At a time when musicians like Wynton Marsalis and pundits like Stanley Crouch are attempting to recast jazz as an exclusively mainstream affair, returning it to the mandatory suit-and-tie days of the 1950s, it seems appropriate to reflect on the achievements of Chicago’s ever-adventurous, often more brightly attired Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Motored by such figures as saxists Joseph Jarman and Fred Anderson, trumpet player Phil Cohran, drummer Steve McCall, and pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams, the AACM was officially chartered as a nonprofit group in May 1965 (though the collective had been building steam for some time before that) and quickly became a model for other music and arts organizations nationwide.
Now in its 31st year, the vanguard organization continues to champion the pan-African-American aural tradition they rightly refer to as Great Black Music. In three decades the AACM’s incredibly fertile environs have produced a bounty of brilliant musicians and groups, from an older generation that includes the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, and Leo Smith to younger Chicagoans like Edward Wilkerson Jr., Mwata Bowden, and Ernest Khabeer Dawkins. But for the AACM, the emphasis has remained on clearing a space in the community for creativity as much as making jazz stars.
The group’s 30th anniversary celebration kicks off this Thursday, November 30, with two free events at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. At 12:15 PM a program called “Bridging the Generations” will find bands from Dunbar High School and Chicago State University performing compositions by AACM members Jarman, Douglas Ewart, and Leroy Jenkins. Later that afternoon, at 5 PM, the AACM Large Ensemble will present a program of more pieces penned by members.
Then come three evenings of concerts next weekend at Columbia College, featuring a thorough mixture of AACM players and groups–younger and older, men and women, internationally famous and not-so-famous. The first concert, at 8 PM Friday, December 1, will begin with a bang–namely, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, perhaps the best-known AACM group and an outfit that significantly altered the face of jazz in the post-60s period; fans should note that founding member Jarman is taking a “hiatus” from the ensemble, so it will appear as a quartet. Ewart’s Clarinet Choir, pianist Adegoke Steve Colson’s quintet with trumpeter Rasul Saddik, and local faves 8 Bold Souls fill out Friday’s bill. Events on Saturday, December 2, will start with a symposium at Columbia’s Black Music Research Center; it will look deeply into the sociology, politics, and musicology of the AACM. Industrious drummer Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble will start things off at 8 PM that evening; other performers on Saturday will include a group led by saxists Ari Brown and Vandy Harris, the wonderful New Horizons Ensemble, and an extremely promising duet between trombonist George Lewis and multireedman Anthony Braxton. The fest closes Sunday, December 3, at 7 PM, with the all-woman ensemble Samana, a quintet led by violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, a quartet led by tenor saxist Fred Anderson, and a quintet led by saxist Chico Freeman and singer Rita Warford. These concerts will take place at Columbia College’s Getz Theater, 72 E. 11th. For more information on the fest, call 752-2212.