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John Tchicai

By approaching jazz from a wide scope, Afro-Danish-American John Tchicai has been continuously progressive throughout his life. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1936, of a Danish mother and a Congolese father and growing up in healthy surroundings, John Martin Tchicai became a leading exponent of the jazz avant-garde in New York in the '60s and a father-figure for the European avant-garde after that. Now based in Davis, California, and Claira, France, by a single-mindedness of purpose and action, his work still reflects what he's always been doing, which is innovate and inspire other people, in a most refreshing way. The Danish ministry of Culture recognized his work by awarding him a lifetime grant.


John first began to play the violin as a child, and switched to the alto saxophone and clarinet at age 16. He studied with private teachers and attended the Conservatory of Music in Aarhus, Denmark, for two years. During the late '60s and early '70s, John began to play bamboo flutes, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone and some percussion, and when he discovered the tenor saxophone in the early '80s, he put the alto aside in favor of this, which has become his main instrument. John uses keyboards and sequencers as tools for composing.


In the late '50s and early '60s, John explored the Danish and Northern European jazz-scene. He moved to New York City in '62. In the following 4 years, he recorded on 11 albums (a.o. "Mohawk", "Ascension" with John Coltrane, "New York Eye and Ear Control" with Albert Ayler), co-founded 2 ensembles ("New York Contemporary Five" and "New York Art Quartet" which was a harbinger of collective musical approaches and philosophies that leading avant-groups of the '70s would develop) that he toured Europe with, and was a member of "The Jazz Composers Guild". He moved back to Denmark in '66 where he co-founded "Cadentia Nova Danica", at one time a 30-piece ensemble which recorded "Afrodisiaca". In the '70s, John discovered hatha yoga and meditation which became lifelong focusing points in his spiritual development. He performed less often in this period, but taught elementary schools, composed, and led workshops. By the '80s, he had picked up touring and recording internationally again, traveling through Europe, to India, Japan and Africa, performing as a sideman as well as leading his own groups. In 1991 John moved to California. Here he founded "John Tchicai and the Archetypes", a 7-piece band that fused afro-jazz with blues-rock and released the album "Love Is Touching". Currently, he teaches workshops in schools and in prisons, composes and works on new projects. He practices yoga, pranayama and meditation, and still tours internationally.

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... I heard a group in Denmark last year, John Tchicai and the trombone player Roswell Rudd, and sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn't. But when it happened, it was marvelous. They started out with something, and it happened to be a good melodic idea, rythmic idea, and they would elaborate on that, and after a while, they would get into things that sounded like, I guess... complete freedom but still related to an essential idea. John is one of the most mature players in this kind of music." —Booker Ervin in Downbeat, regarding the 3-28-'65 version of "Holy Ghost"

"... big bones, amber tones and gentle moves..." —Fred Bouchard, Jazz Times

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Lars Winberg
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