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Nicole Mitchell (musician)

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Nicole Mitchell
Background information
Born (1967-02-17) February 17, 1967 (age 57)
Syracuse, New York, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, teacher

Nicole Mitchell (born 1967) is an American jazz flautist and composer who teaches jazz at the University of Virginia.[1][2] She is a former chairwoman of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Mitchell was born in Syracuse, New York, and moved to Anaheim, California at the age of eight.[4] Her first instruments were piano and viola, which she started playing in fourth grade. She was classically trained in flute and played in youth orchestras as a teenager.[5] Though she intended to major in computer science in college, she took a class in improvisation from Jimmy Cheatham at University of California, San Diego,[6] and started busking in the streets playing jazz flute.[5] After two years at UCSD, she transferred to Oberlin College in 1987, then moved to Chicago in 1990.[7]

Mitchell returned to school in 1993 and 1996, completing her degree at Chicago State University in 1998; she earned a master's degree from Northern Illinois University in 2000.[5]


In Chicago, Mitchell performed on the streets and worked for Third World Press, a publisher of black culture.[5] She also met drummer Maia, and bassist, sitarist and storyteller Shanta Nurullah, forming the all-female ensemble Samana and eventually joining the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).[8][4]

After earning her master's degree, she began teaching at schools around Chicago at the end of the 1990s, holding positions at Northern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Wheaton College, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.[5]

In 1995 Mitchell met Hamid Drake and worked with him throughout the second half of the decade. In 1997 she began an association with saxophonist David Boykin [de], who encouraged her to start her own group, leading to Mitchell's establishment of the Black Earth Ensemble.[5] In the early 2000s, she became a co-host for the Avant-Garde Jazz Jam Sessions in Chicago that were started by Boykin, bassist Karl E. H. Seigfried, and drummer Mike Reed.[9]

Mitchell issued her debut album, Vision Quest, with Black Earth Ensemble in 2001 on her label, Dreamtime Records. The album included appearances by Hamid Drake, Savoir Faire, Edith Yokley [de], Darius Savage [de], and Avreeayl Ra [de].[10] Vision Quest was expanded into a theater piece in 2003.[11]

In 2006, Mitchell worked in the group Frequency with Harrison Bankhead, Edward Wilkerson, and Avreeayl Ra. Thrill Jockey released their album during that year.[12] Beginning in 2017, she toured and recorded with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.[13]

The Artifacts trio—Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, and Mike Reed—released albums in 2015 and 2019. (In 2008–2009, the three were the executive team of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).)[14]

As of 2022, Mitchell has continued to use the Black Earth and Black Earth Ensemble names for many of her projects, including recordings. For example, in 2022 she led performances by Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth SWAY quartet, with Chicago-based musicians Alexis Lombre [de] on keyboard, JoVia Armstrong [de] on drums and electronics, and Coco Elysses [de] on diddley bow, and everyone singing.[15] (In 2022, Elysses and Armstrong are Chair and Secretary, respectively, of the AACM.)[16]

Mitchell published her first book in 2022, The Mandorla Letters: for the hopeful, under the name Nicole Mitchell Gantt.

University professor[edit]

Mitchell joined the music department at the University of California, Irvine as an assistant professor and was promoted to professor in 2013.[17] She participated in the Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology graduate program.[18] In 2019, she moved to the University of Pittsburgh as the Williams S. Dietrich II Chair of Jazz Studies and Professor of Music.[1][19] In 2022, she took on a position as professor of music at University of Virginia.

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Down Beat magazine named her a Rising Star for flute in Critics' Polls of 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008,[20] and 2009.[21] From 2010 to 2022 she has won the "top flutist" categories.[22][23]
  • Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, California Institute of the Arts, 2011[24]
  • Doris Duke Award 2012
  • United States Artist 2020

Personal life[edit]

Mitchell's husband of ten years, Calvin Bernard Gantt, died on July 31, 2021.[25]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

(Incomplete) [26]

As guest[edit]


External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Russonello, Giovanni (January 14, 2019). "Nicole Mitchell to Lead Jazz Program at University of Pittsburgh". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  2. ^ Nowlin, Rick (January 14, 2019). "Pitt names Nicole Mitchell as head of jazz studies department". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  3. ^ "PowerGreater2". www.pointofdeparture.org. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  4. ^ a b "Nicole Mitchell: West by Midwest - JazzTimes". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Margasak, Peter. "An Improvised Life". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  6. ^ "Before & After Listening Session With Nicole Mitchell - JazzTimes". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  7. ^ Russonello, Giovanni (10 January 2018). "Nicole Mitchell, an Innovative Flutist With an Afrofuturist Vision". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  8. ^ Lewis, George E. (2008). A power stronger than itself : the AACM and American experimental music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-47695-7. OCLC 154689784.
  9. ^ "BOYKIN, SEIGFRIED, AND REED REUNION". Chicago Reader. 23 September 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  10. ^ Nicole Mitchell at Allmusic
  11. ^ "The Independent Ear | Q&A with flute explorer Nicole Mitchell". www.openskyjazz.com. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  12. ^ Jazz, All About (17 August 2006). "Frequency: Frequency". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  13. ^ "The Art Ensemble of Chicago". AKAMU SAS di Lofoco Alberto. 2019. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  14. ^ Margasak, Peter (June 11, 2009). "A revamped AACM steps forward". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2022-07-16.
  15. ^ Gilbert, Andrew (June 7, 2022). "San Francisco Jazz Festival: 5 Essential Performers". San Francisco Standard. Retrieved 2022-07-13.
  16. ^ "Executive Team". Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. 2022. Retrieved 2022-07-16.
  17. ^ "Nicole Mitchell | ICIT". music.arts.uci.edu. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  18. ^ "ICIT | Integrated Composition Improvisation and Technology – A Graduate Degree in Music at the University of California, Irvine". music.arts.uci.edu. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  19. ^ "PhD in Jazz Studies". University of Pittsburgh Department of Music. 2019. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  20. ^ "Downbeat Critics Poll 2008" (PDF).
  21. ^ "Downbeat Critics Poll 2009" (PDF).
  22. ^ "Downbeat Critics Poll 2010" (PDF).
  23. ^ "Downbeat Critics Poll 2011" (PDF).
  24. ^ "Nicole Mitchell | The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts". herbalpertawards.org. 23 March 2013. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  25. ^ "Calvin Bernard Gantt, 1949 - 2021: Obituary". Wright Funeral Home. August 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  26. ^ "Nicole Mitchell: Discography". AllMusic. 2020. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  27. ^ Attarian, Hrayr (6 November 2015). "Nicole Mitchell/Tomeka Reid/Mike Reed: Artifacts". All About Jazz. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  28. ^ "Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds". FPE records. Retrieved 2017-10-14.
  29. ^ "Artist: Nicole Mitchell; Title: Mandorla Awakening II - Emerging Worlds". Discovery-records.com. Retrieved 2017-10-14.
  30. ^ Cohen, Aaron (November 2018). "Nicole Mitchell: Maroon Cloud". DownBeat. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  31. ^ West, Michael J. "Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris: EarthSeed (FPE)". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  32. ^ Meyer, Bill (October 28, 2021). "Artifacts, and then there's this". Chicago Reader.
  33. ^ "The AACM Great Black Music Ensemble". Discogs. Retrieved 2020-06-19.
  34. ^ 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.