Born on September 1, 1955, in New York, NY; son of Wayne L. (a labor mediator and consultant) and Ann (Battie) Horvitz (a prison rights activist); married Robin Holcomb, 1980; two children. Education: Independent bachelor's degree in composition for new music improvisation, University of California at Santa Cruz, 1977. Addresses: Office--P.O. Box 28065, Seattle, WA 98118. Website--Wayne Horvitz Official Website:

Described by Down Beat magazine as a "sonic innovator [whose reputation] has been built on electronics, trips to the fringes of electric jazz, rock 'n' roll, danceable beats and snappy writing," composer and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz has led a number of experimental/improv jazz groups including the President, Pigpen, Zony Mash, and Ponga, and has also released work as a solo artist.

Born on September 1, 1955, in New York City, Horvitz was exposed to a variety of music from an early age by parents who loved jazz and classical music and older brothers who listened to the great psychedelic bands of the late 1960s; he also enjoyed the music of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. When his family moved to Washington D.C., he heard a lot of Motown and soul music. These early influences contributed to his wide-ranging musical tastes, an eclecticism that would later mark his career.

He studied guitar for about a year, but didn't like it. At 14 he decided he wanted to play blues piano and took a few lessons to get started. After that he was basically self-taught until he attended college at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where Horvitz often found himself playing the piano for eight to ten hours a day. He also met his future wife, Robin Holcomb, in a world percussion class. In 1977 he received an independent bachelor's degree in composition for new music improvisation; three years later he and Robin were married.

After graduation he moved to New York City, where he established himself in the downtown scene, learning from experienced artists and experimenting with different musical styles. Horvitz formed a group called the President in 1985, which originally also included Bobby Previte, Dave Sewelson, Kevin Cosgrove, and Joe Gallant. The band performed frequently on New York City's downtown rock scene, playing music Horvitz composed. Later Elliot Sharp and Bill Frisell would join the group. Horvitz also formed the Horvitz, Morris, Previte Trio that same year. The trio performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Canada, but did not release their first album, Nine Below Zero, until 1997. Their second release, Todos Santo, featured improvisatory readings of pieces by Robin Holcomb.

Horvitz became part of an unofficial group of New York City musicians known as the Downtown School of New York Jazz, which included John Zorn, Bill Frissel, Bobby Previte, Don Byron, and Elliot Sharp. "No one, but no one was hipper than they were," said the Buffalo News. "Here were jazz musicians who were conversant in all sorts of music."

Horvitz and Holcomb cofounded the New York Composers Orchestra (NYCO) in 1986 to provide a regular performing ensemble for composers who wanted to write jazz pieces without being confined to traditional notions and styles. Horvitz composed music for them and also did some work for stage and dance productions, including Bill Irwin's Strictly N.Y.

In 1986 Horvitz and Holcomb also welcomed their first child, a daughter, prompting them to evaluate their lives and consider some changes. In 1988 they moved to Seattle, Washington, "convinced it was possible to raise a family in a sane place like Seattle and still enjoy successful, worldwide careers," stated the Seattle Times. "Yes, it turned out to be possible," noted Horvitz.

In 1992 Horvitz became a founding member of the band Pigpen. The group, which included Fred Chalenor on bass, Briggan Krauss on saxophone, and Mike Stone on drums, along with Horvitz on keyboards, blended improvisational jazz with the harder elements of rock. They performed mainly in clubs and took two European tours. Halfrack was recorded in 1993, followed by Miss Ann in 1994. Live in Poland was recorded at Akwarium in Warsaw; their final album, Daylight, was released in 1997.

Already enjoying success on both coasts, Horvitz unexpectedly found even more with a band he put together called Zony Mash. "I started the group because Robin was pregnant and I wanted to make sure I kept playing while I stayed home with the new baby. I asked if I could just leave my organ at the OK Hotel, and Zony Mash played every Tuesday," he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At first Horvitz didn't take the group very seriously--the band's name came from a song the group performed, "The Meters." Horvitz and Holcomb welcomed a son in December of 1995.

In September of 1996 Horvitz helped found the Four Plus One Ensemble, made up of trombonist Julian Priester, violinist Eyvind Kang, electronics and live processor Tucker Marine, and keyboardist Reggie Watts, with Skerik on baritone saxophone. Horvitz plays not only piano, but also prepared piano (one in which the sound is altered by placing objects or "preparations" between or on the strings), Hammond B-3 organ, pump organ, synthesizers, and toy piano.

In 1997 he established a band called Ponga, which included drummer Bobby Previte, keyboardist David Palmer, Skerik on saxophone, and Horvitz on keyboards. All four are bandleaders, and they play entirely improvised music. Ponga has toured and recorded in North America, Europe, and Japan. The Boston Globe called them "part of a young generation of composers and improvisers as familiar with Ellington and bebop as with sequencers and MIDI instruments. They have eclectic tastes and often mix and match styles, genres and sources with a certain, cool hand."

Prior to Zony Mash, Horvitz had played very little organ. "I'm a piano player and I'm a synth player," Horvitz told the Spokesman Review. " I had used the B-3 to play fills or chord backgrounds, but I hadn't tried to make a statement with it all night and really wrestle with it." Not surprisingly, Horvitz began to experiment with other kinds of music, playing some pieces that were more acoustic than electric. A new band, affectionately called "Zony Mash Unplugged" formed with Timothy Young on guitar, Keith Lowe on acoustic and electric bass, and Andy Roth on drums. Down Beat called it "a Jekyll and Hyde band that can play arena rock and 'Autumn Leaves' lounge music on the same bill." Mused Horvitz, "The acoustic thing happened in a weird way. I assumed I'd play the music with horns. But then I decided to try it with this band."

Many call Horvitz's mix of styles jazz fusion, or crossover jazz. Horvitz claims his music isn't jazz--or necessarily any other genre. "The point is, the music is open," Horvitz told the Idaho Statesman. "If you come to hear the band, it's not going to sound the same each night. If people need to call that jazz, then it's because they forgot that rock music originally had that same element. And still does."

While he may be best known for Zony Mash, Horvitz continues to work in a variety of areas. "I think there's sort of a misconception about Zony Mash," Horvitz said to the San Jose Mercury News. "I consider it one of the things I do. But Zony Mash is my Seattle-based band. It keeps me out of the house."

by Sarah Parkin

Wayne Horvitz's Career

Founded or cofounded a series of groups, beginning with the President, 1985; New York Composers Orchestra (NYCO), 1986; Pigpen, 1992 (disbanded, 1997); Zony Mash, 1995; Four Plus One Ensemble, 1996; Ponga, 1997; also a solo artist.

Wayne Horvitz's Awards

Preis der Deutschen Schallplatten Kritik for Nine Below Zero, 1987.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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