Roscoe Mitchell at the Pomigliano Jazz Festival on July 15, 2005 (photo: Pasquale Ottaiano)
|Born||August 3, 1940|
|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, US|
|Associated acts||Art Ensemble of Chicago
The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians
Roscoe Mitchell (b. August 3, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois) is an African-American composer, jazz instrumentalist and educator, mostly known for being "a technically superb — if idiosyncratic — saxophonist." He has been called "one of the key figures" in avant-garde jazz who has been "at the forefront of modern music" for the past thirty years. He continues "to be a major figure." He has even been called a "super musician" and the New York Times has mentioned that he "qualifies as an iconoclast."
Early life 
Mitchell grew up in the Chicago, Illinois area where he played saxophone and clarinet at around age twelve. His family was always involved in music with many different styles playing in the house when he was a child as well as having a secular music background. His brother, Norman, in particular was the one who introduced Mitchell to jazz. While attending Englewood High School in Chicago, he furthered his study of the clarinet. In the 1950s, he joined the United States Army, during which time he was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany and played in a band with fellow saxophonists Albert Ayler and Rubin Cooper, the latter of which Mitchell commented "took me under his wing and taught me a lot of stuff." He also studied under the first clarinetist of the Heidelberg Symphony while in Germany. Mitchell returned to the United States in the early 1960s, relocated to the Chicago area, and performed in a band with Wilson Junior College undergraduates Malachi Favors (bass), Joseph Jarman, Henry Threadgill, and Anthony Braxton (all saxophonists). Mitchell also studied with Muhal Richard Abrams and played in his band, the Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band, starting in 1961.
AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago 
In 1965, Mitchell was one of the first members of the non-profit organization Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) along with Jodie Christian (piano), Steve McCall (drums), and Phil Cohran (composer). The following year Mitchell, Lester Bowie (trumpet), Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre (tenor saxophone), Favors, Lester Lashley (trombone), and Alvin Fielder (drums), recorded their first studio album, Sound. The album was "a departure from the more extroverted work of the New York-based free jazz players" due in part to the band recording with "unorthodox devices" such as toys and bicycle horns.
From 1967 Mitchell, Bowie, Favors and, on occasion, Jarman performed as the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble, then the Art Ensemble, and finally in 1969 were billed as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The group included Phillip Wilson on drums for short span before he joined Paul Butterfield's band. The group lived and performed in Europe from 1969 to 1971, though they arrived without any percussionist after Wilson left. To fill the void, Mitchell commented that they "evolved into doing percussion ourselves." The band did eventually get a percussionist, Don Moye, who Mitchell had played with before and was living in Europe at that time. For performances, the band often wore brilliant African costumes and painted their faces. The Art Ensemble of Chicago have been described as becoming "possibly the most highly acclaimed jazz band" in the 1970s and 1980s.
Creative Arts Collective and beyond 
Mitchell and the others returned to the States in 1971. After having been back in Chicago for three years, Mitchell then established the Creative Arts Collective (CAC) in 1974 that had a similar musical aesthetic to the AACM. The group was based in East Lansing, Michigan and frequently used the facilities at Michigan State University. Mitchell also formed the Sound Ensemble in the early 1970s, an "outgrowth of the CAC" in his words, that consisted mainly of Mitchell, Hugh Ragin, Jaribu Shahid, Tani Tabbal, and Spencer Barefield.
In the 1990s, Mitchell started to experiment in classical music with such composers/artists such as Pauline Oliveros, Thomas Buckner, and Borah Bergman, the latter two of which formed a popular trio with Mitchell called Trio Space. Buckner was also part of another group with Mitchell and Gerald Oshita called Space in the late 1990s. He then conceived the Note Factory in 1992 with various old and new collaborators as another evolution of the Sound Ensemble.
He lived in the area of Madison, Wisconsin and performed with a re-assembled Art Ensemble of Chicago. In 1999, the band was hit hard with the death of Bowie, but Mitchell fought off the urge to recast his position in the group, stating simply "You can't do that" in an interview with Allaboutjazz.com editor-in-chief Fred Jung. The band continued on despite the loss.
Mitchell has made a point of working with younger musicians in various ensembles and combinations, many of whom weren't yet born when the first Art Ensemble recordings were made. Mainly from Chicago, these players include trumpeter Corey Wilkes, bassist Karl E. H. Seigfried, and drummer Isaiah Spencer.
In 2007, Mitchell was named Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he currently lives. Mitchell was chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in March 2012 in Minehead, England.
The following are referenced from Mitchell's biography at the official AACM website.
