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Big Ears Festival focuses on 50 years of ECM

January 29, 2019

During the last decade, Big Ears has emerged as the United States’ preeminent festival for exploratory music. This year, the festival honors a visionary international institution that has always operated with the same outlook—ECM Records, the border-erasing label launched by producer Manfred Eicher that has now spent half a century tirelessly pursuing new frontiers and standards of excellence in jazz and classical music.

At Big Ears 2019, some 20 concerts featuring legendary artists such as The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Meredith Monk, Carla Bley and Jack DeJohnette and a new generation of torch-bearing talents like Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn, Avishai Cohen, and Shai Maestro form the largest group of ECM acts under one banner in the United States (and one of the largest in the world) during this auspicious 50th year.

ECM’s ethos for the last 50 years dovetails perfectly with Big Ears’ own principles—and has from the start. The label has unwavering standards of excellence, using an unmistakable visual identity and rigorous production goals to build a redoubtable aesthetic. ECM has long served as a stable platform for its artists to venture into the unknown, too, to make music that defied the boundaries of safety and expectation within their chosen form. And their long-term relationships with artists have allowed musicians to evolve and experiment, testing new ideas in a space that welcomed them. In a decade of presenting both innovators and icons, and welcoming new projects from familiar faces, Big Ears has pursued a similar ideal. This is evident simply by looking at Big Ears’ past rosters, dotted by artists associated with ECM including Evan Parker, Steve Reich, Roscoe Mitchell, and Theo Bleckmann. This year’s ECM celebration at Big Ears is a natural continuation of that investment in and enthusiasm for what the label represents.

These concerts at Big Ears 2019 are a collective testament to the label’s enduring vitality, to the breadth and depth they have added to modern music. Many of the artists who helped shape ECM’s pioneering role in previous decades will be on hand—exquisite and exploratory guitarists Ralph Towner, Bill Frisell, and David Torn, who have all released records on ECM for decades; legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette, who recorded Ruta And Daitya with Keith Jarrett in 1971; classical viola virtuoso Kim Kashkashian, who has played on three-dozen ECM titles. Wadada Leo Smith returns to perform his ECM classic Divine Love. They will be joined by projects asking new questions about the outer limits of form and genre, like pianist Nik Bärtsch’s pulsating RONIN and saxophonist Tim Berne’s radically exploratory Snakeoil. Big Ears 2019 will pull ECM’s influence across genre and generation into one long weekend, putting it into conversation with the rest of modern music throughout the entire festival.

ECM performances at Big Ears 2019 include, in alphabetical order:

  • The Art Ensemble of Chicago
  • Arvo Pärt’s Passio performed by St. John’s Choir
  • Avishai Cohen Quartet
  • Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan
  • Carla Bley TRIOS with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow
  • David Torn
  • DeJohnette Coltrane Garrison
  • Larry Grenadier
  • Kim Kashkashian
  • Kim Kashkashian & Robert Levin
  • Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble Cellular Songs Concert
  • Mathias Eick Quintet
  • Nik Bärtsch’s RONIN
  • Ralph Towner
  • Shai Maestro
  • Sun of Goldfinger (David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith)
  • Tim Berne’s Snakeoil
  • Vijay Iyer & Craig Taborn
  • Wadada Leo Smith’s Nda, performing Divine Love with Bobby Naughton and Dwight Andrews

Tickets for Big Ears Festival 2019—March 21-24 in Knoxville, Tenn.—are on sale now at Enhanced ticket packages include new perks for the VIP Sonic Explorer ticket, such as access to exclusive kick-off and after-party events and more.

In addition, individual donors who support Big Ears Festival can join the Friends of Big Ears program, where benefits include special experiences between now and the festival and a discount on 2019 passes. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Big Ears Festival provides free programming to the community thanks to generous festival sponsors and partners. More information is available on the Big Ears website under the “support” section.

For more information, visit To keep up with Big Ears news and announcements, “like” Big Ears Festival on Facebook, follow @BigEarsFestival on Twitter and join the newsletter.

About The Big Ears Festival
The mission of the Big Ears Festival, a 501(c)(3), is to bring artists and audiences together to create and share transformative experiences.

Described as “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over” by the Oxford American, Big Ears Festival has established itself as one of the most exciting and imaginative cultural gatherings in the world, bringing together a virtual who’s who of established and acclaimed iconoclasts, innovators and influencers with younger artists who are synthesizing their own experiences in-to fresh, new creative work. Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville – and taking place in its world-class historic theaters, excellent clubs, and unique alternative performance spaces – all within easy walking distance of one another and intermingled with superb restaurants, bars, and shops – Big Ears offers an unparalleled experience for adventurous artists and audiences alike. While primarily focused on music, Big Ears is also developing a strong independent/experimental film component while also presenting installations, exhibitions and interactive experiences.

Big Ears is created and produced by AC Entertainment, recognized as one of the foremost independent promoters in the United States. Founded in 1991 by Ashley Capps, the company books, markets and presents over 1,000 events per year. In addition to Big Ears, AC Entertainment is the force behind internationally renowned events including Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival®, Forecastle Festival, and many more.  For more information on AC Entertainment, visit

The 2019 Big Ears Festival is made possible by the generous support of The Aslan Foundation, Pilot Flying J, Visit Knoxville, Tennessee Department of Tourism, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, Hobson Wood Foundation, Red Bull Music Academy, Boyd’s Jig & Reel, National Endowment for the Arts, The Shifting Foundation, SouthArts and Tennessee Arts Commission.

Carla Parisi
[email protected]