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Art Ensemble of Chicago

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Art Ensemble of Chicago
Art Ensemble of Chicago, New Jazz Festival Moers (Moers Festival), 1978
Art Ensemble of Chicago, New Jazz Festival Moers (Moers Festival), 1978
Background information
OriginChicago, Illinois, U.S.
GenresAvant-garde jazz, free jazz
Years active1969–present
LabelsBYG, Nessa, Delmark, ECM, AECO, Pi
Past members

The Art Ensemble of Chicago is an avant-garde jazz group that grew out of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in the late 1960s.[1] The ensemble integrates many jazz styles and plays many instruments, including "little instruments": bells, bicycle horns, birthday party noisemakers, wind chimes, and various forms of percussion. The musicians would wear costumes and face paint while performing. These characteristics combined to make the ensemble's performances both aural and visual. While playing in Europe in 1969, five hundred instruments were used.[2]


Members of what was to become the Art Ensemble performed together under various band names in the mid-sixties, as members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). They performed on the 1966 album Sound, as the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet. The Sextet included saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, trumpeter Lester Bowie, and bassist Malachi Favors. For the next year, they played as the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble. In 1967, they were joined by fellow AACM members Joseph Jarman (saxophone) and Phillip Wilson (drums) and recorded for Nessa Records.

All of the musicians were multi-instrumentalists. Jarman and Mitchell's primary instruments were alto and tenor saxophone, respectively, but they played other saxophones (from the small sopranino to the large bass saxophone), and the flute and clarinet. In addition to trumpet, Bowie played flugelhorn, cornet, shofar, and conch shells. Favors added touches of banjo and bass guitar. Most of them dabbled in piano, synthesizer, and other keyboards, and they all played percussion instruments.

They were known for wearing costumes and makeup on stage. Member Joseph Jarman described part of their style:

So what we were doing with that face painting was representing everyone throughout the universe, and that was expressed in the music as well. That's why the music was so interesting. It wasn't limited to Western instruments, African instruments, or Asian instruments, or South American instruments, or anybody's instruments.[3]

In 1967, Wilson left the group to join Paul Butterfield's band, and for a period the group was a quartet without a full-time drummer. Jarman and Mitchell served as artistic directors at the cooperative summer camp Circle Pines Center in Delton, Michigan, in August of 1968, during the same week that the Democratic Convention was in Chicago. After a farewell concert at the Unitarian Church in Evanston, Illinois, in fall, 1968, the remaining group traveled to Paris.[4] In Paris, the ensemble was based at the Théâtre des Vieux Colombier.[5] [6] In France, they became known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The impetus for the name change came from a French promoter who added "of Chicago" to their name for descriptive purposes, but the new name stuck because band members felt that it better reflected the cooperative nature of the group. In Paris, the ensemble was based at the Théâtre des Vieux Colombier [7] and they recorded for the Freedom and BYG labels. They also recorded Comme à la radio with Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkacem but without a drummer until percussionist Don Moye became a member of the group in 1970. During that year, they recorded the albums Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass and Les Stances a Sophie with singer Fontella Bass, who was Lester Bowie's wife. The latter was the soundtrack from the French movie of the same title.

At the 2017 Kongsberg Jazzfestival

Fifty years on[edit]

Lester Bowie died of liver cancer in 1999.[8] Malachi Favors died in 2004 of pancreatic cancer.[9] Joseph Jarman died on January 9, 2019, of respiratory failure.[10][11]

As of 2017-2019 Mitchell and Moye remained active, with new and previous collaborators as guest under the name Art Ensemble of Chicago - 50th Anniversary Large Ensemble. They released an album in 2019:[12][13][14][15]

  • Roscoe Mitchell – saxophones;
  • Famoudou Don Moye – drums, congas and percussion.


and another in 2023 with a smaller ensemble of 20 musicians - The Sixth Decade: From Paris to Paris.[16]