- The International Jazz Critics Poll
- Down Beat Magazine
- "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition"
- Best Jazz Group (Established) - Art Ensemble of Chicago
- Record of the Year – Nonaah
- Jazz Personality of the Year, City of Madison, Wisconsin
- "Madison Music Legend" ("Madison" magazine)
- Certificate of Appreciation (St. Louis Public Schools Role Model Experiences Program)
- Honorary Citizen of Atlanta, Georgia
- Outstanding Service to Jazz Education Award (National Association of Jazz Educators)
- Certificate of Appreciation, Art Ensemble of Chicago (Smithsonian Institution)
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Image Award
- National Endowment for the Arts
- Arts Midwest Jazz Masters
- John Cage Award for Music-Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, Inc.
- Michigan State University matching grant
- Minnesota Composer's Forum
- Meet the Composer, Cultural Series Grant, Center for International Performance and Exhibition, Chicago IL
- Comnicut Foundation
- Wisconsin Arts Board
- Institut de Recherche at Coordination Acoustique Musique, Paris, France
- Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission Project Grant, Madison Committee for the Arts
- Madison Festival of the Lakes Grant.
Mitchell has taught at various institutions throughout the United States, including the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the California Institute of the Arts. He currently teaches at Mills College in Oakland, California.
with Art Ensemble of Chicago 
Solo works and other ensembles 
- 1973 Solo Saxophone Concerts — Sackville
- 1975 Quartet — Sackville
- 1976 Nonaah — Nessa
- 1977 Duets with Anthony Braxton — Sackville
- 1979 Sketches From Bamboo — Moers
- 1980 Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes — Nessa
- 1981 3 x 4 Eye — Black Saint
- 1983 Roscoe Mitchell and the Sound and Space Ensembles — Black Saint
- 1984 An Interesting Breakfast Conversation — 1750 Arch
- 1986 The Flow of Things — Black Saint
- 1986 Live at the Muhle Hunziken — Cecma Records
- 1987 Live at the Knitting Factory — Black Saint
- 1988 Live in Detroit — Cecma
- 1989 After Fallen Leaves — Silkheart Records
- 1990 Duets & Solos — Black Saint
- 1990 Songs in the Wind — Victo Records
- 1992 This Dance Is for Steve McCall — Black Saint
- 1992 Four Compositions — Lovely Music
- 1994 Hey Donald — Delmark
- 1994 Sound Songs — Delmark
- 1994 First Meeting — Knitting Factory
- 1994 Pilgrimage — Lovely Music
- 1996 Day and the Night — Dizim
- 1998 More Cutouts — Cecma
- 1999 Nine to Get Ready — ECM
- 1999 In Walked Buckner — Delmark
- 2001 8 O'Clock: Two Improvisations — Mutable Music
- 2002 Song for My Sister — Pi Recordings
- 2004 Solo 3 — Mutable
- 2005 Chicago Duos — First Look/Southport
- 2005 Turn — RogueArt
- 2006 No Side Effects — RogueArt
- 2006 The Bad Guys — Around Jazz
- 2007 Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 with Evan Parker (ECM)
- 2009 The Solo Concert - AECO [composed of solo performances from many concerts performed in the 1970s.]
- 2009 Contact - RogueArt
- 2010 Spectrum - Mutablemusic
- 2010 Far Side - with The Note Factory (ECM)
- 2011 Numbers - RogueArt
- 2013 Duets with Tyshawn Sorey and Special Guest Hugh Ragin
As sideman 
With Anthony Braxton
- Creative Orchestra Music 1976 (Arista, 1976)
With Evan Parker
- Boustrophedon (ECM, 2004)
- Chris Kelsey. "Roscoe Mitchell at Allmusic". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
- The Penguin Guide to Jazz by Richard Cook, Brian Morton, et al. p. 916, eighth edition
- Jack Gold (January 8, 2004). "Roscoe Mitchell: In Search of the Super Musician". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
- Lazaro Vega (August 25, 2005). "A conversation with Roscoe Mitchell". Archived from the original on 2006-08-13. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
- Jazz: Roscoe Mitchell by Jon Pareles, New York Times, August 25, 1983
- Fred Jung. "A Fireside Chat with Roscoe Mitchell (second)". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
- Roscoe Mitchell: In Search of the Super Musician by Jack Gold, Allaboutjazz.com, October 23, 2003
- Celeste Sunderland. "Roscoe Mitchell: Opening Doors". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
- "Roscoe Mitchell Named Darius Milhaud Chair In Composition At Mills College". Retrieved 2008-03-31.
- ATP curated by Jeff Mangum
- "Roscoe Mitchell..... Composer, Multi-Instrumentalist, Educator". Archived from the original on 2007-07-30. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
- Duets with Tyshawn Sorey and Special Guest Hugh Ragin
- All About Jazz: Roscoe Mitchell: In Search of the Super Musician Posted: 2004-01-08
- Roscoe Mitchell interview by Jason Gross (May 1998)
- Lovely Music Artist: Roscoe Mitchell
- AACM: Roscoe Mitchell