Saturday, April 4, 2015

IN TRIBUTE TO AND CELEBRATION OF ONE OF THE MOST PROFOUND AND IMPORTANT ARTISTS OF THE 20th CENTURY, THE GREAT BILLIE HOLIDAY DURING HER CENTENNIAL YEAR, 1915-2015

All,

I hope you enjoyed the ninth week issue from March 28-April 3, 2015 of Volume 1, Number 2 of SOUND PROJECTIONS, the online quarterly music magazine which featured the outstanding trumpet player, jazz and film composer, arranger, orchestrator, ensemble leader, teacher TERENCE BLANCHARD (b. March 13, 1962). The tenth week issue of this volume of the quarterly begins TODAY on Saturday, April 4, 2015 @10AM PST which is @1PM EST.

The featured artist for this week (April 4-April 10, 2015) is the legendary, iconic and innovative singer, songwriter, ensemble leader BILLIE HOLIDAY (1915-1959). In recognition and deep appreciation of Ms. Holiday's extraordinary life and career we celebrate the powerful ongoing legacy of one of the preeminent artists of the 20th century. So please enjoy this week’s featured musical artist in SOUND PROJECTIONS, the online quarterly music magazine and please pass the word to your friends, colleagues, comrades, and associates that the magazine is now up and running at the following site. Please click on the link below:


Thanks. For further important details please read below…

Kofi

Sound Projections
A sonic exploration and tonal analysis of contemporary creative music in a myriad of improvisational/composed settings, textures, and expressions.

Welcome to Sound Projections

I'm your host Kofi Natambu. This online magazine features the very best in contemporary creative music in this creative timezone NOW (the one we're living in) as well as that of the historical past. The purpose is to openly explore, examine, investigate, reflect on, studiously critique, and take opulent pleasure in the sonic and aural dimensions of human experience known and identified to us as MUSIC. I'm also interested in critically examining the wide range of ideas and opinions that govern our commodified notions of the production, consumption, marketing, and commercial exchange of organized sound(s) which largely define and thereby (over)determine our present relationships to music in the general political economy and culture.

Thus this magazine will strive to critically question and go beyond the conventional imposed notions and categories of what constitutes the generic and stylistic definitions of 'Jazz', 'classical music', 'Blues', 'Rhythm and Blues', 'Rock 'n Roll', 'Pop', 'Funk', 'Hip Hop' etc. in order to search for what individual artists and ensembles do creatively to challenge and transform our ingrained ideas and attitudes of what music is and could be.

So please join me in this ongoing visceral, investigative, and cerebral quest to explore, enjoy, and pay homage to the endlessly creative and uniquely magisterial dimensions of MUSIC in all of its guises and expressive identities.

April 4, 2015--April 11, 2015
Billie Holiday (1915-1959): Legendary, iconic and innovative singer, songwriter, and ensemble leader

SOUND PROJECTIONS
AN ONLINE QUARTERLY MUSIC MAGAZINE
EDITOR: KOFI NATAMBU
WINTER, 2015
VOLUME ONE NUMBER TWO

[In glorious tribute and gratitude to this great legendary artist we celebrate her centennial year]

FOR BILLIE HOLIDAY
by Kofi Natambu
Deep within her voice
there is a bird
and inside that bird is a song
and inside that song is a light
and inside that light is a Joy
and inside that Joy is a Monster
and inside that Monster is a memory
and inside that memory is a celebration
and inside that celebration is a hunger
and inside that hunger is a dance
and inside that dance is a moan
and inside that moan is a majesty
and inside that majesty is a longing
and inside that longing is a history
and inside that history is a mystery
and inside that mystery is a fear
and inside that fear is a truth
and inside that truth is a passion
and inside that passion is a whisper
and inside that whisper is a wolf
and inside that wolf is a howl
and inside that howl is a lover
and inside that lover is an escape
and inside that escape is a regret
and inside that regret is a fantasy
and inside that fantasy is a death
and inside that death is a life
and inside that life is a woman
and inside that woman is a scream
and inside that scream is a release
and inside that release is a power
and inside that power is a voice
and inside that voice is a song
and inside that song is a singer
and inside that singer is a Holiday
and inside that Holiday is Billie

Poem from the book THE MELODY NEVER STOPS by Kofi Natambu.  Past Tents Press, 1991

THE DAY LADY DIED
by Frank O'Hara

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don't know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn't even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan's new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don't, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfield Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face
on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

This immortal poem about Billie written upon her death in 1959 is from LUNCH POEMS by Frank O'Hara (City Lights, 1961)-- Pocket Poets Series 

WKCR presents: The Billie Holiday Centennial Festival:

Tuesday, April 7th marks the 100th birthday anniversary of the one and only Billie Holiday. We'll be celebrating the hauntingly honest, lyrical virtuosity of Lady Day with a weeklong centennial broadcast, featuring her entire 1933-1959 discography, as well as on-air interviews with musicians and scholars. WKCR has a precedent of commemorating Holiday and her incredibly important contributions to vocal jazz, jazz as a whole, and Black music in our annual birthday broadcast schedule and in a special 360-hour Billie Holiday Festival that aired in 2005. 

Tune in to WCKR 89.9FM-NY or online at www.wkcr.org from Sunday, April 5th at 2pm through Friday, April 9th at 9pm as we spend a week listening to and examining the life, career, and distinctive sound of Lady Day. We'll be posting a full broadcasting schedule soon, but so far, look forward to a combination of continuous and show-specific programming throughout the week.


 

April 3, 2015 

The Art of Billie Holiday’s Life
By Richard Brody
The New Yorker

Billie Holiday, like all great artists, is as distinctive, as idiosyncratic, as original off-stage and off-mike as on. Credit Photograph by Charles Hewitt / LIFE / Getty

Some biographies of artists take in the whole life—preferably with equal attention to the work, and integrating the two elements to the extent that the work invites it. Others offer a bio-slice or synecdoche, centered on one particular period, relationship, or field of activity to provide an exemplary angle on the life and work. John Szwed’s brief but revelatory new book, “Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth” (Viking), which comes out this week—just under the wire for her centenary (Holiday was born April 7, 1915)—is in another category. It’s a meta-biography, about the creation of Holiday’s public image in media of all sorts: print, television, movies, and, of course, her recordings, but with special attention to the composition of her autobiography, “Lady Sings the Blues,” which was published in 1956.

Szwed, whose other books include a superb biography of Sun Ra, “Space is the Place,” reconstructs, through ardent archival research as well as his own interviews, the circumstances of the making of Holiday’s book. In the process, he both evaluates the first-hand significance of “Lady Sings the Blues” as Holiday’s factual and emotional account of her own life—as a record of Holiday’s experiences and ideas—and also, secondarily, treats the writing and the publication of the book as important events in Holiday’s life. She died on July 17, 1959, at the age of forty-four, and had been suffering from liver disease and heart disease. She was, as she writes, addicted to heroin “on and off” since the early nineteen-forties. Szwed says that, when she went to the hospital in 1959, “No one at the hospital knew who she was, and with needle marks on her body, she was left in the hall for hours, since the institution was not allowed to treat drug addicts.”

Holiday’s recording career was precocious: she made her first records in 1933, with a small group headed by Benny Goodman (who wasn’t yet a big-band leader). On the very first page of the first chapter, Szwed writes wisely about the timing of Holiday’s own book, nothing that at the time it was published, “jazz had moved from being the popular music of 1940s America to a more rarefied place in the public view.” This fact, for Szwed, mitigated the response that Holiday’s book received. The critics now defending jazz were mainly “closet high modernists who wanted no mention of drugs, whorehouses, or lynching brought into discussions of the music.” And those are among the subjects addressed, in unsparing detail, in Holiday’s book. (Among the critics who attacked the book was Whitney Balliett, this magazine’s longtime jazz critic, who wrote about it in the Saturday Review.)

The first section of Szwed’s book is one of the most briskly revealing pieces of jazz biography that I’ve read. First, he establishes the bona fides of William Dufty, Holiday’s collaborator on the book, rescuing him from charges of being a hack. Dufty was an award-winning journalist at the New York Post at a time when it was a leading liberal paper; he and his wife, Maely Daniele, a longtime friend of Holiday’s, welcomed her to their apartment as “a place of refuge from the police, her husband Louis McKay, reporters, and the various unsavory figures who haunted her life.” Dufty did the actual writing, based on long and detailed conversations with Holiday augmented by archival research that sparked her recollections.

Szwed sketches a handful of the book’s divergences from the independently established biographical record, starting with the legendary first sentences: “Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was seventeen, and I was three.” Szwed explains, “When Billie was born, her mother was nineteen, her father seventeen. They never married . . . She was born not in Baltimore but in Philadelphia. Some questioned her claim of having been raped at age ten.”

Holiday’s book is unstinting in its depiction of the hardships she faced. As a child, she heard from her great-grandmother about life as a slave; she grew up away from her mother, in the home of a cousin who beat her; she scrubbed floors in a “whorehouse” in order to hear music on the record player; and the man who raped her when she was ten was a neighbor. She quit school at twelve and travelled to New York alone, where she worked first as a maid and then as a prostitute. Jailed and released, she moved in with her mother, who lived in Harlem. They were on the verge of eviction when Holiday, who was about fifteen, got a job singing—more or less by accident—at a local nightspot. Holiday details the roughness of the world of music, exacerbated by relentless racism—travelling through the South in the age of Jim Crow, being forced to darken her skin with makeup in order to perform in Detroit. She describes in detail her addiction to heroin, her resulting troubles with the law, and its impact on her career.

For all its confessional frankness and accusatory clarity, there is, as Szwed reveals, much more to her story—and the circumstances of the composition of “Lady Sings the Blues” are an exemplary part of it.

Delving into earlier drafts of “Lady Sings the Blues” and other archival materials, Szwed finds echoes of the book in other published sources to which Holiday had referred Dufty as particularly reliable. Holiday told Dufty some stories that were ultimately kept out of the book, including the agonizing home abortion that her mother forced her to undergo as a teen. But Szwed finds that the book’s most important omissions were demanded by lawyers (including one representing Holiday and McKay) and by many of the public figures who played major roles in Holiday’s life and autobiography.

In particular, Szwed traces the stories of two important relationships that are missing from the book—with Charles Laughton, in the nineteen-thirties, and with Tallulah Bankhead, in the late nineteen-forties—and of one relationship that’s sharply diminished in the book, her affair with Orson Welles around the time of “Citizen Kane.”

In 1941, Welles wanted to make a film called “The Story of Jazz,” in collaboration with Duke Ellington. It would be set in the nineteen-teens and twenties, centered on the rise of Louis Armstrong, playing himself. He wanted Holiday to play Bessie Smith. Welles’s movie, Szwed writes, was “intended to be radically innovative, mixing together different styles of jazz, using the surrealist drawings of Oskar Fischinger.” It was put off, Szwed reports, due to the start of the Second World War. When Welles went to Rio to make “It’s All True,” he thought that the jazz story could be woven into it—but his filming of “the everyday interaction of races in Brazil” soured Welles’s studio, RKO, on the entire production.

The basic idea is the crucial one: of all jazz singers, Holiday is the one who is a jazz musician, the equal in musical invention of the epoch-making instrumentalists who played alongside her. Szwed picks up on the negative effect on her career that her style risked when she was starting out. He quotes one club manager who told her, “You sing too slow . . . sounds like you’re asleep!” Music publishers—who still made lots of money from the sale of sheet music—didn’t like her singing, which didn’t present the melodies clearly enough. His analysis shines all the more brightly when he goes behind the scenes of the recordings to unfold the life of performance—her initial experience as a cabaret singer, going table to table for tips in the Prohibition-era cabarets on 133rd Street, where she got her start; the peculiarities of the Fifty-Second Street clubs where she performed in the late thirties, which fostered a casual musical intimacy (“They were small, maybe fifteen feet by sixty feet, and were located in the basements of brownstone residences. They featured miniature tables for a few dozen people.”). He also explains the painful conditions of some of her later recordings, when her health and her voice were in bad shape (“The on-the-spot rehearsals, the false starts, retakes, and overdubs began to pile up on the tape reels”).

Szwed looks closely at her choice of songs and the origins of ones with which she’s closely associated, including “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child.” He details the life-threatening conflicts that she faced on the road in the South, where she performed as a member of the (white) Artie Shaw band. And he carefully considers the specifics of performance later in her career, when she sang at Carnegie Hall and recorded with far more elaborate arrangements than she had used in her youth—and focusses on the musical implications of these circumstances.

Above all, in analyzing her art, Szwed argues for the difference between the performer and the life—between the on-stage persona and the person: “Her ability to communicate strong and painful emotions through singing led many to believe that she was suffering and in real pain. But real suffering is not necessary for great singing, only the ability to communicate it in song . . . Like actors, singers create their identities as artists through words and music. . . . All we can know for certain is the performance itself.”

