Jazz at 100 Hour 66: Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)

Art Ensemble of Chicago

As hard bop was running out of steam and rock & roll was becoming the music of choice for the younger audience, many musicians were building on the innovations of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane, creating a new approach to jazz – Free Jazz (after Coleman’s 1960 release of the same name) or, simply, the avant-garde. For solidarity in the face of limited venues for performance and indifferent audiences, creative musicians in Chicago banded together to found the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians or AACM in 1965. Early music from AACM in this hour of Jazz at 100.

“The fact that pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams co-founded the AACM was a sign of new astringency, since Abrams could play in any style, had impeccable hard-bop credentials, and certainly knew the difference between experimentation and noise. Among those who emerged from or helped form the AACM were trumpeter Lester Bowie, trombonists Joseph Bowie and George Lewis, saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill, and drummers Steve McCall and Philip Wilson… All these musicians had excellent chops. They were voraciously eclectic, absorbing elements of Latin and “exotic” musics, ragtime and marching bands, avant-garde classical music, and gutbucket blues. They made joyous, disconcerting, unpredictable music, and when they descended on New York City in the early 1970s, they caused considerable commotion on the ‘loft jazz’ scene. They didn’t win back jazz’s audience, but they put out some terrific sounds. Like Mingus and Monk, they disdained rigid notions of ‘hipness’ and reached deep into jazz’s past while also apparently suggesting its future.” – David Rosenthal

Roscoe Mitchell.
“In her 1977 book As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz, critic Val Wilmer theorized that the differences between the avant-garde in Chicago and that in New York was a reflection of architecture – in New York, tall buildings, tight corners, hemmed-in areas; in Chicago, space, light, openness.” In contrast to John Coltrane’s late career work that Ratliff describes as a “grim-eyed assault”, “Roscoe Mitchell, in Chicago, made Sound, a very different sort of record. It was nimble, thoughtful and funny; it pointed the new jazz in an entirely different direction, one that embraced small gestures and eluded the pull of Coltrane’s great smothering mysticism.” – Ben Ratliff

“Roscoe Mitchell is one of the Titans of modern jazz music, but he remains a slightly elusive figure. This is partly because he has passed a large proportion of his career wearing the mask of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, but also because his work is of a surpassing thoughtfulness and almost forensic precision: one does not go to Mitchell for long, ‘expressive’ solos built on familiar themes. As the title of this important early record [Sound] suggests, pure sound and the exact placement of tones are his main concerns… What a vital, electrifying document Sound remains! It’s perhaps the first fully documented product of AACM thinking, delivering a rich multi-instrumentalism and an approach that eschews the familiar round of themes-and-solos in favour of a genuinely collective creative entity in which ‘band’ and ‘music’ are only pointlessly distinguished… Both a manifesto and an unrepeatable event, Sound remains a marvel. – Brain Morton & Richard Cook

Ornette. Roscoe Mitchell Sextet
(Lester Bowie-tp/flh/harm, Lester Lashley-tb/cel, Roscoe Mitchell-as/cl/recorder, Maurice McIntyre-ts, Malachi Favors-b, Alvin Fielder-per). From Sound. 8/10 – 8/26/1966

Solo. Art Ensemble Of Chicago
(Roscoe Mitchell-as/cl/Bulb horn/harm/per). From 1967-68. 11/25/1967

Joseph Jarman.
“Jarman was neither a square peg nor a makeweight in the Art Ensemble, but he remains perhaps the least known and appreciated. He was the first to leave the Ensemble in the ’90s, but his work since is scattered and often under other leaders and he has devoted much of his time since to teaching martial arts. Song For is relatively typical of the open-eared ethos of the AACM players, marked out by a striking use of space and silence, blending vernacular forms with avant-garde procedures. Intercut with neo-Dada recitations, some of the tracks lack formal shape and seem to proceed in an almost ritual way. The supporting performers, with the exception of the drummers, are not always up to scratch, though [Charles] Clark produces some wonderfully sonorous bass on ‘Adam’s Rib’. – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Adam’s Rib. Joseph Jarman Sextet
(Bill Brimfield-tp, Fred Anderson-as, Joseph Jarman-as/voc, Christopher Gaddy-p/mar, Charles Clark-b, Thurman Barker-d, Steve McCall-d). From Song For. 12/16/1966

