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AACM at 50: Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis & Roscoe Mitchell

A rare opportunity to hear three central figures of American music--Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, and Roscoe Mitchell--in conversation together discussing their involvement in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) during the 50th year of its operation as a catalyst and community for musicians, writers, and artists that emerged from the free jazz scene of the 1960s. The Clocktower's Jake Nussbaum and David Weinstein host the conversation with Abrams and Lewis in the Red Hook radio studios with Mitchell on the phone from California.

The three were preparing a series of concerts and events celebrating the AACM taking place in New York (presented by the S.E.M. Ensemble and Interpretations series), Chicago, and around the world. See below for details.

The conversation reveals a genuine and enduring cross-generational bond between these musicians, their colleagues, and their traditions as they discuss a range of topics from educational philosophies, universal truths, timelessness, and the power of the individual and the collective… to anecdotes about early challenges, growing older, collaboration, and how their work has evolved.

April 28-29, 2015, Celebrating AACM: The SEM Ensemble, the Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble, and Ostravská banda present two programs of works by AACM composers featuring chamber and large orchestral works. On April 28 the program includes ensemble works by Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, George Lewis and Henry Threadgill alongside works by John Cage, Christian Wolff, and Petr Kotik. The April 29 concert includes the world premiere of Mitchell's Kingmaker, as well as a rare U.S. performance by the trio of Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell. At the Bohemian National Hall in New York City.

May 22-23, 2015, George Lewis’ Afterword: The AACM (As) Opera: In advance of its premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in the fall of 2015, selections from Lewis’ opera, developed in collaboration with director Sean Griffin and media/theater artist Catherine Sullivan, will be staged at Roulette in Brooklyn. The opera is based on Lewis’ widely acclaimed book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: the AACM and American Experimental Music.

Composer, arranger, and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams (b. 1930) was deeply influenced by the bop innovations of the late Bud Powell. Abrams has been a beacon in the jazz community as a co-founder (and first president), in 1965, of the AACM. While Abrams is well-known as a mentor to three generations of younger musicians — he was a decade older than his closest peer in the AACM — as a bandleader and professor at the Banff Center, Columbia University, Syracuse University, and the BMI Composers’ Workshop. Abrams’ first gigs were playing the blues, R&B, and hard bop circuit in Chicago and working as a sideman with everyone from Dexter Gordon and Max Roach to Ruth Brown and Woody Shaw. Abrams’ own recordings reveal his strength as an innovator. His 1967 debut, Levels and Degrees of Light on Chicago’s Delmark label, set the course for his own career and that of many of his AACM contemporaries, including Henry Threadgill, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Leo Smith, and Anthony Braxton.

George Lewis (b. 1952) is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. A 2002 MacArthur Fellow, Lewis studied composition with Muhal Richard Abrams at the AACM School of Music, and trombone with Dean Hey. A member of the AACM since 1971, Lewis's work in electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, text-sound works, and notated and improvised forms is documented on more than 140 recordings. His work has been presented or commissioned by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonia Orchestra, Ensemble Dal Niente, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Talea Ensemble, Ensemble Pamplemousse, Wet Ink, Ensemble Erik Satie, Ensemble Either/Or, 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad, IRCAM, American Composers Orchestra, and many others. Lewis has been honored with the 2012 SEAMUS Award from the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, and his widely acclaimed book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) is a recipient of the American Book Award and the American Musicological Society’s Music in American Culture Award.

Roscoe Mitchell (b. 1940) began his distinguished career in the spirited 1960s of Chicago, Illinois. His role in the resurrection of long neglected woodwind instruments of extreme register, his innovation as a solo woodwind performer, and his reassertion of the composer into what has traditionally been an improvisational form have placed him at the forefront of contemporary music for over four decades. After getting out of the military, Mitchell led a hard bop sextet in Chicago (1961) which gradually became much freer. He was a member of Muhal Richard Abrams's Experimental Band and a founding member of the AACM in 1965. Mitchell's monumental Sound album (1966) introduced a new way of freely improvising. Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors were on that date and Mitchell's 1967 follow-up Old/Quartet. With the addition of Joseph Jarman and Philip Wilson (who was later succeeded by Famoudou Don Moye), the Art Ensemble of Chicago was born. Mitchell (who, in addition to his main horns, plays clarinet, flute, piccolo, oboe, baritone and bass saxophones) also was involved in individual projects through the years and has recorded as a leader. His teaching credits include his current position as the Darius Milhaud Chair at Mills College, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the California Institute of the Arts, the AACM School of Music, and the Creative Music Studio.

Music Credits:
Muhal Richard Abrams, "The Infinitive Flow"
George Lewis, "Triple Slow Mix"
Muhal Richard Abrams, "Mergertone"
Roscoe Mitchell, "Eeltwo pt. 1"
Muhal Richard Abrams, "My Thoughts Are My Future, Now and Forever"
Roscoe Mitchell, George Lewis, Muhal Richard Abrams, Spencer Barefield, "Tnoona"


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