In general, the desire of even the most discerning critics, such as Szwed, to separate art and life, to analyze the formal traits of works as if they were dissociable from the experience and the emotions that inspire them and that they convey, is both noble and doomed—noble, because artists deserve to be honored for their achievements, and doomed, because the formal and systematic nature of those achievements isn’t what makes them endure. The individuality, the immense complexity of inner life that art conveys—including Holiday’s seemingly straightforward and instantly appreciable art—doesn’t occur in a laboratory-like isolation.

Holiday herself, in “Lady Sings the Blues,” took care to depict the unity of her personal life and her musicianship, starting with the haphazard circumstances under which she began her career, as a teen-age ex-prostitute in need of a fast way of making rent for herself and her mother. She specifically connects the way she sings with her experiences—and with her readiness to face them. (“Maybe I’m proud enough to want to remember Baltimore and Welfare Island.”)

Holiday, like all great artists, is as distinctive, as idiosyncratic, as original off-stage and off-mike as on. The life doesn’t explain the art; rather, life is an art in itself—whether a creation of sublime moments and fascinating gestures, or of terrifying confrontations and mighty endurances—that is illuminated by the same inner light, inspired by the same genius, inflected by the same touch that makes the works of art endure on their own. The biographer of an artist is a critic in advance, in acknowledging and appreciating the actions of an artist’s life and recognizing what’s personal and distinctive in their being—in discerning the artistic aspect of the life. Szwed, in his brief book, accomplishes this goal, perhaps even better than he intended.

Richard Brody began writing for The New Yorker in 1999, and has contributed articles about the directors François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Samuel Fuller. He writes about movies in his blog for newyorker.com.
 
 

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth review – reclaiming Lady Day's artistry

Everyone knows about the sex and drugs – but John Szwed’s biography makes the case for Holiday as a complex artist who inspired in many different directions

Billie Holiday: one of the most famously indescribable – and inimitable – voices in all of jazz and pop-music history. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives 

by Seth Colter Walls
Thursday 2 April 2015
The Guardian (UK)

To the public, Billie Holiday might simply be an icon. But to specialists, she’s the subject of a long and unsettled argument. In the view of some critics, her art has often gotten short shrift compared with discussions over the tabloid particulars of her too-short life. In 1956, she published a co-written autobiography called Lady Sings the Blues, which tried to balance confessional storytelling with assertions of her artistic control. It was accused of doing a disservice to jazz by some self-appointed guardians of the genre.

In later decades, Lady Day – as she was called by fans and fellow musicians – was even accused of having been illiterate. A fast-and-loose 1972 biopic starring Diana Ross, a pop singer ill-suited to capturing Holiday’s swinging sophistication and melodic genius, hardly improved anyone’s understanding. The feminist critic Angela Davis took sharp exception to the film, writing that it “tends to imply that her music is no more than an unconscious and passive product of the contingencies of her life”.

With the approach of Holiday’s centenary, more and more people are coming over to Davis’s side. John Szwed’s swift, conversational and yet detail-rich new biography, Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, communicates its artist-first priorities in the subtitle, and then makes good on them throughout. That’s not to say that he ignores the singer’s romantic flings (with Orson Welles, among others), the domestic abuse suffered at the hands of multiple partners or the long-term heroin use that are part of the familiar Holiday lore. Crucially, though, he spends more than half his page-count closely considering Holiday’s music. And his book comes just as three new recordings – one from José James, a singer who skillfully bridges the worlds of contemporary R&B and jazz, one by Cassandra Wilson and another by the classical pianist Lara Downes – likewise investigate the musician’s catalogue with respectfully daring air.

As tough as it is for those musicians to interpret songs Holiday made iconic, it’s possible that Szwed’s challenge was more daunting. He is writing in the wake of Holiday biographies that have, by necessity, relied on speculation and hearsay, given the fact that Holiday gave few interviews (and saw her autobiography redacted by a lawsuit-averse publisher). There are also political ambiguities involved in narrating the choices of an African American artist who, as Davis noted, “worked primarily with the idiom of white popular song”. And then there are the difficulties of needing to describe one of the most famously indescribable – and inimitable – voices in all of jazz and pop-music history.

On the latter point, Szwed clears his throat a bit – quoting divergent critical opinions and eminent musicologists – displaying some of the agonies that prose suffers when summing up the Holiday sound. But he does have moments where he succeeds beautifully: “In the upper register she had a bright but nasal sound; she sounded clearer, perhaps even younger, in the middle; and at the bottom, there was a rougher voice, sometimes a rasp or a growl. But even these voices were varied or might change depending on the song she was singing.” Elsewhere, Szwed is on point when he describes Holiday “falling behind the beat, floating, breathing where it’s not expected, scooping up notes and then letting them fall”.

As the author of compelling books on complex figures such as Miles Davis and Sun Ra, it’s little surprise that Szwed is also wise and authoritative on the sad, complex interaction of Jim Crow racism and early pop-music practices, in the 20-page chapter The Prehistory of a Singer. And he proves as good at reading Holiday’s political choices – such as revising the “in dialect” lyrics of Gershwin’s I Loves You, Porgy – as he is at spelling out Holiday’s evolving approach to improvisation, over the course of her career.

Like Davis, Szwed hears a hint of feminist consciousness-raising in Holiday’s 1948 rendition of My Man. And on the tortured history of credit-taking for the composition of Strange Fruit – the anti-lynching protest song that stunned one nightclub audience after another, once Holiday added it to her repertoire – Szwed cuts through the brush to show the ways in which Holiday’s melodic approach (as well as her choice to perform it in front of white people) destined the song for a place in history as much as anything else.

If it sounds like the accumulated weight of history makes for solemn reading, a lot of fun can actually be had using Szwed as a listening partner. Go ahead and launch your streaming-music engine of choice and build a playlist with the tracks as Szwed considers them. You probably won’t need much help enjoying three rare Holiday recordings with Count Basie’s 1937 band – available on disc eight of Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia, 1933-1944 – since the musicians’ collective brand of ecstasy requires little in the way of selling. But Szwed’s description of Holiday “gliding over rhythm suspensions and finding her way over the glassine 4/4 of a great swing rhythm section” is a treat – as is his song-by-song investigation of Holiday’s musical partnerships with the pianist Teddy Wilson and the saxophonist Lester Young.

In the case of pre-existing songs that Holiday made her own, Szwed cites earlier recordings by other singers before inviting you to compare them with what he deems to be Holiday’s best version (the better to put her skills in relief). And when it comes to the core of Lady Day’s catalogue – the songs she recorded, with great variance, during multiple phases of her career – Szwed’s listening notes shed useful light on the differences, especially for fans who think they can safely dismiss the portion of Holiday’s discography that is less favoured by jazz aficionados.

That very hybridity – Holiday’s ability to help define jazz singing, and then buck the genre’s conventions – is what makes the new spate of tributes to her feel so appropriate. A listener might disagree with an arrangement choice made by Cassandra Wilson, on Coming Forth By Day, or else miss elements of swing in Lara Downes’s classical recital A Billie Holiday Songbook – but their risk-taking is clearly in the service of honoring Holiday’s often-surprising moves. (José James’s Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday is just about perfect, including as it does the playing of MacArthur-winning pianist Jason Moran.)

Plenty of stars from yesteryear had crazy-juicy personal lives; very few left behind conceptual approaches that inspire in so many directions. Each of these new albums is in league with Szwed’s book – a joint persuasion campaign meant to encourage us to consider musicianship as the defining characteristic of Lady Day’s legacy. That’s about as fine a centenary-year gift as anyone had a right to expect.

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth is published by Viking Press in the USA, and William Heinemann in the UK

When Billie played her yearly concerts at the Apollo and at Carnegie Hall everyone came out in full force either to hear her sing or to see whether she was still together. Each time a new record was issued it was compared with her early ones, and she was often judged to be imitating herself, to be working with the wrong musicians, the wrong arrangers, etc. Most everyone liked to believe that Billie made her best records when she sang with Count Basie and the other geniuses of swing. It's hard to disagree, for she was, like all of them, an incredible horn in those days. Billie's later records, usually in a much slower tempo, are a different music. They are the songs of a woman alone and lonely and without much sympathy. No one blows pretty solos behind her like Lester did. Sometimes there are unintelligent voices in the background going oo-oo-oo with none of the wit Billie had on "Ooo-oo-oo what a lil moonlight can doo-oo-oo." Nevertheless, these are the songs of Lady Day too, and if the sorrow sounds a little heavier it was because she'd been carrying it a while. "I remember when she was happy-" Carmen McRae said in 1955, "that was a long time ago."

Billie and Louis both were arrested in 1956. Billie knew by this time that if the Narcotics Bureau wanted to get her it only had to be arranged, the evidence "found" and she could be convicted on her past record. In her book she pleaded that the addict be treated rather than punished. She knew how little good punishment had ever done to help her. And her stated purpose in revealing all that she considered shameful in her life was to warn young people away from heroin. "If you think dope is for kicks and for thrills, you're out of your mind.... The only thing that can happen to you is sooner or later you'll get busted, and once that happens, you'll never live it down. Just look at me."

Billie never was able to stop using heroin completely, though she tried very hard. Some people thought she could have tried harder: "That girl's life... was just snapped away from foolishness." But there were others who knew and loved her. Lena Horne and Billie had been friends since Cafe Society days, and she understood how life had been spoiled for Billie.

Billie didn't lecture me - she didn't have to. Her whole life, the way she sang, made everything very plain. It was as if she were a living picture there for me to see something I had not seen clearly before.

Her life was so tragic and so corrupted by other people-by white people and by her own people. There was no place for her to go, except finally, into that little private world of dope. She was just too sensitive to survive.

Billie survived long enough to sing a few days at the Five Spot, a club that opened in downtown New York in the fifties. Her last appearance was at the Phoenix Theater in New York in May, 1959. On May 31 she was brought to a hospital unconscious, suffering from liver and heart ailments, the papers said. Twelve days later someone allegedly found heroin in her room. She was arrested while in her hospital bed and police came to guard her, to make sure this now thin, suffering woman could not get away from the law one more time. But she escaped the judgment of the United States of America versus Billie Holiday for a higher judgment, on July 17, 1959.


Billie Holiday at 100: Artists reflect on jazz singer’s legacy
By Aidin Vaziri
Friday, April 3, 2015
Photo: Associated Press

Image 1 of 13

FILE - This Sept. 1958 file photo shows Billie Holiday. The Apollo Theater is planning events to commemorate the 100th birthday of Holiday. The legendary American jazz vocalist was born on April 17, 1915 and died in 1959 at the age of 44. Holiday performed at least two dozen times at the Apollo. She will be inducted into its Walk of Fame on April 16, 2015. (AP Photo/FILE)

Billie Holiday would have turned 100 this week, but who’s counting? The famed jazz singer and songwriter’s voice is ageless, still luring fans with its effortless swagger and unblinking candor. It carried with it all the difficulty she endured throughout her tumultuous life — born Eleanora Fagan, an illegitimate child, on April 7, 1915, in Baltimore; died strung out and broken 44 years later in New York — along with all the hope, fear and desperation that came with it. “What comes out is what I feel,” she once said.

No one else can sound like Billie Holiday because no one else lived like Billie Holiday.
Yet in generation after generation, her influence is unmistakable. To mark the centennial of her birth, which will be celebrated with concerts, books, albums, tributes and reissue packages around the world, we spoke with some people closer to home whose lives were deeply touched by Holiday.

Paula West

Longtime Bay Area jazz singer, torchbearer of the American Songbook popularized by Holiday

I’m not quite sure when I first heard Billie Holiday. I believe it was before the Diana Ross biopic (“Lady Sings the Blues”) was released. Of course their voices were dissimilar. I was young at the time, and had only been exposed to those “greatest hits,” such as “Fine and Mellow,” “Them There Eyes” and “Good Morning Heartache.”

I feel the best singers have always been able to get across the raw emotions of the lyrics. She had no great vocal range, but that was never needed. It was about telling the truth, the story, and not too many singers could ever match her natural interpretations. No vocal histrionics, melisma necessary. She was respected by musicians, as well, and her singing was influenced by musicians such as Louis Armstrong.

There are dozens of her interpretations I love, but “Lady in Satin” is my favorite, particularly her version of “I’m a Fool to Want You.” The arrangement is beautiful yet heartbreaking, of course, and no one could deliver that better than Billie Holiday.

Lavay Smith

Blues and jazz singer with Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, renowned for her tributes to the first ladies of jazz

I remember seeing Billie Holiday singing on TV on an oldies station that would show the Little Rascals, Shirley Temple and old black-and-white movies. Like everyone who hears her, I loved her right away.

Billie remains an icon because she was true to herself. As a singer, she made you believe that she meant every word she sang. Lyrics were very important to her, which isn’t true of all jazz singers. And the feeling that she creates through her use of rhythm was always swingin’ and happy. A lot of people think of her music as being sad, but she had a great sense of humor that comes through, and I’ve always found her music to be uplifting.

