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A Fireside Chat With The Art Ensemble Of Chicago

By Published: October 16, 2003

Malachi Favors: It was sort of a culmination of things. The group liked to see him come back, but I think, this was promoted by people requesting that. We could have went on with just the three of us until we made up our mind that this is what we wanted to do. We did do concerts with just the three of us. That was the unwritten policy of the Art Ensemble and the AACM.

Roscoe Mitchell: He had done what he went out to do and he was starting to feel like there was something missing in his life. He figured it out that it was music. He went off and became a Buddhist priest, but he had been doing music for so long that he felt like there was something missing in his life.

Famoudou Don Moye: He never actually left the group. We always felt that at some point, he was going to come back. People put more into that singular incident than what it actually was. Our agreement in the group was anybody that had critical issues in their life, they have to be addressed and we respect and support their ability to do that. He had to take care of some things that were critical in his life, which would make him be able to come back and play.

Fred Jung: And the Art Ensemble celebrates the return of Joseph Jarman with a new recording on Pi, The Meeting .

Roscoe Mitchell: That was done in February of this year. What it is for us is the bringing back of Joseph Jarman to the Art Ensemble.

Joseph Jarman: I loved it. It reminded me of the old days and had many new days in it.

Famoudou Don Moye: The record represents the moment that Jarman felt that he had addressed his issues and was ready to come back and contribute a hundred percent of what he could contribute. It is a work in progress. The music goes on.

Fred Jung: Was it like riding a bicycle?

Joseph Jarman: Yes, it was an easy transition because I had been practicing and focusing for that period time.

Roscoe Mitchell: Well, we had done some concerts before and now, it is all redefining itself. It is all a work in progress for me.

Fred Jung: The group could have remained the Roscoe Mitchell Quintet, why the Art Ensemble of Chicago?

Roscoe Mitchell: Well, it was very necessary for us to be able to survive. When it was the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet or whatever it was, we had receipts where we were getting like three dollars. Clearly, I was not paying the musicians. In order for it to really work out, everybody had to feel like they were really involved in it. We weren’t making any money. In order for it to stay together that long, everybody had to have some share in it.

Malachi Favors: Roscoe was the founder of the group and he had the option at one time to be the leader of the group, but he refused. That is when we became a co-op group because Lester and I offered him the leadership because he was the founder. This is how we ended up a co-op.

Fred Jung: Are today’s musicians missing the criterion of the proactive community that was the AACM?

Roscoe Mitchell: Yeah, I think they are. The way I look at it is that you have Chicago. Chicago has always been a place where musicians get together and rehearse and so on. New York, on the other hand, is not like that at all. Musicians are scattered all over the place. It is the same with Los Angeles. In L.A., everybody is scattered all over the place doing this and doing that. In San Francisco, however, people really do get together and rehearse. They have a tradition.

Famoudou Don Moye: It is a cycle. Cooperatives and collectives are part of the musical history. At any given time, you don’t have that many. Somewhere out there, there is a young group of musicians facing similar issues in their lives that we had to deal with in our lives. They are addressing them in similar ways. Hopefully, they will look at us and be able to find some meaning. We need a good, old-fashioned revolution somewhere to shake things up. There is not that much cutting edge. Everybody is afraid to take a chance. The bullshit is even thicker now.

Fred Jung: During the late Sixties and early Seventies, the Art Ensemble had a pronounced theatrical element to their performances.

Malachi Favors: I have to say that I initiated that. It came from, as you know, Fred, we’re African people here in the States and my first encounter with African music and African musicians was a concert downtown and I went to see it. This was before the Art Ensemble. I was taken down by it. It refreshed my spirit and I wanted to be into that some kind of way. At the time, I was with the Andrew Hill Trio and of course, that was a strictly jazz group, but I started bringing bells there. This is how it got started. When I got with Roscoe, anything went in music. You be the way you want to be and that’s how I started to get into the paint and all of that.

Fred Jung: Members of the Art Ensemble are all versed in multiple instruments, seemingly emphasizing you were great musicians, not merely great bass players or alto players.

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