AACM 35TH Anniversary Celebration

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) held their 35th Anniversary Celebration at the Museum of contemporary Arts in Chicago, April 26 - 30, 2000. These celebrations (or festivals) have been held every five years since the AACM was formed and I was fortunate enough to attend the ones in 1985, 1990 and 1995.

The AACM was formed in 1965 when a group of young African American musicians including Muhal Richard Abrams, Steve McCall, Malachi Favors Maghostut, Kelan Phil Cohran, Fred Anderson, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell met because they were dissatisfied with conditions for African American Musicians and the way their music was handled. The group established goals to cultivate young musicians and to create music of a high artistic level, to encourage sources of employment for worthy creative musicians, to set examples of high moral standards for musicians to uphold the tradition of elevated cultured musicians handed down from the past, and to stimulate spiritual growth in creative artists through participation in programs, concerts and recitals. The motto for the AACM is "Great Black Music Ancient to the Future." Among the best known AACM musicians are Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Lester Bowie, Henry Threadgill, Chico Freeman and Jack DeJohnette.

I missed the first day of the celebration which began at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday with a round table discussion about the AACM by Mwata Bowden, Kelan Phil Cohan, Douglas Ewart, Joseph Jarman, Ann E. Ward and Dushun Moseley who acted as moderator. This was followed by performances of students of the AACM School of Music.

The schedule for each of the other four days of the celebration were similar with two different masters of ceremony and two different groups performing each day. Between sets, awards were presented to three deserving individuals such as monster musician Muhal Richard Abrams, Von Freeman and Jodie Christian and surviving relatives of the late Steve McCall, Fred Hopkins and Lester Bowie. In addition, the well prepared program listed sites for jams for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Thursday concert was hosted by saxophonist Joseph Jarman and Jazz writer Neil Tesser. The concert began with a brief "Opening Drum Call" featuring seven percussionists performing on all types of instruments.

Leroy Jenkins led a ten piece group in the first of two Thursday sets. The group consisted of Jenkins on violin, David Boykin on reeds, Kenneth Green on keyboards, Niki Mitchell flute, Jeffrey Parker on guitar, Rollo Radford on bass, Chad Taylor on drums, Ann E. Ward on piano and Taalib-Din Ziyad and Glenda Fairella Baker on Vocals. The group performed two Leroy Jenkins compositions and one David Boykin composition.

Thursday's second set featured AACM's current chairman, Ernest Khabeer Dawkins New Horizon Ensemble with special guest and one of Jazz's top flutist, James Newton. The New Horizon ensemble which has been around over 15 years consists of Dawkins on reeds, Ameen Muhammed on trumpet, Stephen Berry on Trombone, Jeffrey Parker on guitar, Yosef Ben Israel on bass and Avreeayl Ra drums.

Thursday evening after the first jam was held at Marquerite Horberg's Hot House. The only disappointment was the lack of attendance for there were more musicians waiting to play than fans in the audience and there was only a charge of five dollars to get in. The session began with Mwata Bowden on tenor sax, Ken Price on piano, Harrison Bankhead on bass, and Avreeayl Ra on drums. Flutist James Newton was on the bandstand for the second number and before they started, set leader Mwata Bowden called out to flutist Niki Mitchell, "Come on Niki. Don't be bashful." Niki didn't have to worry because she is a highly accomplished flutist who has studied under Newton and has carried Raahsahn Roland Kirk's style of playing the flute and singing simultaneously further by more pronounced singing. Newton smiles in amazement as he watched and listened to Niki work out. Among other musicians who sat in were tenor saxist Vandy Harris and bassist Brian Smith.

For Friday's first set, trumpeter Malachi Thompson and trombonist Stephen Berry led a group of brass players in a tribute to the late Lester Bowie who was the second chairman of the AACM and was a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and leader of the very popular Brass Fantasy ensemble. In addition to Thompson and Berry, Robert Griffin, Jr., Ameen Muhammed, and Rasul Saddik were on trumpets, Isaiah Jackson was on trombone, and Gerald Powell was on tuba.

The second set featured the 8 Bold Souls with special guest, alto saxist, Oliver Lake. The 8 Bold Souls consists of leader and tenor saxist, Edward Wilkerson,Jr. baritone saxist and clarinetist Mwata Bowden, trumpeter Robert Griffin, Jr., trombonist Isaiah S. Jackson, cellist Naomi Millender, Gerald Deon Powell on tuba, and Dushon Mosley on drums.

Friday's `after the fest' jam was held at Jerry's Pal Tavern, an older, slightly run down looking club, located in south Chicago, with well worn portraits of earlier African American musical stars such as Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughn, hanging on the walls. Tenor saxophonist David Boykins started off the music with Rollo Radford on bass and Avreeayl Ra on drums. This trio had been on the band stand for about a half hour when up rushed Oliver Lake with his alto sax and from the first bar, Oliver was on fire! Soon, Oliver was joined on the band stand by alto saxist Ernest Dawkins, tenor saxist Hannah Jon Taylor, and trombonist Isaiah Jackson. Before the set was over, Oliver performed his recitation "Separation," which is found in liner notes of Arista Records album, "NTV: Point from Which Creation Begins."

