The Art Ensemble of Chicago is an avant-garde jazz ensemble that grew out of Chicago's AACM in the late 1960s. The group continues to tour and record through 2006, despite the deaths of two of the founding members.
The Art Ensemble is notable for its integration of musical styles spanning jazz's entire history and for their multi-instrumentalism, especially the use of what they termed "little instruments" in addition to the traditional jazz lineup; "little instruments" can include bicycle horns, bells, birthday party noisemakers, wind chimes, and a vast array of percussion instruments (including found objects). The group also uses costumes and face paint in performance. These characteristics combine to make the ensemble's performances as much a visual spectacle as an aural one, with each musician playing from behind a large array of drums, bells, gongs, and other instruments. When playing in Europe in 1969, the group were using more than 500 instruments.  Contents
Members of what was to become the Art Ensemble performed together under various band names in the mid-sixties, releasing their first album, Sound, as the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet in 1966. The Sextet included saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut, who over the next year went on to play together as the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble. In 1967 they were joined by fellow AACM members Joseph Jarman (saxophone) and Philip Wilson (drums), and made a number of recordings for Nessa.
As noted above, the musicians were all active multi-instrumentalists: Jarman and Mitchell's primary instruments were alto and tenor saxes, respectively, but they played many other saxophones (ranging from the tiny sopranino to the large bass), flutes and clarinets. In addition to trumpet, Bowie played flugelhorn, cornet, shofar and conch shells. Favors added touches of banjo and bass guitar. Over the years, most of the musicians dabbled on piano, synthesizer and other keyboards.
In 1969, Wilson left the group to join blues singer/harmonica player Paul Butterfield's band. That same year, the remaining group travelled to Paris , where they became known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The immediate impetus for the name change came from a French promoter who added "of Chicago" to their name for purely descriptive purposes, but the new name stuck because band members felt that it better reflected the cooperative nature of the group. In Paris the ensemble were based at the Théâtre des Vieux Colombier  and their distinctive music with percussion roles dispersed throughout the quartet was documented in a range of records on the Freedom and BYG labels. They also recorded "Comme à la radio" with Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkacem as a drummerless quartet before welcoming percussionist Famoudou Don Moye to the group in 1970.