The first album I bought was “Lady Sings the Blues,” and I played the heck out of. It included “Strange Fruit” and many of her hits, like “Traveling Light” and “Good Morning Heartache.” I love all of the Columbia recordings that she did with Lester Young and Teddy Wilson, including all of the obscure songs. I just love the feeling and the soul of these records. The interplay between Billie and Lester Young is the textbook definition of how an instrumentalist should interact with a singer.

Joey Arias
New York cabaret singer and drag artist, who recently performed a tribute to Billie Holiday at Lincoln Center

I remember hearing her voice and thinking how lovely she sounded. I wanted to have that same sound that she was emoting. It was a magic spell that was sent to me. I feel as though we were connected at the hip from stories I’ve heard from friends and family.

Billie was an outspoken person. She was class all the way and never wanted to be treated any other way. She was being followed and became public enemy for standing up for her rights and acting strong and never letting her guard down. She dressed beautifully and had such presence.
 
“Lady in Satin” is my favorite album. It all depends on what period you want to hear her style, but I love her in the late ’50s. She summed it all up — her life, her singing and her thoughts, and her love of life and love.

Randall Kline
SFJazz executive director

I heard her on the home stereo as a teenager. My parents were jazz fans. One hearing of her voice — soft, persuasive, mournful, honest, beautiful — told you to listen more closely. “Don’t Explain” for its raw pathos. “Strange Fruit” for its power, poignancy and, sadly, its contemporary relevance.

Getting to know Billie Holiday

Here are some albums to help you get better acquainted with the jazz singer’s magic.

“Lady Day: The Best of Billie Holiday,” Legacy. A two-CD set containing many of the classic sides Holiday cut for Columbia and its Brunswick, Vocalion and Okeh labels in the 1930s and early ’40s, including “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “A Fine Romance,” “You Go to My Head” and “The Man I Love.”

“Billie Holiday: The Complete Decca Recordings,” GRP. An excellent two-CD box featuring the torch songs, raucous renditions of signature Bessie Smith numbers, and other material Holiday recorded for Decca from 1944 to 1950.

“Lady in Autumn: The Best of the Verve Years,” Verve. A good two-disc survey of Holiday’s small-band recordings of the 1950s, featuring stellar soloists like Ben Webster and Benny Carter.

“Lady in Satin,” Legacy. A heartbreaking beauty. Writer Michael Brooks wrote that this 1958 album feels “as if a group of family and friends are gathered around a loved one and saying their last goodbyes.”

“Ken Burns Jazz — Definitive Billie Holiday,” Verve. Compiled by the documentary filmmaker, this single-disc collection culls material from the three major phases of the singer’s career. — Jesse Hamlin

Kitty Margolis

San Francisco jazz singer, trustee at the Recording Academy, founder of Mad-Kat Records

I remember staring at a girlish, chubby Billie on the cover of this brown Columbia three-LP box set released in 1962, “Billie Holiday: The Golden Years.” It had an extensive photo book with detailed track listings inside and liner notes by John Hammond and Ralph Gleason. I still have it. Opening it and smelling the paper takes me right back. I realize now that a lot of the tunes in this box became very important to my early core repertoire.

I don’t think there is one genuine female jazz singer in the world who doesn’t have Billie inside. She defined the idiom.

One major thing that set Billie apart as a jazz singer is that she was a musician’s singer, a master improviser without ever uttering one scat syllable. She was not a classically “pretty”-sounding singer like Ella or Sarah. Billie’s sound was a bittersweet brew: raw, tart, personal, intimate, relaxed, understated, urgent.

Billie’s storytelling was always 100 percent emotionally intelligent and believable, an ironic cocktail of longing, pride, pain, strength with a sharp glint of humor. No one could sound happier (“Them There Eyes”) and no one could sound darker (“I’m a Fool to Want You”). Billie sang the truth. There was no “acting” involved. She could take even the most banal pop lyric of the time and imbue it with subtext that gave it a much deeper message, almost like a code.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

In Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the renowned Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM): 1965-Present

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Panopticon-Review/342702882479366

All,

THE PANOPTICON REVIEW IS PROUD TO CELEBRATE THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WORLD RENOWNED ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF CREATIVE MUSICIANS (AACM) WHICH WAS FORMED IN MARCH OF 1965 BY A LARGE AND VERY ACTIVE  COALITION OF BLACK MUSICIANS AND COMPOSERS WHO WERE FULLY COMMITTED TO THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLE OF SELF DETERMINATION IN THE ARTS AND IN THEIR LIVES.


Kofi


'http://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-association-for-the-advancement-of-creative-musicians-mn0001286033/biography

Artist Biography by Chris Kelsey

Since their founding by a group of forward-thinking jazz musicians that included pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran, the AACM have been a force for innovation within the jazz community. The Chicago-based organization is a registered nonprofit organization dedicated, according to the AACM statement, "to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music." In the '60s and especially the '70s, the AACM were widely acknowledged as being in the forefront of experimental jazz. Early AACM members such as Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Jack DeJohnette, and the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Famadou Don Moye, and Malachi Favors) created music that would have creative implications that reached far beyond the city of Chicago. Their motto is "Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future." Although there is not one typical AACM artist, it can be said that their membership in general has attempted to transcend common practice by absorbing into their work various influences lying outside the jazz domain (African indigenous musics and European classical forms, for example).

Sound

The AACM grew out of a rehearsal band led by Muhal Richard Abrams in 1962. The group, known informally as the Experimental Band, never performed, but existed to read down scores written by Abrams, Cohran, DeJohnette, Jarman, Mitchell, Troy Robinson, and Maurice McIntyre, among others. Many of the band's writers employed compositional techniques taken from contemporary classical music -- serialism, polytonality, and chromaticism. The group's first rehearsals were held in a South Side tavern, but the band eventually moved to Abraham Lincoln Center, one of the city's oldest settlement houses. Obviously inspired by a high level of creativity and frustrated by a lack of performance opportunities, Abrams, Christian, Cohran, and McCall instigated the formation of a cooperative that would produce concerts, and opened membership to their cohorts in the Experimental Band. In May of 1965, the AACM were chartered by the state of Illinois as a nonprofit organization. Six groups comprised the original AACM: Christian's hard bop quintet; Cohran's Artistic Heritage Ensemble; the Experimental Band; and the groups of Robinson, Jarman, and Mitchell. The next year, Delmark recorded Mitchell's band. The resulting album, Sound, was the first of many to come out of the AACM.

In addition to their function as a concert producer, the AACM run a free training program for inner-city youth. The AACM School of Music offers instruction on all instruments and vocals, as well as classes in music theory. The faculty is made up entirely of AACM members, many of whom are themselves graduates of the program. Although the cooperative's influence in the jazz world waned a bit in the '80s and '90s, affiliated artists continued to produce bold and compelling music. Newer members like saxophonist/composer Edward Wilkerson, percussionist Kahil El-Zabar, and saxophonist Ari Brown continued the AACM's tradition of high creative achievement.'

A POWER STRONGER THAN ITSELF: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) 

BY THE OUTSTANDING MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND PROFESSOR OF MUSIC AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY GEORGE E. LEWIS WHO HAS BEEN A CHARTER MEMBER OF THE AACM HIMSELF SINCE 1971.


Kofi


THE FOLLOWING PHOTOS BELOW ARE TAKEN FROM THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED AND AWARD WINNING BOOK:

 
 


TOP TO BOTTOM: A famous collective shot of members of the AACM taken in the late 1960s, a photo of the book by Dr. Lewis on the AACM, another famous photo of members of the music collective taken with the co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams in the center of the photo playing a clarinet, and a photo of Dr. Lewis with his trombone and music computer modules from which Mr. Lewis composes some of his prodigious work.

Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians
Courtesy JANIS LANE-EWART

 

LONG LIVE THE AACM!
 
http://sengstackeimages.com/The_AAMC.html

http://www.allmusic.com/…/the-association-for-the…/biography

 
AACM Panel Discussion: Muhal Richard Abrams, Frederick Berry, George Lewis, and Roscoe Mitchell with Charles Kronengold: Moderator

CCRMA, Stanford University. May 12, 2014.


From George Lewis's work "A Power Stronger than Itself":


 "Since its founding on the virtually all-black South Side
of Chicago in 1965, the African American musicians'
collective known as the Association for the Advancement
of Creative Musicians has played an unusual prominent
role in the development of American experimental music.

Over more than forty years of work, the composite output
of AACM members has explored a wide range of methodologies, processes, and media. AACM musicians developed new and influential ideas about timbre, sound, collectivity, extended technique and instrumentation, performance practice, intermedia, the relationship of improvisation to composition, form, scores, computer music technologies, invented acoustic instruments, installations, and kinetic sculptures."

http://aacmchicago.org/aacm-celebrates-50-years-1965-2015

AACM Celebrates 50 years (1965-2015)

Preparations for the AACM’s 50th Anniversary are underway! Since 1965 the AACM has been instrumental in thecontinuation of the tradition of creating original music with an influence that extends across the globe. In this respect, the AACM is preparing for a worldwide celebration of musical presentations, installations, exhibitions and more as the organization reaches a half century in 2015. This year long celebration will honor, reflect and advance the organization’s contributions to the world's musical landscape.

http://www.dusablemuseum.org/…/free-at-first-the-evolution-…

“FREE AT FIRST: The Audacious Journey of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians”

 
The phrase “Free At First” is meant to reflect the very birth of this organization was inclusive of the members of AACM, who were unfettered by convention and tradition and adopted a “free” style that recognized no boundaries and defied categorization. The AACM had the audacity to compose, perform, publish, own, and institutionalize their own music and to prepare future exponents of their genre-bending, experimental form. Further, their collective, rather than confining the individual, actually made room for individual freedom of expression.

“Free At First” is also a reference to the sense of freedom the founders and early members approached musical compositions, organizational concepts and institution building – especially with the AACM School of Music. The scope of the exhibition is intended to provide the social framework, political climate, cultural milieu and the philosophical underpinnings within which this musician’s collective has thrived and survived – the only musicians’ collective still standing!

“Free At First” will be as broad and wide-ranging an exhibition as is the music created by the AACM. From historic and iconic photographs to a musical soundscape inclusive of AACM founders and the newest generation; from performance costumes and uniquely crafted awards of recognition to performance posters from around the globe; from a recreation of the famous Henry Threadgill “Hubkaphone” as an installation piece to be experienced by all visitors to a long ago silent film of Threadgill playing this unique instrument. Audience members will also be engaged in an exhibition game called, “Finding AACM” with questions and hints of where to find clues located somewhere throughout the exhibition.

Organized by DuSable Museum of African American History; Curated by Dr. Carol L. Adams and Janis Lane-Ewart. Exhibition Designer: Dorian Sylvain. “FREE AT FIRST: The Audacious Journey of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians” is sponsored by: The Chicago Community Trust, The DuSable Museum of African American History, and United Airlines, the Official Airline of the DuSable Museum.The DuSable Museum of African American History gratefully acknowledges the Chicago Park District’s generous support of the Museum.

IL Humanities Logo

Continuum – Photo by Lauren Deutsch

https://www.facebook.com/pages/AACM-New-York-50th-Anniversary-Celebration/141374379385593

http://pitchfork.com/…/698-the-aacm-collective-turns-50-wi…/

 
The AACM Collective Turns 50 (With Its Radical Creativity Intact)
By Seth Colter Walls
March 13, 2015
Pitchfolk

 
Before he moved to New York and became a key drummer in Miles Davis’ powerful electric lineup, circa Bitches Brew, Jack DeJohnette played drums all over Chicago in the early 1960s. This was the same period during which future Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman were studying music at Woodrow Wilson College, and when a pianist-educator named Muhal Richard Abrams was leading rehearsals of what he called the Experimental Band, over at the C&C Lounge on the city’s South Side.

In 1963, DeJohnette introduced Mitchell to Abrams. Two years later, with DeJohnette off in New York, Mitchell attended the first meetings of a new collective cofounded by the pianist: the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (or AACM). Inspired by the freer approaches to jazz improvisation suggested by Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, as well as by Western-classical and world-music performance practices, members of the association pledged fidelity to no genre, focusing their goals instead on the composition and performance of original pieces—no matter the form. "Write whatever you want," Abrams once told a member, "and we’ll look at it."

Though DeJohnette is better known in mainstream jazz circles for his distinguished career as a bandleader—and for his participation in outfits with Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny—he hasn’t lost touch with these exploratory, avant-garde titans. Their communion can be heard on Made in Chicago, DeJohnette’s latest album for the ECM label. Recorded live in 2013, it reunites the drummer with both Abrams and Mitchell, and includes another AACM luminary in the bargain: the saxophonist-composer Henry Threadgill. Over the course of a 70-minute set, each heavyweight contributes an original composition (Mitchell even gets two). Along with the younger Larry Gray on bass, this wrecking crew’s concert closer is a brief, jointly improvised piece. This excerpt comes courtesy of ECM.

