Artist Bio

“The prowess with which violist and composer Jessica Pavone creates sweeping, heartstring-tugging vistas is both cerebral and out of this world… Jessica Pavone is a freethinker who can’t be pigeonholed

– Brad Cohen, Jazz Times

Pavone [is] not like other composers she is uniquely herself, and from that stems the improbable strength of her music.” 

-Julian Cowley, Wire Magazine

– NPR; Featured on WNYC New Sounds

“There are certain musicians that you can say, with confidence, could play a pair of shoes if it had strings. Jessica Pavone is certainly one. In fact, I’m pretty sure Pavone could get a good tone out of Velcro’s clogs if she so desired.”

– David Nadelle, Tiny Mix Tapes

Photo by: Yuan Liu
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As an instrumentalist and composer, developing original compositions for solo viola has been integral to Jessica Pavone’s work. This music informs her written practice and plays a vital role in her approach to ensemble composition. She explores the tactile and sensory experience of music as a vibration-based medium and incorporates time-based principles to shape her works. Inspired by processes centered on intuition and instinct, her music channels all these ideas by focusing on how music feels when played and heard and exploring how sonic vibrations affect the body, weaving her experiences as an instrumentalist into works that transcend time.

While her primary training was in classical music at the Hartt School of Music (B.M. Music Ed. ’98) and Brooklyn College (M.M. Music Composition ’07), Pavone has dedicated her career to exploring alternative avenues for creative musical expression and “has made a career of redefining the possibilities for her instrument” (Steve Smith, National Sawdust Log). Since studying with Leroy Jenkins from ’00-’05 and incorporating improvisation in her viola playing, Pavone has performed original music by William Parker, Henry Threadgill, Matana Roberts, Wadada Leo Smith, Aaron Siegel, Tyondai Braxton, Matthew Welch, Samantha Boshnack, Jason Cady, Elliott Sharp, and Taylor Ho Bynum. From ’05 to ’12, she toured regularly with Anthony Braxton’s Sextet and 12+1tet and appears on his discography from that time.

In 2017, Pavone created the J. Pavone String Ensemble as an expansion of her solo viola repertoire. In contrast to the traditional improvisatory approach that prizes the showmanship of the soloist, the ensemble approach focuses on a vision of collective improvisation that prioritizes a collaboratively sewn musical fabric. The group has performed at the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival (Montreal), Logan Center for the Arts (Chicago), Dartmouth New Music Festival (Hanover), the DiMenna Center for Classical Music (Manhattan), NYC Winter Jazzfest, Roulette and ISSUE Project Room (Brooklyn), Firehouse12 (New Haven), Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (Asheville), the Garner Arts Center (Garnerville, NY), and The Rotunda (Philadelphia). Three studio albums have been released to critical acclaim from The Wire, The New Yorker, Pitchfork, JazzTimes, and San Francisco Classical Voice. Brad Cohen of Jazz Times described her as “a free-thinker who can’t be pigeonholed.”

Residencies and Fellowships: Loghaven (2023), Stove Works (2023), Ragdale Foundation (2022), Ucross Foundation (2020), Soaring Gardens (2020), Arts Letters & Numbers (2019), and Mise-En-Place (2018). Grants and Commissions: New York Foundation for the Arts NYC Women’s Fund (2023), MATA Festival (2023), Queens Council on the Arts (2022, 2020), the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (2021), New York Foundation for the Arts (City Artist Corps, 2021), New Music USA (2015), the Tri-Centric Foundation (2015), Experiments in Opera (2013), the Jerome Foundation (2011), and MATA Interval (2007). She has premiered new music at prominent NYC venues, including the Noguchi Museum, Abrons Art Center, the Museum of Art and Design, Socrates Sculpture Park, and the Kitchen. Pavone’s albums have been produced by Tzadik, Taiga Records, Thirsty Ear, Out of Your Head Records, Astral Spirits, and Relative Pitch Records. Additionally, she has released four collaborative duo recordings with guitarist Mary Halvorson (2019 MacArthur Fellow). In 2011, Pavone was featured in NPR’s “The Mix: 100 Composers Under 40.” The New York Times wrote that her music is distinct and beguiling; its core is steely, and its execution clear,” and in Wire Magazine, Julian Cowley noted that Pavone [is] not like other composers, she is uniquely herself, and from that stems the improbable strength of her music.

Artist Statement:

As an instrumentalist and composer, I explore music’s tactile and sensory experience as a vibration-based medium. Inspired by processes that center intuition and instinct, my music channels all these ideas into compositions by focusing on how music feels when played and heard and exploring how sonic vibrations affect the body, weaving my experiences as an instrumentalist into works that transcend time. Developing original music for solo viola has been integral to my practice, and this music informs my written practice and plays a vital role in my approach to ensemble composition.

This work borrows from and elaborates upon traditional notation and improvisatory techniques, alternating between metered and clock-time approaches and improvised and notated instructions. Using a digital clock as a conductor to mark sections, duration, and cues, the indicated time frames on the score direct musicians to move freely between sections, creating an overlap of sonic textures. These textures and improvisations can sometimes land in an entirely different notated section of music within a given composition. The ensemble’s rehearsal method is influenced by my solo work, which includes concentrated long-tone practice, an interest in repetition, exploring sympathetic vibrations, and attending to how the body plays a role in sound and intention. The performers are given agency to sculpt aspects of the pieces within frameworks by integrating fluid structures within the composition’s forms.