Of all the dynamic figures who emerged from the AACM, none has had a stronger influence on how it fulfilled its mission than pianist-composer Muhal Richard Abrams. A cofounder of the organization in 1965–and its president for most of the years between then and 1977, when he moved to New York–Abrams boldly conceived a new model for creative music, moving musicians out of the world of chattering audiences and unscrupulous club owners. His work with the AACM inspired like-minded groups such as the Black Artist Guild in Saint Louis, and on an individual basis he gave musicians the courage and drive to play by their own rules. “He’s totally stubborn about that, and that’s really as inspiring as anything else,” trombonist George Lewis told me in 1999. “He is intensely committed to realizing his vision and helping you realize yours, and he has a generosity of spirit without telling you what your vision should be.” Abrams’s own vision was to create music unshackled by genre restrictions: his strong grasp of harmony and his high-level style of improvisation root him in jazz, but there’s nothing that’s truly out of his conceptual reach, and his compositions always reveal an open-minded curiosity. Most of his recordings feature medium-size groups, and his works reflect both the agility of a small combo and the orchestral color of a big band; Abrams rarely gets placed alongside the free-jazz avatars of the 60s, but he not only absorbed their ideas, he helped spawn them. Now 75, he records infrequently, and much of his latest album, 2001’s The Visibility of Thought (Mutable Music), features other musicians playing new compositions in chamber music-like settings. Except for a guest appearance with Von Freeman in 2002, he hasn’t played in Chicago since 1999. For this show, part of the AACM’s 40th anniversary celebration, he’ll first perform solo, then duet with flutist Nicole Mitchell–perhaps the most exciting figure of the AACM’s new generation and a genuine beneficiary of Abrams’s fierce individualism. Sat 12/3, 8:30 PM, Hermann Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology, 3241 S. Federal, 312-922-1900, $25, $10 students. All ages.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.