Jack DeJohnette: "Ten Minutes (excerpt)"

Abrams starts off with a minimalist riff on the piano, and is joined first by Mitchell’s horn (on the left channel) and Threadgill’s (on the right), before DeJohnette’s drums—playing free, but with an undeniable pulse—help the piece achieve liftoff. The freewheeling bash of that track is just one joyous texture on a master-class album that keeps things consistently intense and stylistically diverse.

Mitchell’s frenetic 1977 piece "Chant" kicks off the set with a four-note theme that Abrams references during a piano solo, before DeJohnette and Mitchell take over for an extended (and explosive) duo passage. On the slower, more sombre Abrams composition that follows, "Jack 5", Threadgill deals out piercing blues licks from his alto, while DeJohnette picks his spots like the master that he is—dropping stray percussion blasts that have the cumulative force of any recent 15-minute black-metal track you might care to compare his playing against. And then the drummer plays some danceable, funk-adjacent groove, all on his own (just in case you forgot his discography as a sideman includes On the Corner).

Mitchell busts out a bass recorder for his chamber-music style composition "This". Later on, DeJohnette’s composition "Museum of Time" provides him with the opportunity to stray a little closer to standard swing (and also gives Threadgill time to show how mesmerizing he can sound on the flute).

As much as any 70-minute set can, Made in Chicago feels like a balanced, contemporary introduction to the many-sided history of the AACM. Some of its textures clearly reflect the fact that, like many other AACM members, Abrams, Mitchell and Threadgill have all written contemporary classical music in addition to perfecting their improvisational languages. Chamber music pieces by all three will be performed as part of an all-AACM gig at New York’s Roulette on March 19, along with works by the pianist Amina Claudine Myers, the trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and the late violinist Leroy Jenkins.

Smith has also enjoyed a productive stretch of late, with his chamber-music-meets-jazz ensemble opus Ten Freedom Summers—a massive work that draws its animating spirit from icons and phenomena surrounding the Civil Rights movement—being selected as a finalist for the Pulitzer in composition, back in 2013.

http://jazztimes.com/…/155075-50-years-of-the-aacm-celebrat…

02/10/15

50 Years of the AACM Celebrated in NYC Concerts
Music of Henry Threadgill, Muhal Richard Abrams, more
By JazzTimes


A series of concerts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding in Chicago of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) will take place in New York City on Feb. 26, March 19 and April 28-29. The concerts will take place at Roulette in Brooklyn and the Bohemian National Hall on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Each evening will feature works by such AACM composers as Muhal Richard Abrams, Thurman Barker, Leroy Jenkins, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Amina Claudine Myers, Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Threadgill.

Events are co-sponsored by Interpretations, SEM Ensemble, Roulette Intermedia, the Czech Center New York at Bohemian National Hall and Ostrava Center for New Music.

Details, as provided in a press release, follow:

Thursday February 26, 2015 @ Roulette


AACM50: Amina Claudine Myers Trio // Thurman Barker's Strike Force Plus


New music from two important figures of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Pianist and composer Amina Claudine Myers brings her trio with Jerome Harris (bass guitar) and Reggie Nicholson (drums). Composer and percussionist Thurman Barker presents the premiere of ‘South Side Suite’, and other works. Featuring his Strike Force Plus, with Malik Washington (timpani, percussion) Bryan Carrott (vibes, percussion), Eli Fountain (marimba, percussion), Ray Mantilla (percussion), Lonnie Gasperini (hammond organ) and Thurman Barker (drumset and percussion).

Thursday, March 19, 2015 @ Roulette

AACM50: Thomas Buckner performs works by Muhal Richard Abrams, Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell, Amina Claudine Myers, Henry Threadgill & Wadada Leo Smith
Baritone Thomas Buckner celebrates 50 years of the Association For the Advancement of Creative Musicians with an evening of works written for him by AACM composers. Accompanied by pianists Joseph Kubera and Amina Claudine Myers, violist Stephanie Griffin, cellist Christopher Hoffman, flutist JD Parran, and percussionists Matthew Gold and Alex Lipowski, Buckner performs concert works by Muhal Richard Abrams, Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell, Amina Claudine Myers, Wadada Leo Smith, and Henry Threadgill.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 @ The Bohemian National Hall


AACM50: SEM Ensemble performs George E. Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, John Cage, Petr Kotik, & Christian Wolff
 

Petr Kotik leads the SEM Ensemble and members of the Ostravska Banda (Czech Republic) in works for chamber ensemble by noted composers of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians on the occasion of their 50th Anniversary. Works by AACM members George E. Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell (with Thomas Buckner, baritone), and Henry Threadgill are featured alongside works by John Cage, Petr Kotik, and Christian Wolff.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 @ The Bohemian National Hall
AACM50: Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble & Ostravska Banda Perform Muhal Richard Abrams, George E. Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, & Wadada Leo Smith // The Trio (Abrams/Mitchell/Lewis)
Petr Kotik leads the Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble and members of the Ostravska Banda (Czech Republic) in orchestral works by George E. Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell (with baritone Thomas Buckner), Wadada Leo Smith, and AACM founder Muhal Richard Abrams. The evening also includes a rare New York appearance by The Trio, the distinguished improvising trio of Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, and Roscoe Mitchell.

All concerts start at 8PM.

ROULETTE:
509 Atlantic Ave. Downtown Brooklyn
BOHEMIAN NATIONAL HALL
321 East 73RD Street, New York City, NY 10021
General admission: suggested donation
For more information on Interpretations visit Interpretations.


http://www.chicagotribune.com/…/ct-aacm-essay-20150227-colu…

 
How did Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) change the world?
 

They changed the way we think about music.

Fifty years ago, a group of South Side jazz musicians found themselves backed against a wall. Clubs were closing, radio stations were going pop, America's musical interests were shifting elsewhere: toward youth-oriented rock 'n' roll.

If these Chicago jazz artists had given in to inevitably changing musical tastes, jazz might have devolved into a nostalgia bath or succumbed to the commercial excesses of the fusion era that followed. Instead, the Chicago musicians who half a century ago created the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, or AACM, invented original musical languages, created intriguing new instruments, crafted novel ways of penning scores and otherwise defied long-standing presumptions about how music was supposed to be made.

AACM recordings: Bold ideas in sound

Because their work was steeped in the rituals of ancient Africa, as well as certain traditions of early New Orleans music, the AACM artists managed to convey a vast sweep of black cultural history — even as they were reinventing an art form. And though they didn't necessarily intend it, their breakthroughs opened the door to new ways of creating, staging and perceiving music.

Chicago and the rest of the musical planet will be celebrate the AACM's 50th throughout this year, a fitting response considering this organization's global profile and impact.

Pioneering AACM artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton (a MacArthur Fellowship winner) and Wadada Leo Smith (a Pulitzer Prize finalist) command international followings, as do AACM figures such as Nicole Mitchell, Kahil El'Zabar and George Lewis (another MacArthur Fellow)

Related:
AACM's spirit endures in underground rock


If early AACM bands such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Threadgill's Air carried the organization's banner to acclaim in Europe and beyond in the late 1960s and '70s, subsequent groups such as Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble, Ernest Dawkins' Live the Spirit Ensemble, Dee Alexander's Evolution Ensemble and El'Zabar's Ritual Trio continue to do so today.

But even an admirer of this majestic history might reasonably ask what exactly is the AACM? An organization? An attitude? A series of cultural practices?

Surely it's all of those, but also something more.

"It's really kind of a spirit thing," says Kelan Phil Cohran, a founder of the organization and, at 87, an active musician in Chicago and around the world.

"It was — and is — about creating your own artistic presence. That was the primary goal. Nothing has value other than that."

The idea of forging a singular sound and musical personality always has been central to jazz, dating back to its first great composer-intellectual, Jelly Roll Morton, and its first genius improviser, Louis Armstrong — both of New Orleans.

But the AACM founders in Chicago conceived fiercely individualistic approaches to music under duress, for their world was imploding in the early 1960s.

"Chicago musicians had been employed seven days a week — we couldn't get a day off," recalls Cohran, who came to Chicago in 1953, when jobs were plentiful.

"And gradually, by degrees, it went down and down, until there was no work at all."

Club dates, dance-band gigs, R&B sessions and the like were evaporating in the early 1960s, because of shifting musical fashions, changing population patterns and discriminatory enforcement of cabaret licensing laws, as George Lewis outlines in his definitive study, "A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music" (University of Chicago Press).

In response, the South Side musicians organized.

If clubs wouldn't hire them, they would present concerts themselves. If conventional jazz idioms of an earlier era were losing the public's attention, they'd create music they wanted to hear, whether there was an audience for it or not.

In 1962, Abrams formed the Experimental Band that included saxophonists Fred Anderson, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell and drummers Jack DeJohnette and Steve McCall (drawing inspiration from Sun Ra's Arkestra).

This was the cauldron from which the AACM would emerge, a gathering of musical free-thinkers eager to break free of bebop, hard bop, cool and other stylistic boxes into which jazz had been packaged, sold and confined.

By 1965, Abrams, Cohran, McCall, pianist Jodie Christian and recording secretary Sandra Lashley signed the articles of incorporation for the AACM, officially launching what would become a revolution in sound.

"We figured there was no place for us to be showcased, no place to be heard," Anderson told me in 1990, as the AACM was preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary (he died in 2010 at age 81).

"Most of the clubs weren't too keen on booking the latest new music, and there weren't even that many clubs to begin with. So we decided to showcase ourselves, build an organization that would feature us, instead of waiting around for someone else to do it.

"It was really tough at first. Any time you're breaking ground and playing original music, you can expect resistance. But that was no problem, because the Chicago guys were used to that."

The Art Ensemble of Chicago was the first to trumpet the new movement around the world, conquering Europe in the late 1960s with its free-flowing improvisations, unconventional instrumentation, Afrocentric garb and African-inspired face-painting.

Nothing like this had been heard or seen in jazz, inspiring sold-out concerts and wide critical acclaim in Europe and, eventually, back home in the U.S.

Threadgill's band Air similarly seduced audiences foreign and domestic with its unusual melodic material and its translucent ensemble textures, inspiring a galvanic shift in audience expectations of what jazz could be.

"We had no idea the AACM would catch on as it did," Abrams told me in 1990. "We certainly didn't establish it to be some kind of important institution.

"We weren't looking for notoriety, or anything. If we had, it probably wouldn't have turned out that way.

"We simply were turning to each other for support, and that was all it took. The resources were within us."

No doubt the AACM wasn't the first such enterprise.

The Underground Musicians' Association, UGMA, in Los Angeles, and the Jazz Composers Guild, in New York, slightly predated it.

Something was in the air. But none of these groups, or others that followed, attained the impact and longevity of the AACM.

Exactly why the AACM flourished artistically — notwithstanding virtually no financial support from foundations or corporations — is open to debate. The ingenuity and virtuosity of the musicians, as well as Chicago's long-standing taste for the jazz avant-garde, surely were essential.

But there's another reason too: the intrepid spirit of the AACM pioneers, who had a particular kind of grit.

"The first-generation AACM founders were all children of the first wave of migrants to venture north," wrote Lewis in "A Power Stronger Than Itself."

Which meant that "all of these people that we are talking about came from very, very struggling environments," Jarman said in Lewis' book.

"Every one of them started out at the bottom — maybe not the flat bottom, but pretty close."


Related AACM's spirit endures in underground rock
Music
 

AACM's spirit endures in underground rock
See all related

These musicians, who started with so little, simply willed the AACM — and its philosophies and musical practices — into existence.

And the organization survived, "in part, because support of one's own career wasn't the highest value," Lewis told me when his book "A Power Stronger Than Itself" was published in 2008. "People were invested in supporting each other and are (still) invested in supporting each other."

Indeed, a communal spirit has defined the AACM since the beginning and, in fact, has served as a model for the unusually collegial Chicago jazz scene in general.

That's not to say that the AACM didn't have internal battles to be expected in any human endeavor.

"We've had hard times, families have broken up, love affairs have fallen apart," Chicago multi-instrumentalist Mwata Bowden told me in 1995, during the AACM's 30th anniversary celebrations. "But we have persevered, we have continued to look forward, we have moved the music all the way around the world."

Moreover, it's critical to understand that the AACM did not signify a particular sound, style, idiom or aesthetic.

Each AACM band — from Cohran's soulful Artistic Heritage Ensemble to Braxton's hyper-cerebral experiments — was distinct from the others.

The AACM simply gave these far-flung musical explorers a common spiritual home.

The connective tissue among the bands and musicians of the AACM, past and present, lies not in the sound of music that cannot be categorized, but in a philosophy of experimentation informed by African antiquity and innovative instrumental technique.