Adegoke Steve Colson led a group which opened up Saturday's concert. His wife, Iqua, was featured on vocals on most of his compositions. Violinist Leroy Jenkins, Wallace McMillan on reeds, trombonist Isaiah Jackson, trumpeter Rasul Saddik and Steve Colson on piano were provided ample solos. Harrison Bankhead on bass and Dushon Mosley along with Colson made up the rhythm section.

The high light of the festival came in the second set on Saturday when around twenty-musicians took part with Douglas Ewart and InventionsHomage to the Ancestors. The ensemble included twelve reedists/flutists, five percussionists, two bass players, two vocalists, a trumpeter, a trombonist, a pianist and a harp player. Among those soloing were James Newton on flute, Mwata Bowden on soprano sax, Edward Wilkerson on tenor sax, Hannah Jon Taylor on tenor sax, Joseph Jarman on bass flute, James Johnson on bassoon and Douglas Ewart on clarinet and soprano sax. The set closed with group improvisation by the twenty-five including Douglas, Mwata Bowden, and Edward Wilkerson sitting up front on the floor playing the didjerido.

There was a standing room only crowd waiting in Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge well before the AACM musicians arrived for the `after the fest' jam on Saturday. Fred quickly put together a rhythm section of Yapree Howell on piano, Darius Savage on bass and an unnamed drummer to accompany Fred on this tenor saxophone before the AACM musicians arrived. The AACM jam began with Carei Thomas on piano, Darius Savage on bass, Thurman Barker on drums and David Boykin on tenor sax. Soon after, Oliver Lake took his turn on the bandstand following Boykin. After Lake, a long line of musicians including Ernest Dawkins on alto sax, Mwata Bowden on baritone sax, Hannah Jon Taylor on tenor sax, Malachi Thompson and Rasul Saddik on trumpets and James Johnson on bassoon took their turns with long solos. To my disappointment, Oliver Lake left early because of the long line.

I caught a Jazz set not connected with the AACM celebration Sunday afternoon. For a number of years, Joe Segal has scheduled Johnny Griffin who lives in a chateau out in the country near Paris, France to bring his quartet to the Jazz Showcase the last week of April. During these visits, family member of both Joe and Johnny get together and serve a free buffet to all Jazz fans attending the Sunday afternoon matinee in celebration of Joe's and Johnny's birthday which is around that time. Johnny used Michael Weiss on piano, John Webber on bass and Kenny Barron on drums. For the set, the band played all standard tunes: Just One of Those Things, Jumpin' with Symphony Sid, Body And Soul, All Through the Night and Now's the Time. The soul food was great!

The first act on Sunday, the last day of the AACM celebration, was an all female group called "Ye' Bindu (Mother's Pearl)." The group consisted of Maia, leader and vibraharp, marimba, harp, and percussion; Maggie Brown, vocals; Coco Elysees, conga; Bethany Pickens, drums and piano; Naomi Millender, cello; Niki Mitchell, flute, Shanta Nurullah, bass; Aquilla Sadalla, bass clarinet and vocals; Ann E. Ward, piano and vocals. All Ye'Bindu members were given a chance to solo with Maia on harp and Niki Mitchell on flute while roller skating all over the stage being the most interesting.

The second and final set of the AACM celebration consisted of the Ari Brown Ensemble with Ari on saxophones and piano, Vandy Harris and Joseph Jarman on saxophones, Robert Griffin, jr. on trumpet, Malachi Favors Maghostut on contrabass, Avreeayl Ra on drums and Art "Turk" Burton on congas. The ensemble performed Ari Brown compositions.

The AACM ceremony concluded with a "Closing Drum Ceremony" with nine percussionists playing all types of instruments featuring current AACM chairman Ernest Dawkins and past AACM chairman Douglas Ewart vigorously pounding African drums with mallets.

For year, Fred Anderson has held jam sessions at his Velvet Lounge Sunday evenings from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. primarily to give musicians, especially the younger ones, a chance to play and grow. It was after 10:30 p.m. before I was able to make it to the Velvet Lounge where I found three fine young saxophonists taking turns soloing backed by piano, bass and drums with only Fred as an audience. Fred is very proud of these young musicians, Dennis Winslett and Jarrad Harris, alto saxophonists and a number of other young musicians who come to jam Sunday evenings.

by Jimmie Jones


 Jimmy Jones receiving his awardEditor: Jimmie Jones was also one of the recipients of an award at this event (photo below taken by somebody other than Jimmie himself, of jimmie with Janis Lane Ewart, master of ceremonmies, and Teresa Vazguez, AACM's newly hired ARts Administration.)

 The award that Jimmie got.

And the award that Jimmie got.

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