Chicago has been a hotbed of jazz music since around 1917 when many musicians moved north to find work. They migrated for the same reasons as other black people – to escape the discrimination in the South. First in 1922 King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band moved North from Louisiana, bringing the sound of New Orleans. Then, Jelly Roll Morton settled releasing the first of his many recordings on record, both as a piano soloist and with many local jazz bands. They were followed later by Louis Armstrong. These musicians formed the bedrock of what was to become the Chicago sound, a hybrid of New Orleans jazz with an emphasis of a faster swing-style 4-to-the-bar style. Tuba and banjo were dropped in favour of string bass and guitar. All in all, a gritter more urban feel was given to the music.

In the years following World War II, the Chicago jazz scene went through, what can only be called a revolution. This new direction was in part due to the influence of Sun Ra, the avant-garde pianist and band leader. Sun Ra’s Solar Arkestra produced a form of jazz that is still revolutionary even today. Following Sun Ra’s lead, in the early sixties, a group of younger experimental musicians, formed what they called the Experimental Band and eventually, in 1965, formed themselves into the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Founded 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, Chico Freeman, Wadada Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago: Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Famoudou Don Moye, and Malachi Favors. The AACM members challenged the orthodoxy and political parameters of existing jazz forms in favour of free, atonal music which minimized the role of the individual soloist. The AACM’s flagship band was the Art Ensemble of Chicago, who blended experimental music with costumes, make-up and dance.

To understand the music of many of the early AACM players, it important to understand the context of the music. In the mid-sixties America was going through political turmoil. The civil rights movement was fighting for the rights of black people and Chicago provided a base for many civil rights groups. At the same time musicians inspired by the ‘black is beautiful’ movement, drew inspiration from the politics of Africa and the teaching of African scholars. Musicians were soon wearing African clothes and sporting afro hairstyles. The AACM embraced this new afro-centrism and adopted the motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future”. This emphasized slogan was intended emphasise to their connection to ancient African music and the roots of jazz.

Today the AACM is still going strong, developing new generations of talent through the the AACM School of Music. In recent years, new members such as: Matana Roberts, Jeff Parker, Nicole Mitchell and Amina Claudine Myers have carried the torch forward, a new generation of talented musicians, who are have developed a jazz influenced by the past, but also by new forms such as hip-hop and electronic music. In 2015, the AACM reaches its fiftieth year, and is preparing for a worldwide celebration of musical presentations, installations and exhibitions. This year long celebration will highlight the AACM’s contributions to the world’s musical landscape.

The give a taste of AACM jazz, I have put together a mix which gives a brief introduction to some of the musicians. This can be found at: http://www.mixcloud.com/tony-todd/aacm-chicago/ Have a listen and please, if you have the time, give me some feedback.


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