Thus the AACM's motto: "Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future."

The past five decades have produced recordings of vast expressive and stylistic range, as well as lasting influence on other jazz demographics.

Would the innovations of Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark (another MacArthur Fellowship winner) and the North Side experimental scene he helped build have been possible without the AACM?

Would the cross-cultural innovations of Asian and Asian-American musicians such as Tatsu Aoki, Jeff Chan, Jon Jang and Francis Wong have flowered without the model and inspiration of the AACM? Seems doubtful.

Many of the early generation AACM players have left Chicago, with Threadgill spending a great deal of time in India, Abrams and Lewis based in New York, Nicole Mitchell in California.

Others have passed away, among them indelible figures such as trumpeter Lester Bowie, saxophonists Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre and Vandy Harris, bassist Charles Clark and violinist Leroy Jenkins.

But the music still thrives in the gifts of new generations of Chicago players such as trumpeter Corey Wilkes, singer Saalik Ziyad and performance poet Khari B, now chairman of the AACM.

Times change, but the AACM continues, surely fueled by what William Russo once told me was the "spiritual and moral underpinnings to their art."

Is that what Cohran, an AACM co-founder, hears in this music?

"It's there," Cohran says. "That's all the AACM played. When you play somebody else's music, you never will get that.

"To me, the greatest goal is to find a reservoir that provides you with this spirit."

The AACM was that reservoir, and 50 years later, it remains so.





Published on Jan 13, 2015

Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago


Henry Threadgill: alto saxophone, bass flute, bass recorder
Roscoe Mitchell: soprano and alto saxophones, wooden flute
Muhal Richard Abrams: piano
Larry Gray: double bass, violoncello
Jack DeJohnette: drums

With "Made In Chicago", an exhilarating live album, Jack DeJohnette celebrates a reunion with old friends. In 1962, DeJohnette, Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill were all classmates at Wilson Junior College on Chicago’s Southside, pooling energies and enthusiasms in jam sessions. Shortly thereafter Jack joined Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band, and Roscoe and Henry soon followed him. When Abrams cofounded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1965, DeJohnette, Mitchell and Threadgill were all deeply involved, presenting concerts and contributing to each other’s work under the AACM umbrella. Jack brought them together again for a very special concert at Chicago’s Millennium Park in August 2013, completing the group with the addition of bassist/cellist Larry Gray. The concert recording – featuring compositions by Roscoe, Henry, Muhal and Jack, plus group improvising - was mixed by Manfred Eicher and Jack DeJohnette at New York’s Avatar Studio. "Made In Chicago" is issued as the AACM begins its 50th anniversary year.

ECM 2392

Release: January 2015

http://www.ecmrecords.com

http://sengstackeimages.com/The_AAMC.html


Jazz (Music Genre)


AACM celebrates a golden anniversary
by Howard Reich
Chicago Tribune

hreich​@chicagotribune.com


Anthony Braxton performs on stage on Day 2 of Middelheim Festival 2013 at Park Den Brandt on August 16, 2013 in Antwerpen, Belgium. (Peter Van Breukelen, Redferns via Getty Images)

February 27, 2015
Chicago Tribune
They changed the way we think about music


Fifty years ago, a group of South Side jazz musicians found themselves backed against a wall. Clubs were closing, radio stations were going pop, America's musical interests were shifting elsewhere: toward youth-oriented rock 'n' roll.

If these Chicago jazz artists had given in to inevitably changing musical tastes, jazz might have devolved into a nostalgia bath or succumbed to the commercial excesses of the fusion era that followed. Instead, the Chicago musicians who half a century ago created the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, or AACM, invented original musical languages, created intriguing new instruments, crafted novel ways of penning scores and otherwise defied long-standing presumptions about how music was supposed to be made.

AACM recordings: Bold ideas in sound

Because their work was steeped in the rituals of ancient Africa, as well as certain traditions of early New Orleans music, the AACM artists managed to convey a vast sweep of black cultural history — even as they were reinventing an art form. And though they didn't necessarily intend it, their breakthroughs opened the door to new ways of creating, staging and perceiving music.

Chicago and the rest of the musical planet will be celebrate the AACM's 50th throughout this year, a fitting response considering this organization's global profile and impact.

Pioneering AACM artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton (a MacArthur Fellowship winner) and Wadada Leo Smith (a Pulitzer Prize finalist) command international followings, as do AACM figures such as Nicole Mitchell, Kahil El'Zabar and George Lewis (another MacArthur Fellow).

AACM's spirit endures in underground rock
 
If early AACM bands such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Threadgill's Air carried the organization's banner to acclaim in Europe and beyond in the late 1960s and '70s, subsequent groups such as Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble, Ernest Dawkins' Live the Spirit Ensemble, Dee Alexander's Evolution Ensemble and El'Zabar's Ritual Trio continue to do so today.

But even an admirer of this majestic history might reasonably ask what exactly is the AACM? An organization? An attitude? A series of cultural practices?

Surely it's all of those, but also something more.

"It's really kind of a spirit thing," says Kelan Phil Cohran, a founder of the organization and, at 87, an active musician in Chicago and around  the world.

"It was — and is — about creating your own artistic presence. That was the primary goal. Nothing has value other than that."

The idea of forging a singular sound and musical personality always has been central to jazz, dating back to its first great composer-intellectual, Jelly Roll Morton, and its first genius improviser, Louis Armstrong — both of New Orleans.

A growing list of AACM celebrations

But the AACM founders in Chicago conceived fiercely individualistic approaches to music under duress, for their world was imploding in the  early 1960s.

"Chicago musicians had been employed seven days a week — we couldn't get a day off," recalls Cohran, who came to Chicago in 1953, when jobs were plentiful.

"And gradually, by degrees, it went down and down, until there was no work at all."

Club dates, dance-band gigs, R&B sessions and the like were evaporating in the early 1960s, because of shifting musical fashions, changing population patterns and discriminatory enforcement of cabaret licensing laws, as George Lewis outlines in his definitive study, "A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music" (University of Chicago Press).

In response, the South Side musicians organized.

If clubs wouldn't hire them, they would present concerts themselves. If conventional jazz idioms of an earlier era were losing the public's attention, they'd create music they wanted to hear, whether there was an audience for it or not.

In 1962, Abrams formed the Experimental Band that included saxophonists Fred Anderson, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell and drummers Jack DeJohnette and Steve McCall (drawing inspiration from Sun Ra's Arkestra).

This was the cauldron from which the AACM would emerge, a gathering of musical free-thinkers eager to break free of bebop, hard bop, cool and other stylistic boxes into which jazz had been packaged, sold and confined.

By 1965, Abrams, Cohran, McCall, pianist Jodie Christian and recording secretary Sandra Lashley signed the articles of incorporation for the AACM, officially launching what would become a revolution in sound.

"We figured there was no place for us to be showcased, no place to be heard," Anderson told me in 1990, as the AACM was preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary (he died in 2010 at age 81).

"Most of the clubs weren't too keen on booking the latest new music, and there weren't even that many clubs to begin with. So we decided to showcase ourselves, build an organization that would feature us, instead of waiting around for someone else to do it.

"It was really tough at first. Any time you're breaking ground and playing original music, you can expect resistance. But that was no problem, because the Chicago guys were used to that."

The Art Ensemble of Chicago was the first to trumpet the new movement around the world, conquering Europe in the late 1960s with its free-flowing improvisations, unconventional instrumentation, Afrocentric garb and African-inspired face-painting.

Nothing like this had been heard or seen in jazz, inspiring sold-out concerts and wide critical acclaim in Europe and, eventually, back home in the U.S.

Threadgill's band Air similarly seduced audiences foreign and domestic with its unusual melodic material and its translucent ensemble textures, inspiring a galvanic shift in audience expectations of what jazz could be.

"We had no idea the AACM would catch on as it did," Abrams told me in 1990. "We certainly didn't establish it to be some kind of important institution.

"We weren't looking for notoriety, or anything. If we had, it probably wouldn't have turned out that way.

"We simply were turning to each other for support, and that was all it took. The resources were within us."

No doubt the AACM wasn't the first such enterprise.

The Underground Musicians' Association, UGMA, in Los Angeles, and the Jazz Composers Guild, in New York, slightly predated it.

Something was in the air. But none of these groups, or others that followed, attained the impact and longevity of the AACM.

Exactly why the AACM flourished artistically — notwithstanding virtually no financial support from foundations or corporations — is open to debate. The ingenuity and virtuosity of the musicians, as well as Chicago's long-standing taste for the jazz avant-garde, surely were essential.

But there's another reason too: the intrepid spirit of the AACM pioneers, who had a particular kind of grit.

"The first-generation AACM founders were all children of the first wave of migrants to venture north," wrote Lewis in "A Power Stronger Than Itself."

Which meant that "all of these people that we are talking about came from very, very struggling environments," Jarman said in Lewis' book.

"Every one of them started out at the bottom — maybe not the flat bottom, but pretty close."

Related:
AACM's spirit endures in underground rock
Music


These musicians, who started with so little, simply willed the AACM — and its philosophies and musical practices — into existence.

And the organization survived, "in part, because support of one's own career wasn't the highest value," Lewis told me when his book "A Power Stronger Than Itself" was published in 2008. "People were invested in supporting each other and are (still) invested in supporting each other."

Indeed, a communal spirit has defined the AACM since the beginning and, in fact, has served as a model for the unusually collegial Chicago jazz scene in general.

That's not to say that the AACM didn't have internal battles to be expected in any human endeavor.

"We've had hard times, families have broken up, love affairs have fallen apart," Chicago multi-instrumentalist Mwata Bowden told me in 1995, during the AACM's 30th anniversary celebrations. "But we have persevered, we have continued to look forward, we have moved the music all the way around the world."

Moreover, it's critical to understand that the AACM did not signify a particular sound, style, idiom or aesthetic.

Each AACM band — from Cohran's soulful Artistic Heritage Ensemble to Braxton's hyper-cerebral experiments — was distinct from the others.

The AACM simply gave these far-flung musical explorers a common spiritual home.

The connective tissue among the bands and musicians of the AACM, past and present, lies not in the sound of music that cannot be categorized, but in a philosophy of experimentation informed by African antiquity and innovative instrumental technique.

Thus the AACM's motto: "Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future."
 

The past five decades have produced recordings of vast expressive and stylistic range, as well as lasting influence on other jazz demographics.

Would the innovations of Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark (another MacArthur Fellowship winner) and the North Side experimental scene he helped build have been possible without the AACM?

Would the cross-cultural innovations of Asian and Asian-American musicians such as Tatsu Aoki, Jeff Chan, Jon Jang and Francis Wong have flowered without the model and inspiration of the AACM? Seems doubtful.

Many of the early generation AACM players have left Chicago, with Threadgill spending a great deal of time in India, Abrams and Lewis based in New York, Nicole Mitchell in California.

Others have passed away, among them indelible figures such as trumpeter Lester Bowie, saxophonists Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre and Vandy Harris, bassist Charles Clark and violinist Leroy Jenkins.

But the music still thrives in the gifts of new generations of Chicago players such as trumpeter Corey Wilkes, singer Saalik Ziyad and performance poet Khari B, now chairman of the AACM.

Times change, but the AACM continues, surely fueled by what William Russo once told me was the "spiritual and moral underpinnings to their art."

Is that what Cohran, an AACM co-founder, hears in this music?

"It's there," Cohran says. "That's all the AACM played. When you play somebody else's music, you never will get that.

"To me, the greatest goal is to find a reservoir that provides you with this spirit."

The AACM was that reservoir, and 50 years later, it remains so.

hreich@tribpub.com

Twitter @howardreich

http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/476957.html

A Power Stronger Than Itself
The AACM and American Experimental Music
by George E. Lewis
University of Chicago Press, 2008


690 pages | 4 color plates, 71 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008


 
Founded in 1965 and still active today, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is an American institution with an international reputation. George E. Lewis, who joined the collective as a teenager in 1971, establishes the full importance and vitality of the AACM with this communal history, written with a symphonic sweep that draws on a cross-generational chorus of voices and a rich collection of rare images.

Moving from Chicago to New York to Paris, and from founding member Steve McCall’s kitchen table to Carnegie Hall, A Power Stronger Than Itself uncovers a vibrant, multicultural universe and brings to light a major piece of the history of avant-garde music and art.

The following text is an excerpt from

A Power Stronger Than Itself
The AACM and American Experimental Music
by George E. Lewis
University of Chicago Press, 2008:
The Development of the Experimental Band

Alternative Pedagogies of Experimental Music

For many musicians, the space race began not in 1957 with the Soviet Union’s launch of the satellite Sputnik, but in 1946, when the pianist Herman Blount came up on the train from Birmingham to Bronzeville. Soon after his arrival, Sonny (as he was called) landed a job with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra at the Club De Lisa on 55th and State, a gig that he held down until mid-1947, when the Red Saunders Band succeeded Henderson. Sonny stayed on, rehearsing the band and refashioning Saunders’s backup arrangements for singers like Laverne Baker, Dakota Staton, Joe Williams, and Sarah Vaughan. Blount founded his own band in 1950, with people like saxophonists Harold Ousley, Von Freeman, Earl Ezell (later Ahmad Salaheldeen), and John Jenkins, bassist Wilbur Ware, and drummer Vernel Fournier.

