Muhal Richard Abrams

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Muhal Richard Abrams
Muhal Richard Abrams 06N4854.jpg
Muhal Richard Abrams, Moers Festival 2009
Background information
Born (1930-09-19) September 19, 1930 (age 86)
Origin Chicago, Illinois, US
Genres Free jazz, post-bop
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Piano
Years active 1950s–present
Labels Delmark
Black Saint
New World

Muhal Richard Abrams (born September 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois)[1] is an American educator, administrator, composer, arranger, clarinetist, cellist, and jazz pianist in the free jazz medium.[2]


Early life[edit]

Abrams attended DuSable High School in Chicago. By 1946, he enrolled in music classes at Roosevelt University, but "I didn't get too much out of that, because it wasn't what I was hearing in the street".[3] He then decided to study independently: "I've always had a natural ability to study and analyze things. I used that ability, not even knowing what it was (it was just a feeling) and started to read books."[3] The books of Joseph Schillinger were very influential in Abrams' development.[citation needed] In Abrams' words:

From there, I acquired a small spinet piano and started to teach myself how to play the instrument and read the notes – or, first of all, what key the music was in. It took time and a lot of sweat. But I analyzed it and before long I was playing with the musicians on the scene. I listened to Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and many others and concentrated on Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson for composition. Later I got scores and studied more extensive things that take place in classical composition and started to practice classical pieces on the piano.[3]

Abrams' first gigs were playing the blues, R&B, and hard bop circuit in Chicago and working as a sideman with everyone from Dexter Gordon and Max Roach to Ruth Brown and Woody Shaw. In 1950 he began writing arrangements for the King Fleming Band, and in 1955 played in the hard-bop band Modern Jazz Two + Three, with tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris.[4] After this group folded he kept a low profile until he organized the Experimental Band in 1962, a contrast to his earlier hard bop venture in its use of free jazz concepts. This band, with its fluctuating lineup, evolved into the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), emerging in May 1965 with Abrams as its president. Rather than playing in smoky night clubs, AACM members often rented out theaters and lofts where they could perform for attentive and open-minded audiences. The album Levels and Degrees of Light (1967) was the landmark first recording under Abrams' leadership. On this set, Abrams was joined by the saxophonists Anthony Braxton, Maurice McIntyre, vibraphonist Gordon Emmanuel, violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassists Leonard Jones and Charles Clark, and vocalist Penelope Taylor. Abrams also played with saxophonists Eddie Harris, Gordon, and other more bop-oriented musicians during this era.

Loft jazz era[edit]

Abrams moved to New York permanently in 1975 where he was involved in the local Loft Jazz scene. In 1983, he established the New York chapter of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

In the 1970s, Abrams composed for symphony orchestras, string quartets, solo piano, voice, and big bands in addition to making a series of larger ensemble recordings that included harp and accordion.[5] He is a widely influential artist, having played sides for many musicians early in his career, releasing important recordings as a leader, and writing classical works such as his "String Quartet No. 2", which was performed by the Kronos Quartet, on November 22, 1985, at the Carnegie Recital Hall in New York.[6] He has recorded extensively under his own name (frequently on the Black Saint label) and as a sideman on others' records. Notably regarding the latter he has recorded with Anthony Braxton Duets 1976 on Arista Records, Marion Brown and Chico Freeman.

Later career[edit]

He has recorded and toured the United States, Canada and Europe with his orchestra, sextet, quartet, duo and as a solo pianist. His musical affiliations is a "who's who" of the jazz world, including Roach, Gordon, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Art Farmer, Sonny Stitt, Braxton, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Harris and many others. In 1990 Abrams won the Jazzpar Prize, an annual Danish prize within jazz. Abrams received a 1997 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. In May 2009 the National Endowment for the Arts announced that Abrams would be one of the recipients of the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters Award.[7] In June 2010, Abrams was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by New York City's premier jazz festival, known as the Vision Festival.[8][9]


Muhal Richard Abrams, Moers Festival 2009

As leader[edit]

Year Title Label
1967 Levels and Degrees of Light Delmark
1969 Young at Heart/Wise in Time Delmark
1975 Things to Come from Those Now Gone Delmark
1975 Afrisong India Navigation/Whynot
1976 Sightsong Black Saint
1977 1-OQA+19 Black Saint
1978 Lifea Blinec Novus
1978 Spiral Live at Montreux 1978 Novus
1979 Spihumonesty Black Saint
1980 Mama and Daddy Black Saint
1981 Duet with Amina Claudine Myers Black Saint
1982 Blues Forever Black Saint
1983 Rejoicing with the Light Black Saint
1985 View from Within Black Saint
1986 Roots of Blue with Cecil McBee RPR
1987 Colors in Thirty-Third Black Saint
1989 The Hearinga Suite Black Saint
1991 Blu Blu Blu Black Saint
1993 Family Talk Black Saint
1995 Think All, Focus One Black Saint
1997 Song for All Black Saint
1996 One Line, Two Views New World
1997 The Open Air Meeting (Live) with Marty Ehrlich New World
2001 The Visibility of Thought Chesky
2005 Streaming with George Lewis Pi
2007 Vision Towards Essence (Live) Pi
2010 Spectrum with Roscoe Mitchell Mutable

As sideman[edit]

With Walter Perkins MJT+3

  • Daddy-O Presents MJT+3 (1957)

With Roscoe Mitchell

With Joseph Jarman

With Anthony Braxton

With Creative Construction Company

With Kenny Dorham

  • Kenny Dorham Sextet (1970)

With Eddie Harris

With Art Ensemble of Chicago

With Marion Brown

With Robin Kenyatta

  • Beggars and Stealers (1977)

With Chico Freeman

With Woody Shaw

With Leroy Jenkins

With George Lewis

With Barry Altschul

  • You Can't Name Your Own Tune (1977)

With Clifford Jordan

With Marty Ehrlich

  • Emergency Peace (1990)

With Hamiet Bluiett

  • Saying Something for All (1998)

With Jack DeJohnette


  1. ^ Larkin, Colin. The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Guinness, page 47, (1995) – ISBN 978-1-56159-176-3
  2. ^ Cook, Richard (2005). Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia. London: Penguin Books. p. 2. ISBN 0-141-00646-3. 
  3. ^ a b c "Muhal Richard Abrams: The Advancement of Creative Music". (May 25, 2007). All About Jazz.
  4. ^ Panken, T. Muhal Richard Abrams: The Advancement of Creative Music, All About Jazz May 25, 2007
  5. ^ Schoenberg, Loren. The Npr Curious Listener's Guide to Jazz, Perigee, page 85, (2002) – ISBN 978-0-399-52794-4
  6. ^ Kronos Quartet
  7. ^ National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Ben Ratliff (June 26, 2010) "Honoring Heroes of Jazz, With Words, Silence and Improvisation". New York Times. p.C7.

External links[edit]