Credit: Tony Smith

The 50th year of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

With the exception of the anniversary of my marriage, I tend to be pretty ambivalent about such celebrations—they happen every year, after all. But the achievements of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since its foundation in 1965 are so monumental and lasting that any attempt to salute the work the organization produces today tends to lead directly into praise for its past. Those who want the full story can find it told authoritatively by composer, trombonist, and AACM member George Lewis in his 2007 book A Power Stronger Than Itself. A group of working-class African-­American musicians in Chicago, looking for a way to seize control over their creative and professional destinies, developed distinctive aesthetic approaches, political philosophies, and organizational ideas that changed not only what it means to be a creative musician but also what an artistic collective can and should be. An exhibition celebrating that legacy is currently up at the DuSable Museum of African American History (with another opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art on July 11), and four performances at this year’s Chicago Jazz Festival will feature some of the most important figures from the vast sweep of the organization’s history.