Sometime in 1952, Blount announced that the Creator had ordered him to change his name. He went downtown to the Circuit Court of Cook County and legally became “Le Sony’r Ra.” In addition, he registered a business under the name of “Sun Ra.” Most musicians in Chicago, however, still knew him as Sonny, one of the qualified musicians of the South Side’s musical community. As Jodie Christian remembers,

My first encounter with him, he was playing stride piano, working at the It Club on 55th and Michigan. He was a good pianist, playing conventional piano, stride. We were playing, and Sun Ra was playing as a single pianist, a cocktail piano player opposite us. He hadn’t become “Sun Ra” then. I never heard anybody say that they remember when he started to organize this type of band, the space band. All of a sudden, it was there.

In 1952 Sonny began to seek out younger musicians from Captain Dyett’s DuSable regime, including drummer Robert Barry and saxophonist Laurdine “Pat” Patrick, to form a group called the Space Trio. Eventually, Sun Ra’s band began to grow, with exciting young musicians such as trombonist Julian Priester; percussionist Jim Herndon; bassist Victor Sproles; trumpeters Art Hoyle, Hobart Dotson, and Dave Young; and saxophonists James Spaulding, John Gilmore, Charles Davis, and Marshall Allen. Sonny’s charisma, erudition, and creativity inspired the musicians, who regarded him as their mentor. As Marshall Allen observed, “Sun Ra taught me to translate spirit into music.”

Around this time, as Sonny’s compositional palette became richer, he coined the term “Arkestra” for his band. “That’s the way black people say ‘orchestra,’” he observed laconically. At the Arkestra’s daily rehearsals, Sonny began to explicitly connect his music with projects of identity, philosophy, historical recovery, and mysticism. He explored the role of black people in the creation of civilization, and maintained that music could both change individual moral values and affect the fate of the world. The titles of his pieces began to connect two major themes—the infinite, Ethiopianist Zion of outer space, and the African mothership of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Nubia.

As anthropologist and Ra biographer John Szwed has noted, with Sun Ra, “music often seemed to be the subtext for some grander plan, one not always clear to the musicians.” Whatever the plan, Jodie Christian saw at first hand that Sonny’s disciplined domination of the Arkestra was absolute.

One day he was playing at Budland and the whole band was there, but Sun Ra wasn’t there. So I told John [Gilmore] and them, why don’t y’all hit and Sun Ra can come in later? “Naw, we don’t hit till Sonny comes in.” Sonny comes in an hour later. He ran in, sat down at the piano, and the band took their seats. You know what he said? “Let that be a lesson.” So at the end of the set I asked John, what was the lesson? He said, I don’t know, but Sonny said it was.

Alvin Fielder met Ra while working a dance gig on the West Side in 1959. “He asked me where I was from, and I told him I was from Mississippi. So he said, ‘Look, man, I bet you can play some shuffles.’” Sonny invited Fielder to an Arkestra rehearsal. “I was way above my head. I thought I was playing well, but as I look back, I’m sure that I wasn’t. Anyway, Sunny invited me to join the band. So I did.” Fielder played with Ra in 1959 and 1960. “Of course, the money wasn’t that great. But then again, as I look back, I should have been paying him.” Late in 1960, Sun Ra’s spaceship, with John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, and Pat Patrick on board, blasted off from Chicago for points east, eventually landing in New York City in January 1961. By 1962, the composer and pianist was preparing for an important New York concert with his Cosmic Jazz Space Group.

Philip Cohran had been working with the Arkestra since John Gilmore had brought him to a rehearsal in 1958. For Cohran, Ra’s example “opened my world up as a composer. I had written a few songs of merit before I got with him, but he taught me the one thing that really made a difference in my life, and that is: whatever you want to do, do it all the time. Once I learned that, there was no looking back.”

All the same, Cohran decided not to climb aboard for the Arkestra’s New York foray. “When I left ‘The Society,’” Cohran remembered, “everybody thought I was crazy. When I told Sun Ra that I was going to deal with my own thing, and I quit the band, I started studying on my own. I said, I don’t need nobody else to tell me what to do, I’ll just go ahead and do it myself. So I started studying every day.” In fact, during this time, the possibility of challenging the societal status quo drew many African Americans toward independent research into historical and spiritual knowledge. Richard Abrams says that “I always had a keen interest for looking into the so-called ‘occult arts,’ Around '59 or '60 I really started getting into that. One of the first books I read was Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. It awakened something in me that needed awakening. I bought literature and bought literature, and ended up finding out about the Rosicrucians. I got in touch with them and hooked up with the Rosicrucians.”

As Abrams became known as one of Chicago’s up-and-coming pianist-composers, two musicians exercised a profound impact upon his musical direction. The composer, arranger, and trumpeter William E. “Will” Jackson, who had played with Jimmie Lunceford, lived down the street from Abrams, and began to informally teach the young pianist the craft of arranging and orchestration. Around 1955, Jackson introduced the young composer to pianist Walter “King” Fleming, perhaps the most important early local influence on Abrams’s piano improvisations. Abrams began to compose, arrange, and play for Fleming’s band. “Every so often,” Abrams remembers, “they would let me sit in at the piano, until I would make a mistake and they would tell me to get up. But they would put me back down there until I learned how to do it.” Attracting the attention of radio personality Daddy O’Daylie, Abrams, saxophonist Nicky Hill, bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummer Walter Perkins, and trumpeter Paul Serrano formed a band called the MJT+3. In 1957, the group’s first recording, Daddy-O Presents MJT+3, featured a number of Abrams compositions, including “No Name,” which was actually composed collaboratively by Abrams and Fleming.

Abrams was also moving further along the autodidact path that had led him away from the conservatory. “I could always make up music,” Abrams remembered, “but it was plain stubbornness. I wanted to do it my own way. Even as a kid, when I didn’t even know how to do it, I would rebel against the mainstream situation.” The search for a way of teaching himself led him to the pianist, composer, and arranger Charles Stepney, who introduced Abrams to Joseph Schillinger’s unusual system of musical composition. Stepney, a house arranger for Chess Records, was soon to apply Schillinger-related principles, along with ideas from composer Henry Cowell’s early text, New Musical Resources and the work of Gy÷rgy Ligeti, to his landmark work for Ramsey Lewis, the Dells, the Rotary Connection and Minnie Riperton, Phil Upchurch, Muddy Waters, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Stepney introduced Schillinger’s books to Abrams, who ended up buying his own copies. Everywhere he went over the next four years, Abrams kept these two massive tomes at the ready, teaching himself the complete system and developing new ideas under its guidance.

Schillinger was a pianist, composer, and theorist who came to the United States from Russia in 1928. Something of a polymath, Schillinger collaborated on experimental electronic instrument design with fellow Russian expatriate Leon Theremin and Cowell, who wrote the foreword to Schillinger’s signal work, the 1,600-page Schillinger System of Musical Composition, first published in the mid-1940s. The elusive Schillinger Society published and distributed the system as two large, expensive books containing many detailed musical examples, and in 1945, former Schillinger student Lawrence Berk founded the Schillinger House of Music to carry on the master’s teachings. In 1954, the school changed its name to the Berklee School of Music, as its curriculum expanded to include genres outside the canon of pan-European classical music, most notably jazz.

Schillinger taught that a wide variety of expressive forms, including both tonal and post-tonal harmony, could be both generated and analyzed algorithmically using mathematical formulae. His system emerged alongside other mathematics-oriented formal methods that emerged in the mid-to-late 1940s, such as French composer Olivier Messiaen’s 1944 Technique de mon langage musical, and later, the integral serialism that developed in America, with the work of Milton Babbitt, and in Europe, in the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Messiaen’s former student, Pierre Boulez. Schillinger’s work with graphic elements, which anticipated by more than a decade the stochasticism of Iannis Xenakis, seemed to be justified by the premise of Cowell’s “overture” to the first volume of the Schillinger system, which held out the promise of using the system to move beyond well-established musical methods that were appearing stiflingly hegemonic in some circles: “The currently taught rules of harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration certainly do not suggest to the student materials adapted from his own expressive desires,” Cowell wrote. “Instead he is given a small and circumscribed set of materials, already much used, together with a set of prohibitions to apply to them, and then he is asked to express himself only within these limitations.”

While serialism based its rule sets firmly on the chromatic scale, and bebop harmony revised Wagnerian chromaticism, the Schillinger system made few presumptions concerning materials. Rather, whatever materials were identified by the composer as salient—rhythmic, harmonic, timbral, melodic, dynamic—became the basis for further generation and transformation. Thus, as Cowell noted, “the Schillinger System offers possibilities, not limitations; it is a positive, not a negative approach to the choice of musical materials.” As such, the system was equally suited “to old and new styles in music, and to ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ composition.” For this reason, the Schillinger system soon attracted composers from Earle Brown to B. B. King. The explicit organicism of Schillinger’s Mathematical Basis of the Arts connected musical invention with forms active in the natural environment, advancing the basically synaesthetic proposition that gestures active in one art form could find explicit, ordered, primordial analogues in another.

Positing an explicit role for the religious and spiritual aspects of music, Schillinger’s ideas ran counter to modernism’s secularist ideal. As a budding painter who had already explored the synaesthetics of Kandinsky, Abrams was excited about Schillinger’s construction of a necessary, ordered connection between sound, sense, science, emotion, reason, and the natural world. These ideas resounded with Abrams’s own explorations of the connection between music and spirituality. “I was really educated now, in a big way,” Abrams exulted, “because I was impressed with a method for analyzing just about anything I see, by approaching it from its basic premise. The Schillinger stuff taught me to break things back down into raw material—where it came from—and then, on to the whole idea of a personal or individual approach to composition.”

While Abrams was beginning to get a foothold in the Chicago musical scene, Steve McCall left the city to join the U.S. Air Force. Eventually, his orders took him to Bangor, Maine, where he ran the service club. “The service being what it was, it was a typically bad experience,” his sister Rochelle recalled. “Somebody put a note on the door, ‘All Niggers, Coons and Nightfighters Be Off The Street By Midnight.’” McCall returned to Chicago in 1954, and found a job in the airline industry. During that time, he bought his first set of drums, and used free air travel passes to visit New York and Philadelphia, where he took drum lessons from Charles “Specs” Wright, who had animated the big bands of Dizzy Gillespie and Earl Bostic. Watching the styles of Marshall Thompson, Wilbur Campbell, James Pettis, and Vernel Fournier, among others, by 1960 McCall had become one of the most sought-after young drummers in Chicago.

Around that same time, Abrams was looking for an outlet for his new ideas, and an opportunity emerged to do just that in 1961, when “there was a group of mainstream guys that formed a band for cats to write charts and things. We were rehearsing at the C&C Lounge on Cottage Grove and 63rd. A cat named Chuck ran it. It was a great big old long place, with a stage up front. They had floor shows in there. Eddie Harris was a part of it, Marshall Thompson.” By 1960, the ad hoc, informal educational system of jazz, combining high-school band training, informal jam sessions, home schooling, and autodidacticism, had already produced some of the world’s most influential music. Even so, many experienced Chicago musicians were seeking ways to address the limitations of this model of learning. For instance, neither high-school ensemble classes nor jam sessions taught theory in a consistent way. Vibraphonist Emanuel Cranshaw describes one of the alternatives that some musicians pursued in the mid-1950s:

Cats like Chris Anderson used to have classes in this basement on 39th and Lake Park, the way Barry Harris used to do. He was playing with a guitar player, a cat named Leo Blevins. Leo wouldn’t do much teaching, it was mostly Chris. Cats would come by with notebooks and he’d get up and talk. All the cats that you know—Herbie [Hancock] would go down there, and [pianist] Harold Mabern. Muhal was probably down there too.

Jam sessions, as historian Scott DeVeaux observes, “did not test such crucial professional skills or specializations as sight-reading, leading  a section, or the endurance required to be the high-note man in a trumpet section.” Moreover, competition-based models of music-making tended to relegate collectivity and solidarity among musicians to the background at a time when more collaborative notions of the relationship of community to individuality were being pursued in many segments of the African American community. Thus, there were practical reasons for creating an environment in which musicians could rehearse, teach, and exchange knowledge across generations, as Eddie Harris told an interviewer in 1994. “Trying to play around Chicago,” Harris explained, “you figured there are guys that never played first chair, there are guys that never played on a big band, and there are other guys that never had an opportunity to write for a large number of people, and there are people that wanted to sing, and sing in front of a band—so let’s form a workshop.”

