Michael Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory, was the Chairman and CEO from 1987-2002.
He no longer has any operational or ownership ties to the organization.
America is a much different giant. It is almost overlooked by the jazz and avant-garde, but it has even greater potential than Europe: With its innumerable universities, college radio stations, local press, and so forth, America could be the world’s biggest supporter and cultivator of new music. Yet its resources are largely untapped. Jazz is a buzzword for describing Wynton Marsalis clones who play standardish material while wearing nice suits. These talented, but
corporate artists, are a tiny percentage of the people making “jazz” music, but you don’t hear or see the others in America.
We had been selling wine and beer with a restaurant license for about two years and needed a full liquor license if we were to start paying off our loans. Estella’s Peruvian Cafe, located below us in the building, had a full liquor license, making it difficult for us to apply for one. Estella would come up to our floor almost every night to tell us the music was too loud and it was driving out all her customers. Well, the three people at her bar didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it appeared to us that the only customers she had were musicians who wandered in from the Knitting Factory.
It was 1989, and John Zorn had put this new band together called Naked City. It consisted of our house regulars-Fred Frith, Bill Frisell, Joey Baron, and Wayne Horvitz. John wanted us to produce five nights of rehearsal-concerts at the club, but as had been the case the first time I tried to schedule him, the club was already booked when he wanted to do it. I made a deal with the antique store next to us to rent it for five nights and put on Naked City at the Knitting Factory Annex. However, the day before the concert, after we had made posters and placed ads in the papers, the owner of the store bailed out. We had 36 hours to find a new venue for the concerts, which many people were already talking about. I went down into Estella’s with Bob, asking her if we could rent her space for the five nights. We had been trying to persuade her for about three months to sell us her lease, but to no avail. Now she wanted $1,000 per night to use her space, even though she paid only $3,000 a month. She was out of her mind, but we were desperate. We finally ended up making a deal to buy her lease and all the equipment in her restaurant. The deal was finalized the day of Naked City’s world premiere.
The five day and nights Naked City played and rehearsed were amazing. The first morning John came in at 10:00 a.m. and passed out a booklet of his songs he had prepared for everyone. By the 8:00 p.m. showtime, the group had learned 25 songs and played them for a standing-room crowd in our new space. The next morning, the band came in, John gave them 15 new songs, and by showtime they had those down and played some of the old material. This went on each day. In five days they had a whole repertory and went on a European tour as if they had been together for years.
We connected the two floors with a staircase in the back and again did most of the rennovation work ourselves. We tried for a few months to run a restaurant, using the equipment from Estella’s. Bob had been a waiter in Wisconsin during high school; how hard could it be? Within three months, we sold off all the kitchen equipment for about one- twentieth of what we had just paid for it in order to get the lease. We turned the kitchen into a small performance space called the Knot Room. It’s the perfect room for poetry and spoken-word pieces, performance art, and small musical concerts.