November 14th: The Airbender

14 Nov

Portland State Music: 30 for the 30th

Name: John Savage

Instruments: flute, saxophone

Student of Marilyn Shotola, Andrew Hill

B.M. 1994 Portland State University

Putting Music Forward

Flutist John C. Savage is a difficult musician to pin down.  That is by design.  His sound palette includes contemporary techniques such as multiphonics, harmonics, vocalizations, and circular breathing.  He collaborates with poets, dancers, painters, and technologists.  He has a flute/drum improvising group called “Demolition Duo.”  He has performed Qawalli – the Sufi devotional music from Southeast Asia – with the Brooklyn Qawalli Party, a New York group whose Youtube clips garner thousands of hits.  His dissertation “A Phenomenology of Contemporary Flute Improvisation: Contextual Explications of Techniques, Aesthetics, and Performance Practices,” examines the intersections of improvisation, contemporary techniques, and musical identity for the flutist in today’s musical milieu.

Maybe Williamette Week writer Tim DuRoche said it best:  “considering the popular, floofy Rampalian perception of the flute, it may sound antithetical to say that Savage is a badass, knock-down-drag-out force to be reckoned with, but it’s true.”


Putting Skills to Work

John C. Savage has always sought out eclectic musical experiences – from classical chamber groups to jazz fusion groups to grunge rock bands.  At  Portland State he studied flute with Dr. Marilyn Shotola and jazz with the renowned pianist and composer Andrew Hill, whose approach he describes as “unorthodox” relative to his other PSU studies.  While at PSU he also honed his musicianship playing with the jazz-fusion group Groove Revelation, which featured fellow PSU alumni David Fleschner, Ken Ollis and Dylan Thomas Vance.

It was a noon concert with flutist Wil Offermans that really turned his head around. According to John, “he started playing and I dropped my peanut butter sandwich on the floor.”  It all began to click.  Mastercalasses with Offermans’ in Belgium led John to New York, where he received a Masters and a Ph.D. in flute performance from New York University where he studied with flutist Keith Underwood,  improviser  Dr. Esther Lamneck, and flutist, improviser and composer Robert Dick.

Considered a master in New Music improvisation and contemporary flute techniques,  John continues his eclectic ways.  He has performed with the Andrew Hill Sextet+11  at The Jazz Standard and Birdland jazz clubs in New York City.  He can be heard on Hill’s album, “A Beautiful Day.” Downbeat magazine and The Guardian call his soloing “exquisite” and “gorgeous.”  Cartridge, his electro-acoustic duo with composer Will Redmond, has performed throughout the western U.S., New York City, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  John also performs with Billy Fox’s Japanese and American group, The Kitsune Ensemble, and can be heard on Fox’s “Uncle Wiggly Suite,” which features bassist Mark Dresser.

Recently relocating back to Portland, John teaches at Western Oregon University and is a sought-after clinician of high school, college and adult students.  His  current projects include work with the Demolition Duo (with drummer Ken Ollis), Red #40, lie very still, Point to Line (with flutist and composer Lisa Bost-Sandberg, 2nd Century Savage, BlipVert and Claudia F. Savage.

Also a composer, John was commissioned by the National Flute Association to compose “Impromptu for Solo Flute” for the high school soloists’ competition of its 2009 convention in New York City.  His solo flute album of compositions and improvisations will be released on Teal Creak Music in early 2013. His solo flute album of compositions and improvisations will be released on Teal Creek Music in early 2013.


Adding Something Unique

John also plays saxophone and according to Willamette Week, “wields a mean digeridoo.”  His duo 2nd Century Savage with electronica artist, vusac  (aka Isaac Peachin). seeks to expand the definition of jazz to include electronic instruments and live production techniques in tandem with contemporary jazz improvisation. The group was recently featured at Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Festival.  A listener described the music as “haunting, transporting, and strikingly novel. Their performances give the impression of swirling planes of sound, some melodic and familiar, some protean and mysterious, folding through untold dimensions of space and the mind.”


What Has Your PSU Music Experience Meant to You?

“Portland State University provided me with a broad base of knowledge that has effectively served me in my eclectic musical life. Whether performing in more traditional chamber ensembles, or in fiery improvisation groups, PSU gave me a solid foundation to build on.  While enrolled in the doctoral program at New York University, I was grateful for the foundation in theory and analysis that I was given at PSU, especially the courses that I took from Svoboda and the late Dr. Tuttle.”


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