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Help Us Make An Exquisite Corpse In New York City

Lionel Hampton is one of many jazz greats buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.
Lee Sandstead
Courtesy of Woodlawn Cemetery
Lionel Hampton is one of many jazz greats buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.

For this year's edition of Make Music New York, we come not to praise the dead, but to sing the blues and create a new "exquisite corpse."

This Sunday, June 21 at 4 p.m. ET, join NPR Music and regulars at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center for a round-robin group improvisation at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Everyone who sings or plays an instrument — amateur, student or professional — is invited to perform with us.

UPDATE: The session will go on rain or shine! We have a sheltered location mapped out in case of wet weather.

The idea is borrowed from a surrealist parlor game invited by artists and poets in the 1920s: Add a new drawing or line based only on the last thing added to the page. This year, Make Music New York is applying that same playful tradition to music. The "Exquisite Corpses" project will place musicians in six burial grounds across New York City for public improvised performances.

Woodlawn Cemetery holds special importance to the jazz community — it's the final resting ground of royalty like W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and many others. So we've asked some of the regulars at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola to lead our performance. We'll be joined by vocalists Michael Mwenso and Vuyo Sotashe, trumpeters Alphonso Horne and Bruce Harris, saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, pianist Chris Pattishall, bassist Russell Hall, drummer Evan Sherman, vocalist Vuyo Sotashe and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman.

The "Exquisite Corpse" improvisation happening at Woodlawn Cemetery will be documented by Jazz Night in America and released later this summer as part of NPR Music's Field Recording series. It'll be the latest in our collaborations with Make Music New York. Last year, 350 people turned up to premiere a new workby Red Baraat bandleader Sunny Jain; the year before, composer and artist Eli Keszler teamed up with the quartet So Percussion for an installation at the Manhattan Bridge; in 2012, Philip Glass adapted a choral piece so we could place a flash mob choir in the middle of Times Square.

If you would like to play, please plan to arrive at Woodlawn Cemetery by 3:45 p.m. ET on June 21. (Please use the entrance at the intersection of Jerome and Bainbridge Avenues, right by the 4 train. More directions here.) We also ask that you sign up in advance. In case of rain, the event will be held in the chapel of Woodlawn Cemetery.

We'll see you this Sunday in the Bronx!

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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