NOW Celebrates 36 Year Legacy of Artistic Director Coat Cooke

Coat Cooke steps down as New Orchestra Workshop’s Artistic Director in the spring of 2014. One of the original signatories of the Society in 1978, saxophonist Coat Cooke enjoyed a remarkable thirty-six year tenure in NOW as player, conductor, composer and Artistic Director in this relentlessly innovative gathering of exceptionally creative musicians.

In 1987, Coat founded the first incarnation of the NOW Orchestra as a vehicle to extend his skills as a composer. He established a pool of musicians and composers interested in a project of this sort and the work over these first two years resulted in the NOW Orchestra’s first major concert with the brilliant pianist Marilyn Crispell. The next incarnation of the NOW Orchestra was formed by a small collective of musicians (Coat Cooke, Ron Samworth, Kate Hammett-Vaughan, Paul Plimley, Bruce Freedman, Clyde Reed, Graham Ord, and Roger Baird) and operated under a fertile collaborative/co-operative model of management. It was several years before the Orchestra coalesced into a group with a consistent personnel, and with Coat Cooke and Ron Samworth taking on the responsibilities of Co-Artistic Directors.

This rich period saw NOW collaborate with notables like Barry Guy and George Lewis, Butch Morris, Wadada Leo Smith, many Canadian and International luminaries and saw the NOW Orchestra establish itself internationally performing prestigious shows in Amsterdam, Berlin, Lisbon, Chicago, Seattle, Montréal, and Toronto. During this period, NOW experimented with expanded modalities and participated in co-productions with dance, spoken word, choir, intercultural music, multi-media and electronics. Over the last two decades, NOW also produced compilation CDs, many NOW Orchestra releases, as well as starting its own NOW Orchestra Records imprint that has released seven discs.

Education has always been an important part of NOW’s identity. In 1994, NOW initiated a partnership with Vancouver’s Western Front that resulted in the creation of an annual Improvisation Workshop series that has become an important part of the city’s cultural legacy over the last twenty years. It featured great improvisors sharing their process with Vancouver’s emerging artists.

Since becoming sole Artistic Director in 2006, Coat began to realize there was no succession plan in place and that there was a real need to respond to younger players and audiences. He started presenting a mix of both young and established players at the premier jazz club in Vancouver, the Cellar, where NOW’s Monday night residence of three and a half years was recorded weekly. Through his and other’s efforts, the Society’s development created a large body of intellectual properties, recordings and archival records, further supporting the Society’s standing in the international music community.

In 2009 Coat formed the stellar ensemble Orkestra Futura. The maiden voyage was a fantastic and appropriately futuristic project that included conductors Pauline Oliveros, John Oswald and NOW founding members Lisle Ellis and Paul Cram. In searching for the right successor for over a year, Coat eventually was successful in wooing Dr. Lisa Cay Miller to join NOW as Managing Artistic Director to carry NOW’s baton into the next era. Lisa was appointed Managing Artistic Director in the summer of 2013 and will succeed Coat as sole Artistic Director when he leaves.

“It’s been the joy of a lifetime; and it is enormously satisfying to see how this organization has grown, how much we’ve achieved, and how many wonderful friendships this has brought me. There is such talent and commitment in the musicians of Vancouver, and I am proud of what we have achieved together. I’m extremely proud of everything this company has accomplished, and I’ll dearly miss working with NOW, but after thirty-six exciting and wonderful years, it’s time for a new Artistic Director to bring new ideas and
energy to the company, and for me to pursue my own music and enterprise.” – Coat Cooke

NOW continues as an illustrious organization that is improvisation-rich not only in music, but in concept and outreach to community. The Board is proud of all the achievements and dedicated hard work of Coat Cooke as steward of NOW through decades of growth, creativity, production and significant transition, and looks forward to working with Lisa Cay Miller in continuing and expanding on the work of NOW as the Society’s next evolution.

Miller says “Coat and I share a real passion for the creation of improvised and composed music, for mentorship of younger players, outreach to community and collaboration with Canadian and international artists. NOW’s production of intriguing concerts, stimulating workshops and publications have proved to be a significant part of the Canadian history of music making. Coat has contributed greatly to this musical community, and I’m honored that he chose me to carry on NOW’s legacy.