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Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Originally an informal rehearsal band led by pianist Muhal Richard Abrams (b. 1930) and bassist Donald "Rafael" Garrett (19321989) in Chicago in 1961, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) went on to become one of the dominant influences in avantgarde jazz. Along with Abrams and Garrett, several students studying at Wilson Junior Collegeincluding saxophonists Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Joseph Jarman, and Roscoe Mitchell and bassist Malachi Favorswere among the significant participants in weekly jam sessions at various nightclubs, small theaters, settlement houses, and churches on Chicago's South Side. Also involved as performers and composers were drummers Jack DeJohnette, Steve McCall, and Thurman Barker; saxophonists Maurice McIntrye and Troy Robinson; trumpeter Leo Smith; and pianists Phil Cohran, Amina Claudine Myers, and Jodie Christian. Inspired by Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane, these musicians theatrically juxtaposed explosive free jazz with delicate, whimsical tinkling on hubcabs and frying pans.

The AACM was chartered as a nonprofit organization in 1965 (with Abrams as president) and began to sponsor art exhibits, plays, living arrangements, and a school. At first, the music world greeted the AACM with hostility, and as a result the cooperative's early work was poorly documented. Nonetheless, several albums alerted the New York-based avant-garde that a new movement was afoot in Chicago. These albums include Mitchell's Sound (1966), Jarman's Song For (1967), trumpeter Lester Bowie's Numbers 1 and 2 (1967), Abrams's Levels and Degrees of Light (1968), and Braxton's Three Compositions of New Jazz (1968). These works were created not by improvising on a melodic theme or harmonic chord changes, but by exploring variations in instrumental texture, particularly unorthodox sounds on standard instruments. Along with such blips, squeaks, and overtones are sounds made by "little instruments," mostly common household or industrial objects.

In 1969, tragedy struck the organization with the death of two key members, bassist Charles Clark and pianist Christopher Gaddy. Many AACM musicians then moved to Paris, where they were soon engaged in celebrated concerts and recordings. However, they returned to the United States within a few years, claiming, in a famous statement, that they missed "the inspiration of the ghetto." Most settled in New York and participated in the cooperative "Loft Jazz" movement of the mid-to late 1970s (This music is documented in the multivolume Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions, recorded over a ten-day period in 1976).

The ensembles formed by members of the AACM have proved to be among the most significant in jazz. The Art Ensemble of Chicago, whose motto is "Great Black Music, Ancient to Future," was formed in 1969 by Bowie, Jarman, Mitchell, and Favors (the drummer Famoudou Don Moye joined them in Paris in 1970). Their recordings include Message to Our Folks (1969), Nice Guys (1978), and Dreaming of the Masters (1987). Art Ensemble concerts became famous for the energetic wit they brought to the avant-garde, and for the band's use of African-style face paint and clothing. Before his death in 1999, Bowie would often wear a chef's hat and white medical coat on stage, while the flamboyantly greasepainted Jarman has been known to wave flags and sound sirens. Favors passed away in early 2004, but the band continues with a lineup that includes Jarman, Moye, Mitchell, Corey Wilkes, and Jaribu Sahid.

In Paris, Braxton, Smith, and McCall, and the violinist Leroy Jenkins had great success under the name Creative Construction Company, but aside from one concert financed and recorded by Coleman (Creative Construction Company, 2 vols., 1970), they were unable to keep the group together in America. Braxton went on to lead his own ensembles (Five Compositions (Quartet), 1986), as did Smith (Go in Numbers, 1980). Jenkins worked with the Revolutionary Ensemble (Manhattan Cycles, 1972), and then as a leader (For Players Only, 1975). McCall worked in the group Air (Air Lore, 1975) with bassist Fred Hoplins and Threadgill, who has lead his own ensembles (Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket, 1983). Abrams has continued to work with his large ensembles, such as the Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra (Blu Blu Blu, 1990).

Most of the members of the AACM overcame an initial obscurity, but some have remained undiscovered. These include pianist Jodie Christian, trombonist Lester Lashley, and saxophonists Fred Anderson, John Stubblefield, and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new generation of AACM members came to prominence, including trombonist George Lewis and saxophonists Chico Freeman, Edward Wilkerson, and Douglas Ewart. Most of the original members of the AACM live in New York, and few remain in close contact with the organization. The AACM itself, however, has grown and prospered as a Chicago arts collective and continues to sponsor classes, workshops, and performances.

See also Coleman, Ornette; Coltrane, John; Jazz; Music in the United States; Sun Ra (Blount, Herman "Sonny")


Litweiler, John. The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958. New York: Quill, 1984.

Muni, K. "AACM: Continuing Tradition." Bebop and Beyond 4, no. 2 (1986).

Wilmer, Valerie. As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz. Westport, Conn.: L. Hill, 1980.

jonathan gill (1996)

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