-1985 SOUNDSCAPE produced the New Music component of the KOOL JAZZ FESTIVAL .
SOUNDSCAPE was the first U.S. presenter of African pop music with the appearance of King Sunny Ade and his African Beats from Nigeria in early 1983, which was heralded as “the pop event of the decade” by Robert Palmer of The New York Times. Late that same year, SOUNDSCAPE produced the first Hip-Hop performance, “Dance Music New York,” at the Miller Pier.
In November, 1981, SOUNDSCAPE produced INTERPRETATIONS OF MONK in two concerts at Columbia University. Eleven major performers and interpreters of Thelonious Monk’s music performed together in different configurations. These momentous performances were taped by National Public Radio and broadcast nationwide, and released in 1994 on DIW.
In 1981 and 1982, SOUNDSCAPE produced summer concert series at the Hudson River Museum; it produced SOUNDSCAPE PRESENTS LATIN NEW YORK in 1982 at the Berlin Jazz Festival; and it produced six successful seasons of Latin Jazz for the Center for Inter American Relations, 1982-1987.
SOUNDSCAPE produced a WORLD POP series for The First New York International Festival of the Arts, in New York City in 1988 presenting talent from India, Japan, and three African countries with performances at The Felt Forum and the Beacon Theatre. In 1991, once again for the New York International Festival of the Arts premiered two groups from Brazil - Paulinho da Viola and Olodum, as well as “Lights in a Fat City.” (A complete list of concerts produced by Verna Gillis/Soundscape is included in Ms. Gillis’ résumé.)
A partial list of the many artists who have performed for SOUNDSCAPE include Youssou Ndour, King Sunny Ade, Salif Keita, Celia Cruz, Steve Lacy, Don Cherry, Roswell Rudd, Los Lobos, Daniel Ponce, Hilton Ruiz, Marilyn Crispell, Sun Ra, Tito Puente, Paquito d’Rivera, Etta James, Arto Lindsay, Mary Lou Williams, The Lounge Lizards, La Troupe Makandal, Test Dept. Franco and TPOK Jazz.
In 1986 SOUNDSCAPE formed its own record label and to date has released two albums by the group VORTEX. The first record, C ALBUM, was voted one of the 10 best of the year in 1986 by Cadence Magazine. Two other SOUNDSCAPE recordings have been licensed to Island Records - the first, ARAWE by Daniel Ponce, was released in 1987, and FUNKY JIBARO by YOMO TORO was released in 1988, both to critical acclaim.
In recent years, Verna Gillis/Soundscape have produced the Archie Shepp/Roswell Rudd Quartet (Universal/Verve); Roswell Rudd's MALIcool (Universal/Sunnyside); Roswell Rudd and the Mongolian Buryat Band (Univeral); and to be released in July 2007 Roswell Rudd and Yomo Toro's EL ESPIRITU JIBARO, licensed to Sunnyside
The Soundscape archive has been turned over to WKCR through the initiative of Ben Young.
Four years ago, Aram Rubenstein-Gillis founded the ARTS EDUCATION focus of Soundscape to present artists in the schools teaching various subjects through the arts, particularly music.
SOUNDSCAPE PRESS QUOTES
About the SOUNDSCAPE CD Series on Universal: Roswell Rudd’s MALIcool, May 2002:
“The haunting beauty of the group sound is evident from the opening “Bamako”, the simplicity of its harmonies balanced by the shifting of constant cross-rhythms…The virtuosic abilities of the traditional players is given free space here, and is open to your admiration….this is something on a higher plane that listeners should relish.”
Anthony Troon, Jazz Review
“A musical work full of tenderness, at the meeting place of two worlds.”
La Voix du Nord, 19.6.02
“On MALIcool, there’s a real mutual effort to listen, to find a path to each other. And that is very rare.” Le Nouvel Observateur, 13.6.02
“It’s a beautiful fusion….The adapataion of these Malians to Roswell Rudd’s phrasing (even on Thelonious Monk) is surprising. A very, very good record.”
La Marseillaise 2.6.02
“Now Rudd amazes us again with a fascinating west African influenced album. MALIcool documents one of the rare encounters in which there is a real fusion between Jazz and African music and not just a superficial merger.”
