When Andy Cirzan came to work at Jam Productions as senior talent buyer a couple of years back, one of his first projects was to go out on the road with a then up-and-coming hard-rock band called Guns n' Roses.
"My head was spinning," Cirzan recalls. "We actually had the Iowa state police chasing us to the state line and coming to shows to search the tour bus for videotapes of underaged women. I started thinking, 'You know, something tells me I don't think there's going to be a show tonight.' There was a show, and the guitarist took the occasion to say, "Look, tell the fucking pigs that I'm going to do whatever I fucking please; maybe I did that stuff, maybe I didn't.' Great, Slash, let's admit to a felony onstage. Welcome to the world of rock show biz."
Cirzan was a long way from his marketing and programming work for the Ravinia Festival, where he had served his graduate-school internship and then stayed on to book the festival's pop, jazz, and contemporary music series. He was particularly interested in new music, so when he needed an opening act for an already-booked Wynton Marsalis appearance, Cirzan decided to bring in the Art Ensemble of Chicago. "At the time," says Cirzan, "it really caught a lot of people off guard. We got all kinds of letters that said, 'Hey, what was that garbage?' I had to fire off all of the responses that said, more or less: 'Thanks for your input, but they're considered one of the greatest performing ensembles in the world, and perhaps you just didn't understand what they were doing.'
"That juxtaposition, however, was a turning point for me--the whole idea of programming something unfamiliar with the familiar. There was simply no consistent opportunity for experimental stuff to be heard in Chicago prior to that, it was always very haphazard--a concert here and there. I ended up getting an offer at the end of that 1986 season to coordinate the popular-music series, and I convinced Ed Gordon to let me split it into a jazz/ contemporary music series and a pop series."
Part of the jazz/contemporary music series was the subseries, "New Perspectives," created to showcase music that didn't fit any particular genre--"stuff that fell through the cracks," Cirzan says. "Our first year, we jumped in with both feet first--I even brought in Steve Reich's big ensemble, and we did his Music for 18 Musicians outdoors, which was a pretty heavy experience. I was amazed with what we were getting away with presenting, and the next year I started doing bolder things, like bringing in Cecil Taylor for a piano recital, pretty nutty stuff for Ravinia."
One day Cirzan heard from Jerry Mickelson, co-owner of Jam; he was impressed by Cirzan's abilities as an impresario for Ravinia. "I had a meeting with him," says Cirzan, "and it was all kind of funny because he thought that all I knew about and was interested in were Mozart symphonies. We ended up talking as much about Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica, and I convinced him that I had a pretty good grasp of what the metal and hard-rock worlds were all about."
The timing was right. Though Cirzan enjoyed his Ravinia position he was also feeling limited by it. "I had my job down, and knew the formula of what would sell at Ravinia, but I couldn't expand in any other area except new music, and that was only on Monday nights. There wasn't an extreme amount of interest from the administration, and in fact, as part of a programming trio with Gordon, James Levine, and myself, I was never so much as introduced to Mr. Levine the entire time I worked there. Besides, there was only so far I could go at Ravinia--which is a first-class arts organization, but I'm not qualified to become the programmer for a classically oriented festival."
Cirzan now works directly with a client list that runs the gamut from Prince to New Kids on the Block, whose shows he helped produce last week at the Rosemont Horizon. That's a long way from Steve Reich and Cecil Taylor. "Hey," says Cirzan, tongue firmly in cheek, "I think to myself, 'Look at those 17,000 screaming teenage girls all having the time of their lives. Andy, you had something to do with that--don't you feel good about that?'"
The one thing Cirzan has missed in the transition from Ravinia to Jam, however, is presenting artists off the beaten track. "I went in to Jerry one day and said, 'You know, I'm thinking there may be a market out there for some of the stuff I was doing at Ravinia, but I can't be sure, because I was doing it all under the auspices of a not-for-profit organization.'" It so happened that the Goodman Theatre was thinking along similar lines, and a collaborative series between Jam and the Goodman was born, with Cirzan as the artistic director.
The trial concert featured Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares at the Park West in late 1988; it was such an unexpected success that over 300 people had to be turned away at the door. The series continued into 1989 with the World Saxophone Quartet, Jon Hassell, Wayne Horvitz's the President, and Astor Piazzolla.
This year's series will bring back the famous female Bulgarian choir, in April, and will also include Laurie Anderson in March, and the Peter Gabriel-sponsored WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) Festival in August. The series opens this week at the Park West with the Kronos Quartet performing Steve Reich's Different Trains, along with music of John Zorn, Jay Cloidt, Philip Glass, Justinian Tamusuza, Istvan Marta, Hamza El Din, and Jimi Hendrix. A special feature of the quartet's appearance will be a tribute to Chicago blues, including pieces by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Pete Williams, and Bo Diddley. Says Cirzan: "I thought it was important to take an act like Kronos out of the realm of the black tie, if you will, and present them in an informal, relaxed environment where you can sit in a padded chair, have a drink, and really enjoy it. Presenting them in a club environment means that we can hopefully draw a wider public to them instead of the same 300 people you see at every new-music event in Chicago."
The Kronos Quartet will perform at 7:30 Saturday night at the Park West, 322 W. Armitage, kicking off the 1990 Jam/Goodman New Music Series. Call TicketMaster at 559-1212 for ticket information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Meredith.