Harris credits trumpeter Johnny Hines as cofounder of the workshop, which at first attracted over one hundred musicians: “You start meeting guys, like the late Charles Stepney . . . There became a group of us. Muhal Richard Abrams, Raphael [Rafael] Garrett, James Slaughter, [drummer] Walter Perkins, Bill Lee. There was a small group of us who were on the same wavelength in trying things . . . not just sit down and play an Ellis Larkins run or a Duke Ellington run . . . we all wanted to try some different things.” The C&C Lounge provided a minimal but absolutely vital initial infrastructure for the musicians. Chicago trumpeter William Fielder, the brother of Alvin Fielder, recalls that “the C&C Lounge was a school for young musicians. Chuck and Claudia, his wife (C&C), offered the musicians a wonderful musical opportunity. The club would be empty and Chuck would say, ‘Play for me.’”
Eyes on the Sparrow: The First New Chicagoans
 

The C and C-based ensemble gradually developed a largely generational divide between musicians who wanted to develop the band in a more  commercial direction, and others who wished to continue the radical explorations for which the group had been formed. As Eddie Harris recalled, “Johnny Hines tried to take the musicians more our age; he wanted to go into the Regal Theater so he could have a band to really accompany all the stars that come in there. Muhal had taken the younger musicians and let them learn in reading on scales and playing with each other.” After Harris left to pursue his fortunes from Exodus to Jazz, the rehearsal ensemble soon dissipated, but a new ensemble, consisting largely of the younger players who were gathering around Abrams, started regular rehearsals at the C&C. The ensemble, which gradually came to be known as the Experimental Band, became a forum for Abrams to test his new, Schillinger-influenced compositional palette. Abrams recalls simply, “I just gathered together some people around me, some younger guys, and started to keep things going.” Two of these “younger guys,” saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, played critically important roles in what was later to become the AACM. Mitchell and Jarman had not participated in the fast life of the 63rd Street jam sessions that had animated the young adult experiences of Abrams, Donavon, Favors, and Christian. For these two younger musicians, adulthood and musical maturity would come in the 1960s, a very different decade indeed.

Born in Chicago in 1940, Roscoe Mitchell grew up in the western part of Bronzeville. Like Favors’s, Mitchell’s parents were religious, and his uncle was the minister of a spiritualist church. “I used to really enjoy the music in the church,” Mitchell recalled. “At the time I wasn’t that interested in the sermons.” Since the 1930s, Washington Park had been a center of black South Side life, with tennis, softball, swimming, and horseback riding. As a young person, Mitchell often spent an entire day in the park, talking to older musicians and watching them as they practiced.

Jarman was born in 1937 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. His father left the family just as Joseph was born, and within a year his seventeen-year-old mother joined the Great Migration to Chicago, finding a job in the defense industry. Unlike virtually all of the early AACM musicians, Jarman lived on the largely white North Side, and attended an integrated school, Schiller Elementary, just down the street from his home. The family’s eventual move to Bronzeville, near 48th and St. Lawrence, was the occasion for considerable turbulence in Jarman’s new life at school. “I had a lot of trouble and a lot of fights,” Jarman explained, “because it was a completely different society, a different moral and ethical standard. Then we moved back to the North Side and I went back to Schiller. This is all in that puberty range, ten to fourteen years of age. When I went back to Schiller, I got in trouble because I had been so influenced by the other school. I became a ‘bad boy.’”

Jarman and Mitchell were thoroughly steeped in Hollywood-style popular culture. It cost nine cents to go to the movies, and Mitchell and his young friends would walk about two miles from 59th and State, crossing over the Bronzeville border to the white movie theater, the Southtown, on 63rd and Halsted. Mitchell and his family listened avidly to Chicago radio’s Al Benson and McKie Fitzhugh, as well as Symphony Sid’s New York–based shows. And then there was television, an important, even revolutionary force that had not been part of the growing-up process for Jodie Christian’s generation. Locally, Chicago’s Old Swingmaster, Al Benson, featured singers such as Joe Williams on his 1951 TV show, and the Mahalia Jackson Show appeared in 1955. At the national level, black performers, including the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Nat King Cole, Martha Davis, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Carmen McRae, Lionel Hampton, and Duke Ellington all appeared. In 1950, Hazel Scott had her own fifteen-minute TV show in New York, and in 1952, singer Billy Daniels became the first African American to have his own nationally sponsored television show.

However, as commercial television grew, so did the racism of its corporate leaders. By the late 1950s, the medium had resolved “to keep blacks off national television as much as possible.” Instead, television portrayed marvelous white people, living in sumptuous, yet not too ostentatious homes, driving new cars that never broke down (at least not for long), playing with their kids and friendly dogs, and tending crisply manicured lawns. Although for the 1950s black working class, TV was a prime portal through which white middle-class values and ideologies entered their lives, as George Lipsitz has observed, the exclusion of African Americans from full participation in white society meant that their culture was not completely permeated by the values and images of the dominant culture. In fact, very few blacks in Mitchell’s neighborhood owned or had access to a television set, and in “real life,” as Mitchell remembers, “We didn’t really have to look on TV for role models because they were all in our neighborhood.” African Americans of Mitchell’s generation regularly encountered blacks who did not conform to media stereotypes, allowing neighborhood residents to more easily detect and critique the social and political agendas embedded in the medium.

Through his aunt Mary and his uncle Preston, “the family renegades in Chicago,” Joseph Jarman was introduced to the Regal Theater, and to local nightclubs.

I would go there to play with my cousins, and I began to learn the names of these people—Lester Young, Charlie Parker, James Moody, Nat “King” Cole, Miles Davis. They would be playing this music every time I went there, but I didn’t know the name of the music; it was just pretty music. I knew all the singers—the popular music, but I was more drawn to this other music because you just listened, and what you heard was inside rather than words and rhythms that they would suggest through the popular forms.

In the mid-1950s, Mitchell’s family moved briefly to Milwaukee, where he started high school and began playing the clarinet. His brother Norman came to live with the family, bringing along a collection of 78 rpm jazz recordings—killers, they used to call them. Louis Armstrong, J. J. Johnson. Billy Taylor was very popular back then. Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins.” As with Jarman, this strange new music exercised a peculiar power over Mitchell. “For me that was a weird time,” Mitchell recalled, “because after I started listening to jazz I didn’t want to listen to anything else any more. There was a certain coolness that went along with that—you understood jazz, that made you cooler. After a while I went back to include all those other musics I had grown up with.”

Entering DuSable High School, Jarman was drawn to Captain Dyett’s band. His parents could not afford to buy him a trumpet, Jarman’s preferred instrument, so he joined the band as a snare drummer. “All you needed was a drum pad and drumsticks, which cost about six dollars. The drum I played belonged to the school, and I couldn’t take it home.” Another future AACM member living nearby, James Johnson, played bassoon in the Dyett band. Johnson and Jarman would practice together, eventually developing a unique daily schooltime lunch ritual: “We would go across the street every day, usually without very much lunch money, maybe fifty cents a day. We refused to eat in the lunchroom. We would go across the street and put a nickel apiece in the jukebox. We could hear three songs for a dime. We would always play this one song by James Moody, ‘Last Train from Overbrook.’ We would play that every day.” In addition to performance classes, the school’s version of music history recalled Abrams’s 1940s grammar school experiences:

They’d show these films of white operas and white orchestras, like Mozart’s music—Mozart was real big—Beethoven’s music, and Brahms. That would be a part of our musical education. The teacher would show it, then talk about it, and you’d write a little paper on it. This was music history, but it was never really appealing. It was nice, but it was so much nicer to be in the band room hearing that live stuff.

Mitchell characterizes those who went to DuSable during the Dyett era as “fortunate,” but even Englewood, where he went to high school, had its advantages. He began playing baritone saxophone in the high-school band, and borrowed an alto saxophone from another student. Jazz was not taught at Englewood, but getting to know the precocious saxophonist Donald “Hippmo” Myrick, who later became associated with both Philip Cohran and Earth, Wind, and Fire, made up for that lack. “He kind of took me under his wing, because he already knew the stuff,” said Mitchell. “He was a fully accomplished musician in high school.”

The historian Robin D. G. Kelley has raised the possibility that some future AACM members were radicalized in part by the challenges of military life—not only combat, but also the racism that was endemic to service in the U.S. armed forces. In 1955, in his junior year in high school, Jarman dropped out and joined the army. “I went into the Airborne school, and the Ranger school, because you could make extra money. I made it through basic training and jump school as number two, because they wouldn’t accept a black as number one.” The army was where Jarman started to play the alto saxophone: “I got out of ‘the line’—the death zone—by transferring to the band. The first saxophone I had was a plastic one, like Ornette Coleman. The bandmaster gave me thirty days to get my act together or he would kick me back into the line. In that band were a lot of people who helped me to get my act together.”

Mitchell joined the army in 1958. Army musicians had plenty of time to practice and exchange information, and Mitchell met a number of saxophonists, such as Nathaniel Davis, as well as fellow Chicagoans Ruben Cooper and Lucious White, Jarman’s neighbor as a young person. Mitchell also came into contact with Palmer Jenkins, Sergeant Mitchell, William Romero, and Joseph Stevenson, “who was incredible on the saxophone. He was a great influence on Anthony [Braxton] when Anthony was in the army.” Mitchell was eventually transferred to Heidelberg, Germany, where he frequented local jam sessions at places like the well-known Cave 54, where pianist Karl Berger, trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, saxophonist Bent Jaedig and other European and American musicians met and performed together. Hard bop was the coin of that realm, although Ornette Coleman’s music was beginning to make an impression. During this time, Mitchell met saxophonist Albert Ayler, who was in a different army band, stationed in France. After duty hours, Mitchell would go to sessions and listen to Ayler:

I didn’t really know what he was doing, but I did know, because I was a saxophonist, that he had an enormous sound on the instrument. They would have these sessions, and everybody was, you know, talking about him behind his back, but one time they played a blues. Albert played the blues about three choruses straight. After that he started stretching, and something went off in my head—Oh, I see what he’s doing now.” It made an impression on me.

In August 1958, Jarman was discharged. “It was not something I wanted to continue,” Jarman said, “because it was very anti-human, this attitude they were making people into.” After a brief visit home to Chicago, he experienced a kind of odyssey: “I went wandering around the United States. I went to Arizona. My aunt was there. I stayed there for eight months or so. I couldn’t talk during this period; I was mute. I went to the Milwaukee Institute of Psychiatric Research in Wisconsin, as an outpatient, and enrolled in the Milwaukee Institute of Technology. They got me to be able to talk again, and I haven’t shut my mouth since.”

After his discharge from the army, Mitchell felt that “it was pretty much set that I was going to be a musician.” With the support of his father, who offered to provide him with a place to stay, he decided to use his GI Bill funds to go to Chicago’s Woodrow Wilson Junior College in 1961, where he met Jarman for the first time. “Jarman was already into a contemporary-type bag when I met him. He was always a little bit out there, all the time.” The two musicians studied with Richard Wang, who was, according to Jarman, “very adventurous as far as ‘jazz’ music was concerned, as well as ‘classical’ music.” According to Wang himself, who has to be credited along with the redoubtable Walter Dyett in any history of the early AACM members, in addition to the standard lessons in theory, counterpoint, and keyboard harmony, the young musicians were exposed to the music of the Second Viennese School, as well as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. The standard texts included Paul Hindemith’s classic 1946 Elementary Training for Musicians, which later became an aspect of AACM autodidacticism. Other texts included Hindemith’s 1945 The Craft of Musical Composition and composer Arnold Schoenberg’s 1951 Style and Idea.

Wang’s students, who performed in jazz and classical ensembles, included Malachi Favors and saxophonists John Powell, Anthony Braxton, and Henry Threadgill, as well as Richard Brown, who was playing piano and clarinet, rather than the saxophone for which he became known years later under his adopted name of Ari. Friday afternoons were devoted to rehearsals that brought Wilson students together with the cream of Chicago’s musicians. Present at these events were people like Eddie Harris, Charles Stepney, drummers Steve McCall and Jack DeJohnette, bassists Betty Dupree and Jimmy Willis, pianist Andrew Hill, and several musicians who had been part of the Sun Ra Arkestra, including trumpeter Hobart Dotson and percussionists Richard Evans and Jim Herndon. In the meantime, Jarman, Favors, Threadgill, pianist Louis Hall, and drummer Richard Smith (now Drahseer Khalid) had formed their own group, playing hard bop.

One day in 1963, Roscoe Mitchell turned up at a rehearsal of the Experimental Band at the C&C Lounge, and met Richard Abrams, who had been introduced to the saxophonist by pianist-drummer Jack DeJohnette. Malachi Favors, an early member of the rehearsal band, remarked to Abrams how impressed he was by Mitchell’s playing. “Muhal kind of took me in,” Mitchell recalled. “I’d go to school, and I’d go straight from school to Muhal’s, when he was living in that little place off Cottage Grove, down in the basement. I remember he had painted everything that velvet purple color. Sometimes I’d be down over to Muhal’s at ten, eleven, twelve at night, playing or working on music.”

