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NYC Venue 'The Stone ' Finds New Home

Ang Santos

An influential music venue set to close in New York City is moving to a revamped performance space at the New School’s College of Performing Arts.

The Stone was founded by multi-instrumentalist composer John Zorn, an experimental music extraordinaire who’s saxophone stylings have graced the stage alongside thousands of musicians over the last twelve years.  He opened the East Village hub so musicians wouldn’t need to depend on venue income to get booked.

“Because we’re not taking a percentage at the door, it doesn’t matter to us how many people show up to hear the music. Two people show up, the artist makes, 20 dollars, 40 dollars, whatever the admission is. We don’t take anything it doesn’t matter. We raised our rent money by doing benefit concerts.”

Zorn says it was a formula that immediately worked, and continued to work.  

“You know fifty, sixty grand keeps us going. Then we do six-hundred shows a year. We’ve done 7,000 so far in the twelve years we’ve been around.”

The Stone’s situation is unlike other New York City music venues who were forced out of their iconic locations because of rising rents.  Zorn simply feels the time is right for an upgrade.

“It was fun and exciting to play in a dirty corner of the East Village. But now I think that this music deserves to be seen in a different way.”

Zorn was already curating workshops at The New School College of Performing Arts, so it made sense to combine their musical forces.  Richard Kessler is the school’s Executive Dean.

“When you first look at it from a distance it just looks like this idea of we’re bringing these performances in here. But it’s actually something much richer than that and it is without a doubt in my mind transformative.”

Kessler says it’s a partnership reminiscent of The New School’s founding.

“The history of The New School of Performing Arts really starts with in many cases the most experimental artists of the time. I don’t think that we’ve always kept pace with that. But this allows us to reconnect that history of the past of the New School, the Henry Cowells, the John Cage, make that come alive today with these artists that John brings to us.”

The Glass Box Theatre on West 13th Street has a different charm than the former Chinese food restaurant where The Stone has always been, but artistic director John Zorn says it’s an improvement in every single way.

“The audience, they don’t have to walk all the way into the East Village. The East Village is still a little rough, there’s been incidents outside of the space. The artists are going to have a much better time, the volunteers don’t have to clean up and sweep, there’s really good climate control. Sure there’s the romance of the kind of you know, funky space…I’ve been playing in funky spaces since I was a kid. It’s time to play in some nice spaces.”

Concert production, promotion, and performance are some of many ways Zorn thinks New School students will benefit.

“Have a performance space and curate it and book it and have local artists and artists coming from outside of the city to come in and perform and have students really interact and experience what it is to be a professional. To really be working on music 24 hours a day seven days a week. Every week and minute of your life.”

The Stone at The New School rolls out its new performance space in June.  Zorn says it only took a day to book the entire initial calendar.

“Picked a really killer line-up, to put the place on the map. Look this is going to be serious. We’re doing Friday’s and Saturday’s from June through February of 2018 and then March 1st, 2018 we’ll begin full-time.”