Art Ensemble of Chicago.
“The group began around what developed into the AACM in Chicago, originally with [trumpeter Lester] Bowie, multi-reed player roscoe] Mitchell and [bassist Malachai] Favors, adding Jarman as a more or less regular member and [percussionist Don] Moye only later, in Paris, where the band apparently came up with their name when asked for one by journalists. So runs one version of the story, but the members, with Richard Abrams’s encouragement, were already synthesizing aspects of post-bop jazz with European art music and other aspects of black vernacular and sanctified music, so the ‘Art Ensemble’ tag was far from ironic.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Old. Art Ensemble Of Chicago
(Roscoe Mitchell-as/ss/cl/fl, Lester Bowie-tp/flh, Malachai Favors Maghostut-b, Phillip Wilson-d). From 1967-68. 5/18/1967

Carefree (take 3). Art Ensemble Of Chicago
(Lester Bowie-tp/flh/steer horn/bass drum/bass whistle/siren, Roscoe Mitchell-as/ss/bass sax/fl/recorder, Malachai Favors Maghostut-b/zither, Robert Crowder-d). From 1967-68. 3/11/1968

“[T]here is a thoughtful excitement and sense of brimming uncertainty about these early sessions that hasn’t dimmed with the passing years… Any sense that the Art Ensemble was a shambolic free-for-all should be quashed by ‘Get In Line’ on A Jackson In Your House. Not even James Brown and Prince ever got a group so crisply on the button.”– Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Get In Line. Art Ensemble Of Chicago
(Lester Bowie-tp/flh/bass drum/horns, Roscoe Mitchell-as/ss/bass sax/cl/fl/cym/gong/cga/logs/bells/siren/whistle, Joseph Jarmen-ss/as/cl/ob/fl/mar/vib/cga/bell/whistle/gong/siren/g, Malachai Favors-b/bjo/cythar/per). From A Jackson In Your House. 6/23/1969

Dexterity. Art Ensemble Of Chicago
(Lester Bowie-tp/flh/bass drum/horns, Roscoe Mitchell-as/ss/bass sax/cl/fl/cym/gong/cga/logs/bells/siren/whistle, Joseph Jarmen-ss/as/cl/ob/fl/mar/vib/cga/bell/whistle/gong/siren/g, Malachai Favors-b/bjo/cythar/per). From Message To Our Folks. 6/23/1969

Anthony Braxton.
“Few modern musicians have been so extensively documented or been so controversial. Braxton joined the AACM in Chicago and emerged as a free-jazz experimenter who claims influences as far afield as the cool, white saxophone sound of Paul Desmond and Warne Marsh, the doo-wop/old town music of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and the cosmic vision of Sun Ra… Braxton virtually deconstructs his instrument… Instrumentality of a conventional sort has been dispensed with. Bent notes, smears, trills and tongue-slaps are by no means new in jazz; indeed they have always been part of the jazz musician’s dialect. What Braxton does here is to make them the basis of a new language, but one that is somehow still in contact with Charlie Parker, Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges, familiar and reliable aspects of jazz language… For Alto is one of the genuinely important American recordings, still powerfully listenable and endlessly fascinating.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

To artist Murray De Pillars. Anthony Braxton solo
(Anthony Braxton-as). From For Alto. 1969

To pianist Cecil Taylor. Anthony Braxton solo
(Anthony Braxton-as). From For Alto. 1969

The artists of AACM were highly influential in the 1960s and 1970s after which their impact diminished. Recently, the organization has seen a renewal through artists such as flautist Nicole Mitchell and cellist Tomeka Reid.

Clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre and pianist Lennie Tristano were heavily influential in the musical explorations of the 1960s. The Jimmy Giuffre Trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow recorded a series of records in the early 1960s now seen as significant milestones in improvisational music. Lennie Tristano dropped out of sight in 1960, but his protégés saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh carried his legacy forward. Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, Lee Konitz and Warne March in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Roscoe Mitchell. Sound. Delmark DL 408
Art Ensemble of Chicago. 1967-68. Nessa NCD 2500
Joseph Jarman. Song For. Delmark DD 410
Art Ensemble of Chicago. A Jackson In Your House. BYG Records 529.302
Art Ensemble of Chicago. A Message To Our People. BYG Records 529.328
Anthony Braxton. For Alto. Delmark DE 420

Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Joseph Jarman. Song For
Roscoe Mitchell. Sound
Anthony Braxton. For Alto
Art Ensemble of Chicago. A Jackson In Your House / A Message To Our People
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 76. Roscoe Mitchell Sextet, Sound (1966)
Rosenthal, David. 1992. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955-1965. New York. Oxford University Press.
The Last of Hard Bop

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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