Soon, Mitchell and Favors began rehearsing together and developing new compositions, often with two other young experimentalists, trumpeter Fred Berry and drummer Alvin Fielder. Fielder was becoming aware that “there comes a point where you go from a notion of swinging and keeping a pulse to a notion of time being something different. . . . Sun Ra had always told me, ‘Al, loosen up,’ I didn’t know what he meant, really.” Looking for something different, Fielder visited New York for nearly a year in 1962, but somehow, the music being played by what he remembered as a “clique” of musicians from Boston, Detroit, and Chicago was not satisfying his growing urge to find another path. “I first started to loosen up after meeting Muhal,” Fielder said. Abrams was performing in a trio with Rafael Garrett and Steve McCall. Fielder replaced the peripatetic McCall, and began to meet musicians from a younger circle of experimentalists. “The first time I played in a so-called free group was with Roscoe,” Fielder noted. As he told writer Ted Panken, “Roscoe Mitchell came to a rehearsal I was doing with Muhal, Kalaparusha [Maurice McIntyre] and [trombonist and bassist] Lester Lashley. He just sat and listened, and asked me could I play free [laughs]. I said, ‘Yeah, I play free,’ So he invited me to a rehearsal with Freddie Berry and Malachi Favors. That’s how the original Roscoe Mitchell Quartet started.”

“The first compositions we played in Roscoe’s group were very much like Ornette’s music,” Fielder recalled. “I developed a philosophy there that I wanted to play my bebop as loose as possible and I wanted to play my free music as tight as possible.” Up to that point, Fielder had been playing around town with musicians like saxophonists Cozy Eggleston and Earl Ezell (later Ahmad Salaheldeen), and pianist Danny Riperton, the brother of singer Minnie Riperton. Now, he was in the process of crossing a personal, conceptual, and professional Rubicon, with a very different kind of music. Discovering at first hand the social dynamics of the “Inside/Outside” binary, Fielder noticed that “None of the bebop cats would call me any more, once I started working with Muhal and Roscoe.” Meanwhile, Mitchell was trying to get his friend Joseph Jarman to come down and play with the Experimental Band. As Jarman tells it,

Roscoe said, you oughta come, there’s this guy who’s got a rehearsal band down here. He’s a nice guy and he knows a lot about music. So I went down there and there was this guy, and he greets you like you were his brother or something. He said, welcome, and there were all these people in there, and I had to step back, because some of them were like famous people—local Chicago musicians, Jack DeJohnette, Scotty Holt, Steve McCall. And then this guy gave me an invitation whenever I felt like it to come by his house and get music lessons. He’d offer you herb tea and it would be so good,” Jarman recalled. “He was into herbology, astrology, painting, all this mystical stuff that I had dreamed of. It was like I had found a teacher.

After daily classes with the dedicated, expansive Wang, the young musicians would join the nightly throng at Peggy and Richard Abrams’s tiny basement apartment on South Evans, where they would explore musical, cultural, political, social, and spiritual ideas. Abrams’s range of experiences and interests deeply affected the young musicians. “Muhal’s place would always stay packed with people,” said Mitchell. “He’d have all this time for all these people, and still at the end of the week he’d come to the band with a big-band chart.”

Abrams’s leadership of the Experimental Band extended and revised the alternative pedagogical direction begun in 1961 at the C&C, with the ensemble functioning as a site for exchange, learning, and experimentation across generations: “The Experimental Band gave me a place to play this music I was writing, but the younger musicians couldn’t read the music, because it was too advanced for them. So I had to make up ways for them to play it, all these improvised ways for them to do stuff. I would have them learn a passage, do hand signals for them to play different things.” The collective-oriented atmosphere of the Experimental Band became a regular forum that recalled the spirit of Will Jackson and King Fleming. As Abrams affirmed, “The attention that they gave me and the help that they gave me awakened something in me that needed to extend out to other people. Whenever someone newer in the music scene would come along, I would always be willing to help if they sought my help, and I would always reflect back on the fact that those gentlemen helped me.”

With the Experimental Band, Abrams moved to create cooperative situations where musicians could both learn new ideas and techniques from others, and bring in their own music and hear it performed. Mitchell and Jarman soon started composing music under Abrams’s guidance. Jarman’s recollection was of an open situation where exploration would be encouraged:

He said, “Write whatever you want, and we’ll look at it.” There was no judgment thing. We might say thumbs down or thumbs up individually or personally, but no one would ever say that publicly. I might bring a piece in and they’ll play it. They won’t say whether they like it or not but they’ll do their darnedest to play it as best as they could. Underneath they might have been saying, “What does this guy think he’s doing?” Or, “Wow, thumbs up.” But still they would do it.

Mitchell’s narrative points up how the composer-centered aspect of the AACM can be seen to emerge directly from Abrams’s encouragement. “I was getting my writing chops together,” said Mitchell, “and he [Abrams] always encouraged people to write, write, write. He was showing us all of these different compositional methods. He always had a deep appreciation for all kinds of music, and studied all kinds of music. He had a lot to draw on, and he passed it on freely to the people that wanted to learn that.” The new musical resources that were being explored were by no means limited to composition. New ideas and ways of thinking about structure in improvisation were also being hammered out. As Jarman told an interviewer in 1967, Abrams would say, “Don’t just think about what you’re playing when you’re playing a solo—think about what came before and what’s going to come after.”

Typically, however, Abrams minimizes the extent of the contact between himself and the younger musicians to a single crucial encounter. Abrams remembers that his initial advice to Mitchell concerning composition was to “write down what you’re playing on your horn. He proceeded to do that—that’s where ‘Nonaah and stuff like that comes from—and he’s never looked back since, and we never discussed composition any more.”

“That’s not really true,” said Mitchell. “He would always be turning people on to books, and talking about scores. Maybe he just doesn’t realize the effect that he had on people’s lives.” In fact, the young musicians were in constant, almost daily contact with Abrams. Saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie, an original AACM member, remembers that “Everybody was following him around like little puppies.”

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 55–70 of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George E. Lewis, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2008 by George E. Lewis. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music
by George E. Lewis 
©2008, 690 pages, 4 color plates, 71 halftones
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-47695-7 (ISBN-10: 0-226-47695-2)

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for A Power Stronger Than Itself.

http://www.allmusic.com/…/the-association-for-the…/biography

Artist Biography by Chris Kelsey

Since their founding by a group of forward-thinking jazz musicians that included pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran, the AACM have been a force for innovation within the jazz community. The Chicago-based organization is a registered nonprofit organization dedicated, according to the AACM statement, "to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music." In the '60s and especially the '70s, the AACM were widely acknowledged as being in the forefront of experimental jazz. Early AACM members such as Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Jack DeJohnette, and the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Famadou Don Moye, and Malachi Favors) created music that would have creative implications that reached far beyond the city of Chicago. Their motto is "Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future." Although there is not one typical AACM artist, it can be said that their membership in general has attempted to transcend common practice by absorbing into their work various influences lying outside the jazz domain (African indigenous musics and European classical forms, for example).

Sound

The AACM grew out of a rehearsal band led by Muhal Richard Abrams in 1962. The group, known informally as the Experimental Band, never performed, but existed to read down scores written by Abrams, Cohran, DeJohnette, Jarman, Mitchell, Troy Robinson, and Maurice McIntyre, among others. Many of the band's writers employed compositional techniques taken from contemporary classical music -- serialism, polytonality, and chromaticism. The group's first rehearsals were held in a South Side tavern, but the band eventually moved to Abraham Lincoln Center, one of the city's oldest settlement houses. Obviously inspired by a high level of creativity and frustrated by a lack of performance opportunities, Abrams, Christian, Cohran, and McCall instigated the formation of a cooperative that would produce concerts, and opened membership to their cohorts in the Experimental Band. In May of 1965, the AACM were chartered by the state of Illinois as a nonprofit organization. Six groups comprised the original AACM: Christian's hard bop quintet; Cohran's Artistic Heritage Ensemble; the Experimental Band; and the groups of Robinson, Jarman, and Mitchell. The next year, Delmark recorded Mitchell's band. The resulting album, Sound, was the first of many to come out of the AACM.

In addition to their function as a concert producer, the AACM run a free training program for inner-city youth. The AACM School of Music offers instruction on all instruments and vocals, as well as classes in music theory. The faculty is made up entirely of AACM members, many of whom are themselves graduates of the program. Although the cooperative's influence in the jazz world waned a bit in the '80s and '90s, affiliated artists continued to produce bold and compelling music. Newer members like saxophonist/composer Edward Wilkerson, percussionist Kahil El-Zabar, and saxophonist Ari Brown continued the AACM's tradition of high creative achievement.

http://en.wikipedia.org/…/Association_for_the_Advancement_o…

Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians Abbreviation AACM
Predecessor Experimental Band
Formation May 1965
Founder Muhal Richard Abrams, Jodie Christian, Steve McCall, Phil Cohran
Type Non-profit organization
Purpose Support and encourage jazz performers, composers and educators
Location
Chicago, Illinois
Region
USA
Official language
English
Key people
Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Jack DeJohnette
Main organ
A Power Stronger Than Itself: The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians
Affiliations Black Artists' Group
Endowment MacArthur Foundation
Mission "to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music"

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is a non-profit organization, founded in Chicago, Illinois, United States, by pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran. Early members included Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Jack DeJohnette, Wadada Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Amina Claudine Myers, Adegoke Steve Colson, Chico Freeman, George Lewis and the Art Ensemble of Chicago: Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Famoudou Don Moye, and Malachi Favors. The AACM is devoted "to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music," according to its charter. It supports and encourages jazz performers, composers and educators.

Contents
1 Background
2 Members
3 References
4 Further reading
5 External links
Background

The AACM was formed in May 1965 by a group of musicians centered on pianist Muhal Richard Abrams who had organized an Experimental Band since 1962. The musicians were generally steadfast in their commitment to their music, despite a lack of performance venues and sometimes indifferent audiences. From 1969 the AACM organised a music education program for inner-city youths.[1] In the 1960s and 1970s AACM members were among the most important and innovative in all of jazz, though the AACM's contemporary influence has waned some in recent years. Many AACM members have recorded widely: in the early days on the Delmark Records Avant Garde Jazz series and later on the Black Saint/Soul Note and India Navigation labels, and to a lesser extent on the Arista Records and ECM labels.[2]

The musical endeavors of members of the AACM often include an adventurous mixing of avant-garde jazz, classical, and world music. The AACM also ran a school, The AACM School of Music, with classes in all areas taught by members of the AACM. The AACM also had a strong relationship with an influential sister organization, the Black Artists' Group (BAG) of St. Louis, Missouri. The AACM has received aid from the MacArthur Foundation and has a strong relationship with Columbia College. A Power Stronger Than Itself: The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians by George Lewis, has been published by the University of Chicago Press (May 2008).[3]


Members
Muhal Richard Abrams
Fred Anderson
Renee Baker
Harrison Bankhead
Mwata Bowden
Lester Bowie
Anthony Braxton
Billy Brimfield
Jodie Christian
Phil Cohran
Adegoke Steve Colson
Iqua Colson
Pete Cosey
Ernest Dawkins
Kahil El'Zabar
Douglas Ewart
Malachi Favors
Alvin Fielder
Chico Freeman
Aaron Getsug
Fred Hopkins
Joseph Jarman
Leroy Jenkins
George Lewis
Steve McCall
Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre
Nicole Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell
Don Moye
Amina Claudine Myers
Reggie Nicholson
Jeff Parker
Avreeayl Ra
Matana Roberts
Wadada Leo Smith
Isaiah Spencer
Henry Threadgill
Edward Wilkerson
References

Litweiler, John (1984). The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958. Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-80377-1.
Delmark.com
Chinen, Nate (May 2, 2008). "Four Decades of Music That Redefined Free". The New York Times. Retrieved June 7, 2012.

Further reading

Lewis, George E. (2008). A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226477037.
Reich, Howard. (March 1, 2015) Revolution in sound. Chicago Tribune. section 4, page 1.
Kot, Greg. (March 1, 2015) AACM's spirit endures in underground rock. Chicago Tribune. section 4, page 1.
 

External links

AACM official site
 

A 1996 paper by a Kenyon College student: The Sixties, Chicago, and the AACM
Retrospective profile of group in the New York Times May 2008
Review essay on A Power Stronger Than Itself at Sweet Pea's Ghost Dance and Music Review


PHOTOS OF CHARTER AACM MEMBERS FROM THE LEGENDARY AND ICONIC GROUP KNOWN AS THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO:





Roscoe Mitchell Lester Bowie Joseph Jarman Malachi Favors and Don Moye