Title Year Label
Sound - Roscoe Mitchell Sextet 1966 Delmark
Old/Quartet - Roscoe Mitchell 1967 Nessa
Numbers 1 & 2 - Lester Bowie 1967 Nessa
Early Combinations - Art Ensemble 1967 Nessa
Congliptious - Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble 1968 Nessa
A Jackson in Your House 1969 BYG Actuel
Tutankhamun 1969 Freedom
The Spiritual 1969 Freedom
People in Sorrow 1969 Nessa
Message to Our Folks 1969 BYG-Actuel
Reese and the Smooth Ones 1969 BYG-Actuel
Eda Wobu 1969 JMY
Comme à la radio 1970 Saravah
Certain Blacks 1970 America
Go Home 1970 Galloway
Chi-Congo 1970 Paula
Les Stances a Sophie 1970 Nessa
Live in Paris 1970 Freedom
Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass 1970 America
Phase One 1971 America
Live at Mandel Hall 1972 Delmark
Bap-Tizum 1972 Atlantic
Fanfare for the Warriors 1973 Atlantic
Kabalaba 1974 AECO
Nice Guys 1978 ECM
Live in Berlin 1979 West Wind
Full Force 1980 ECM
Urban Bushmen 1980 ECM
Among the People 1980 Praxis
The Third Decade 1984 ECM
The Complete Live in Japan recorded 1984 1985, expanded 1988 DIW
Naked 1986 DIW
Ancient to the Future 1987 DIW
The Alternate Express 1989 DIW
Art Ensemble of Soweto 1990 DIW
America - South Africa 1990 DIW
Dreaming of the Masters Suite 1990 DIW
Thelonious Sphere Monk: Dreaming of the Masters Series Vol. 2 with Cecil Taylor 1990 DIW
Live at the 6th Tokyo Music Joy 1990 DIW
Salutes the Chicago Blues Tradition 1993 AECO
Coming Home Jamaica 1996 Atlantic
Urban Magic 1997 Musica
Tribute to Lester 2001 ECM
Reunion 2003 Around jazz / Il Manifesto
The Meeting 2003 Pi
Sirius Calling 2004 Pi
Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City recorded 2004 2006 Pi
Fundamental Destiny, recorded 1991 with Don Pullen[15] 2007 AECO
Live At Earshot Jazz Festival, 2002 with Fred Anderson[15] 2007 Milo
Peace Be Unto You with Fred Anderson[15] 2008 AECO
We Are On The Edge (A 50th Anniversary Celebration)[15] 2019 Pi
The Sixth Decade: From Paris to Paris[16] 2023 RogueArt

Further reading[edit]

  • Steinbeck, Paul. Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 2017.
  • Lewis, George E. A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • Shipton, Alyn. A New History of Jazz. London: Continuum, 2001.


  • 1982 - Great Black Music - The Art Ensemble of Chicago Television documentary broadcast by Channel 4 in November 1982.
  • 1982 - Live From the Jazz Showcase: The Art Ensemble of Chicago (directed by William J Mahin, the University of Illinois at Chicago). Filmed at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase in Chicago, November 1, 1981.


  1. ^ Cook, Richard (2005). Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia. London: Penguin Books. p. 21. ISBN 0-141-00646-3.
  2. ^ Jost, Ekkehard (1975). Free Jazz (Studies in Jazz Research 4). Universal Edition. p. 177.
  3. ^ Joseph Jarman interview Archived March 20, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Wilmer, Valerie (1977). As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz. Quartet. pp. 122–123.
  5. ^ Jost, Ekkehard (1975). Free Jazz (Studies in Jazz Research 4). Universal Edition. p. 167.
  6. ^ Wilmer, Valerie (1977). As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz. Quartet. pp. 122–123.
  7. ^ Jost, Ekkehard (1975). Free Jazz (Studies in Jazz Research 4). Universal Edition. p. 167.
  8. ^ Voce, Steve (12 November 1999). "Obituary: Lester Bowie". The Independent. Archived from the original on June 14, 2022.
  9. ^ "Obituary: Malachi Favors". The Guardian. 11 February 2004. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  10. ^ Chinen, Nate (January 11, 2019). "Joseph Jarman, 81, Dies; Mainstay of the Art Ensemble of Chicago". The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  11. ^ Jazz Musician and Buddhist Priest Joseph Jarman Dead at 81: Pitchfork. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
  12. ^ Chinen, Nate (October 6, 2017). "The Art Ensemble of Chicago Celebrates 50 Years Of Channeling And Challenging History". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  13. ^ Shteamer, Hank (March 25, 2019). "The Art Ensemble of Chicago on the Past and Future of Their 'Great Black Music'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  14. ^ "The Art Ensemble of Chicago". AKAMU SAS di Lofoco Alberto. 2019. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  15. ^ a b c d e "The Art Ensemble Of Chicago". Discogs. 2019. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  16. ^ a b Fordham, John (January 27, 2023). "Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Sixth Decade: From Paris to Paris review – devoted heirs carry the torch". The Guardian. Retrieved 2023-03-17.

External links[edit]