Tchicai, John (Martin)

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Tchicai, John (Martin)

Tchicai, John (Martin), avant-garde jazz saxophonist, leader; b. Copenhagen, April 28, 1936. The son of a Danish mother and a Congolese father, he began studying violin at the age of 10, and took up alto saxophone and clarinet at age 16. He studied saxophone privately and at the Aarhus Academy of Music and the Academy of Music, Copenhagen, for three years. He made his recording debut in 1962, playing in Warsaw with local musicians; the same year he met Archie Shepp and Bill Dixon at the Helsinki Festival. On their advice, he moved to N.Y.C, in 1963. He played with Don Cherry; formed the New York Contemporary Five with Shepp, Dixon, Don Moore, and J. C. Moses; and toured Europe with this group, though Cherry replaced Dixon. He also worked in N.Y.C, with Roswell Rudd, Milford Graves, Steve Swallow, or Eddie Gomez as the N.Y. Art Quartet in 1964 and 1965. He joined the Jazz Composers Guild and played with Carla Bley. Returning to Denmark in 1966, he co-founded and led the workshop ensemble Cadentia Nova Dánica from 1967 to 1971 and performed with them in London in 1968. This was, at one time, a 40-piece ensemble that recorded “Afrodisiaca/’ In approximately 1969, a group of university students in Cambridge, England, who were interested in free jazz and spontaneous improvisation put on a concert under the name “Natural Music” that featured Tchicai, Yoko Ono, and numerous others. Tchicai recorded with Ono and John Lennon in 1969.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tchicai began to play bamboo flutes, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and some percussion; in 1972 he began working on hatha yoga and meditation. He performed less often during this period, but taught full-time in elementary schools, composed, and led workshops. He resumed active playing in 1977, when he was the first jazz-musician to receive a three-year composing stipend from the Danish Ministry of Culture. The same year, he joined Pierre Dorge’s New Jungle Orch. Since the early 1980s, the tenor saxophone has been his main instrument; he also uses keyboards and sequencers as tools for composing. He began touring Europe, India, Japan, and Africa, as both the leader of his own groups and as a sideperson. He also played with Johnny Dyani, Abdullah Ibrahin, Misha Mengelberg, Lee Konitz, Cecil Taylor, and Gunter Hampel. The Danish Ministry of Culture awarded him a lifetime grant in 1990. Based in Davis, Calif., since 1991, he founded John Tchicai and the Archetypes, a seven-piece band that fuses afro-jazz with blues-rock. Tchicai teaches at Univ. Calif., Davis, and conducts workshops in schools and prisons. He also composes and works on various new projects, as a Calif. Artist-in-Residence (for composition, 1996-97) and as a Calif. Arts Council roster-artist. He often incorporates poetry and audience participation into his performances and has collaborated with Amiri Baraka, John Stewart, and David Gitin as well as with painters, actors, and dancers. He has composed for film, theater, plays, and video projects. His compositions for classical ensembles include Disturbances on the Fish Scale, 1989; Forwards and Backwards, 1990; United Spirits of America, 1992; Movement for Symphony Orchestra, 1989; Bohe, for six percussionists, 1987.


Archie Shepp in Europe Vols. 1&2 (1963). New York Contemporary Five: Consequences (1963). John Tchicai-Archie Shepp: Rufus (1963). Archie Shepp: Four for Trane (1964); New York Art Quartet & Imamu Amiri Baraka (1964); New York Eye and Ear Control (1964). The Jazz Composers Orchestra: Communication (1964). New York Art Quartet: Mohawk (1965). John Coltrane: Ascension (1965). New York Art Quartet: Roswell Rudd (1965); John Tchicai and Cadentia Nova Dánica (1968). Instant Composers Pool: Instant Composers Pool (1968). John Tchicai and Cadentia Nova Dánica: Afrodisiaca (1969). John Lennon and Yoko Ono: Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions (1969); Instant Composers Pool (1970). The John Tchicai/ Irene Schweizer Group: Willie the Pig (1975); John Tchicai and the Strange Brothers (1977); John Tchicai/Andre Goudbeek: Duets (1977); John Tchicai/Andre Goudbeek: Barefoot Dance (1978). The Berlin Jazz Workshop Orchestra: Who Is Who? (1978). Johnny Dyani: with John Tchicai and Dudu Pukwana: Witchdoctor’s Son (1978). John Tchicai/Hartmut Geerken: Continent (1980). John Tchicai solo: John Tchicai Live in Athens (1980). John Tchicai/Pierre Dorge: Ball at Louisiana (1981). John Tchicai Orchestra: Merlin Vibrations (1983). Cecil Taylor: Winged Serpent (1984). Moye, Tchicai, Geerken: The African Tapes Vols. I and II (1985). John Tchicai & Clinch: Tchicai/Clinch (1988). John Tchicai & Vitold Rek: Satisfaction (1992). John Tchicai Quartet w. Misha Mengelberg: Grandpa’s Spells (1993). John Tchicai & the Archetypes: Love Is Touching (1995).

—Lewis Porter