Ken Vandermark is the youngest person to ever receive a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship for music, placing him in the company of such visionaries as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Max Roach. He has recorded with musical talents including Peter Brotzmann, and counts as influences non-jazz artists including Sly and the Family Stone, John Cage, and Lee "Scratch" Perry. A multi-instrumental improvisatory jazz musician, he is best known for his work with the tenor saxophone, although his arsenal also includes baritone sax, Bb and bass clarinet. He has organized six jazz festivals in Chicago, featuring some of the most talented contemporary jazz musicians from across the United States and Europe, often bringing musicians their first exposure to American audiences. Over the course of more than twenty years, hundreds of shows and dozens of recordings with various ensembles, Vandermark has solidified his place in the upper echelon of improvised music and jazz. His Vandermark 5 have released a new album, Airports for Light (Atavistic), and will perform Friday, March 28 at the Bourbon Street Distillery. He took time out before a gig at New York City"s Knitting Factory to chat via telephone. NUVO: You list as influences bands like The Ex; you play clubs that are considered "rock" clubs. Do you consider it a priority for yourself to bring jazz fans to rock music, or rock fans to jazz? Vandermark: There"s definitely a motivation to try to expand the audience that I"m playing to. I"ve been having success playing concerts in rock clubs. So bands like The Ex or Jesus Lizard have had a huge impact on some of the music I"ve done. Playing for fans of that music has turned out to make sense. It"s not really so much that I"m trying to cross the audiences, it"s more trying to find a larger core audience for the music that I do, because I think it can communicate to them just like the music that they"re listening to communicates to me. My interest is pretty extensive, and I don"t see why it"s necessary to only play one kind of music, just like the idea of eating one kind of food, going to one kind of movie or reading one kind of book doesn"t make sense. The interests I have in listening to music apply to the interests I have in playing music. Most of the people who are interested in music now have diverse sets of curiosities and passions about different kinds of music, so it makes sense to explore these different avenues instead of playing one particular style. Trying to get people to participate in a social environment with something that"s not conventional but about a different way of thinking about things is a very positive thing because it triggers other sets of ideas. Any time creativity happens in a social environment, it"s a really fantastic thing and it sets up the potential for reverberations from that, for more creative and unconventional thinking to happen, more positive expressions to happen. So it"s not just a concert to me. It"s an event connected to a process that I"m tied to in the music. It"s also an event that brings people together in an opportunity to see the world differently than they did before they walked into the concert. It could be one person. One individual is a positive action. At this point, that"s what this stuff"s got to be about. It has to be about that, because stuff is so screwed up right now that any kind of positive actions are mandatory, frankly. NUVO: Do you feel that"s affected how the jazz mainstream views you? Vandermark: It"s totally affected it. For a long time on some level I was considered a pariah, or that I wasn"t serious about improvised music because I was also interested in rock and funk, or I was just an opportunist trying to cash in on some kind of "thing." It"s not until recently that, because I"ve continued to work with improvised music as long as I have, and I"ve been working with people who are maybe older than me or have better reputations than I do connected to improvised music both in the United States and in Europe, that they"re starting to recognize some of the things I"ve done. But I"m not really motivated by their interest in what I do. I"m motivated by the musicians I work with, and exploring. NUVO: Because of increased access to the means of production ñ CD burners, home recording software, file trading ñ there has been a boom in the last few years of punk and indie bands and small labels. Do you see these technologies having any kind of similar benefit for jazz music? Vandermark: Actually, I do. The Internet and the ability to get these concerts broadcast live or download concerts is actually positive for improvised music, because it"s potentially going to return the perspective to the process that it is, as opposed to just the commodity of albums. Improvised music is not one classic album. "Kind of Blue" is a moment in time; it"s not the ultimate statement that Miles Davis made. The access to more concerts, the access to more information will illuminate the fact that it isn"t about one event, but one event being a moment in time in a potentially lifelong process. NUVO: What about radio? Is there any potential left for it to be fertile protest to the status quo? Vandermark: There"s always a potential for change, there"s always a potential for people to do something interesting with media, radio included. I think the way it"s going to go is probably through Internet radio, people broadcasting their own stuff totally separate from any kind of concerns based on marketing and money and Top 40 influences. Mass media has become less and less and less interesting because it"s been more and more motivated as a commodity and less about ideas. With the Internet, there"s a potential to focus on ideas again, and hopefully there"ll be a chance for that to sustain itself and it won"t become a commodity too.