“Something happened between these two creators, Roswell and Toumani…Something that a thousand million polished productions, images from a tamed Africa, will never possess…And everything about this journey rests on a latent ambiguity, the precarious balance of chemistry.”
Arnaud Robert, Vibrations
Its musical consciousness features artistic freedom, experimentation and curiosity about what happens when music and cultures mix
Robert Palmer, The New York Times
July 9, 1982
SOUNDSCAPE presentations still offer a more provocative mix of musical directions than other New York concerts
Robert Palmer, The New York Times
March 6, 1985
With a fan’s enthusiasm and a connoisseur’s modesty, Gillis has been giving the city ear-openers for years, and thanks to Gillis’ far-flung contacts, SOUNDSCAPE is plugged into the European and Asian and jazz communities, and the Caribbean-Latin-Nuyorican nexus
Jon Pareles, The Village Voice
Jan 5, 1982
It’s a dream called SOUNDSCAPE. A space born of a concept, and cleared in the maelstrom of the city where music weird and wondrous can flourish
Richard M. Sudhalter, The New York Post
Sept. 18, 1983
Verna Gillis knows more about the world’s music, where styles came from and how they have evolved than many musicians
Robert Palmer, The New York Times
July 9, 1982
SOUNDSCAPE today stands as something of a beacon on the New York scene. Few innovators are themselves this generous, but SOUNDSCAPE is possibly the most important club in the free-music world and it deserves such accolades. All jazz visitors to New York should make SOUNDSCAPE an early port of call, and to make their own contribution to the breaking down of musical barriers
The Wire, London
The level throughout the performance was very high indeed, which is to the credit of Verna Gillis who organized the concert
John Rockwell, The New York Times
March 10, 1975
Musical boundaries crumble and re-emerge in new forms several nights a week at SOUNDSCAPE
June 25, 1981
SOUNDSCAPE always presents music imperatively worth hearing
Michael Shore, The Soho Weekly News
December 20, 1979
Verna Gillis and performers are making musical history in Clinton at SOUNDSCAPE
Bob Kalin, The Clinton Community Press
In SOUNDSCAPE’s imaginative series, pop idols with mass followings at home bring their magic to the world market
The artists new to New York are being presented by organizations that book such varied adventurous and international work all year long...a tribute to the taste and savvy of energetic producers like SOUNDSCAPE’s Verna Gillis
June 15, 1988
No one has done with jazz what Verna Gillis’s SOUNDSCAPE did when she offered a look at the condition of various vanguards at Irving Plaza
Gene Santoro, The Nation
Sept. 19, 1988
About LIVE FROM SOUNDSCAPE on DIW
The whole package of Interpretations of Monk was put together by SOUNDSCAPE doyenne Verna Gillis and was never less than stunning
Lee Jeske, Downbeat
It was always a charge to head up to SOUNDSCAPE. SOUNDSCAPE always bristled with expectation and tension. And on most any given night, there was the sound of surprise, the fecund creativity that’s compelling and maddening because a brilliant moment can only linger in the listener’s imagination
Don Palmer, Frank Lowe Quintet DIW-399
Verna Gillis’ SOUNDSCAPE , celebrated for the adventurousness of its programme policy and as we see in hindsight, it was a sounding board for what later became known as the “downtown” scene.
Steve Lake, Material DIW-389
From 1979 through 1984 producer extraordinaire Verna Gillis offered an open vista in her performance loft SOUNDSCAPE on “music from everywhere.”
Howard Mandel, SUN RA - DIW-388
This magnificent afternoon and evening of music was the inspired conception of SOUNDSCAPE producer Verna Gillis. It took nearly 13 years to see commercial release, but now we have the concert in its entirety, and as a tribute to Monk it is untouchable
Bob Blumenthal, CD Review, November 1994
It’s rare when one event substantially captures the gist of an era or a great artist’s legacy, but a certain November 1981 event delineated both the emerging sensibility of the 80’s with the legacy of the then-ailing Thelonious Monk. Finally issued as a four-CD set, the long anticipated documentation of INTERPRETATIONS OF MONK (*****) confirms the concert’s legendary status, as it is one of the most rewarding recordings of recent years.
Bill Shoemaker, Downbeat