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A Fireside Chat With The Art Ensemble Of Chicago

By Published: October 16, 2003

Malachi Favors: It just overtook us that we could do what we wanted to do. After seeing African groups and how they would be great dancers and great on the congas. You have the feeling that you have to do anything to enhance the music. Don’t hold the music back. Let it come on out in any kind of way that you feel.

Roscoe Mitchell: That’s on all of us now because we’re living in the age of the super-musician. That is what is emerging right now, musicians that defy categories because you have a whole group of musicians that really study music. Logically, that is really the next step. I think that is why you have musicians that have diversified to playing different instruments. Not only do they specialize in several different instruments, they specialize in several different areas of music. The super-musician has to be concerned about not only learning his instrument, but they have to be a good performer and composer. Everybody is being faced with the problem of improvisation and it is really difficult to be a good improviser if you don’t know anything about composing.

Fred Jung: Then can someone who strictly plays standards be considered a valid improviser or is that person merely a lounge act?

Roscoe Mitchell: No, I don’t think they are. I didn’t make up the rules. The people that are really studying, they are happening. Nothing is by chance. To really be a good improviser, you’ve got to study music. You’ve got to study composition. You have to know counterpoint. You have to know that if somebody’s playing eighth notes, you can play triplets or half notes. You have to be trained and know how to orchestrate. You have to know dynamic ranges of certain instruments. You have to work on a scale of moveable dynamics. If I am playing with a violinist, my dynamics are different than if I am playing with another saxophonist. The thing about it is that it takes a long time. I have realized that it takes a long time to get to be what I am trying to be. It is a lot of study.

Fred Jung: How imperative is it for future generations to inherit the significance of African music?

Malachi Favors: It is very important because the rhythm base is from Africa. If you listen to African drums, no one can switch rhythms in the midst of rhythms like they can. The melodies, if you notice and go back in our history as black Americans, you will notice the sound of so called negro spirituals, you will pick up the sound of African ceremonial music. You will notice a great tie there.

Joseph Jarman: It is universal music. When you listen to Art Ensemble music, you’ll find elements from all the musical tones of the whole universe within it. Even though its roots are Afro-American oriented, it is a universal expression. You will find every possible form of expression through music that exists within the contexts of the music that the Art Ensemble plays.

Fred Jung: And the future?

Malachi Favors: I am working on something. It could be out in a year, maybe less. I’m working on something.

Joseph Jarman: I will be in Los Angeles with Milford Graves and a Los Angeles percussionist. I also work with Leroy Jenkins and Myra Melford in a group called Equal Interests and we will have a recording at the beginning of next year.

Roscoe Mitchell: I’ve just finished three solo CDs. I am working on a record of written compositions that will also be released next year on Mutable Music.

Selected reviews at All About Jazz:

The Meeting (Pi Recordings, 2003) 1 | 2
Tribute to Lester (ECM, 2003) 1 | 2
Double reviews: 1 | 2

Selected Recordings (ECM, 2002)
Live In Milano (Golden Years of New Jazz, 2001)
Coming Home Jamaica (Atlantic, 1999)

Web sites:
Art Ensemble of Chicago
ECM Records
Pi Recordings

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