Synopses & Reviews
On the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s, African American artists and musicians grappled with new language and forms inspired by the black nationalist turn in the Civil Rights movement.and#160;The Freedom Principle
, which accompanies an exhibition on the topic at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, traces their history and shows how it continues to inform contemporary artists around the world.
The book coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a still-flourishing organization of Chicago musicians who challenge jazzandrsquo;s boundaries. Combining archival materials such as brochures, photographs, sheet music, and record covers with contemporary art work that respond to the 1960s Black Arts Movement,and#160;The Freedom Principleand#160;explores this tradition of cultural expression from, as one AACM group used to put it, the andldquo;ancient to the future.andrdquo; Essays by curators Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete, AACM member and historian George Lewis, art historian Rebecca Zorach, and gallerist John Corbett accompany beautiful reproductions of work by artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Barbaraand#160;Jones-Hogu, Cauleen Smith, Rashid Johnson, Nick Cave, and many more. A roundtable conversation features Beckwith, Roelstraete, curator Hamza Walker, current AACM member and cellist Tomeka Reid, and artist Romi Crawford, with additional comments from poet and scholar Fred Moten. A chronology and curated playlist of AACM-related recordings are also included. The resulting book offers a rich sense of a global movement, with crucial roots in Chicago, driven by a commitment to experimentation, improvisation, collective action, and the pursuit of freedom.
and#8220;George Lewis has outdone himself with this extraordinary volume.and#160;His unrelenting intelligence and ear for detail have produced a challenging compendium of late twentieth-century African Americana. This is not only a study of the AACM, it is a hope-drenched encomium to modernist creativity and the oppositional imagination.and#8221;
and#8220;In bringing intellectual breadth and what Lester Bowie calls and#8216;good old country ass-kickingand#8217; to bear on past and present indignities, Lewis has produced a fitting companion to the music he celebrates.and#8221;
and#8220;An important book. . . . Mr. Lewis narrates its development with exacting context and incisive analysis, occasionally delving into academic cultural theory. But because the book includes biographical portraits of so many participating musicians, itand#8217;s a swift, engrossing read.and#8221;
"More than any other recent new-jazz-studies or improvisation-studies monograph, A Power Stronger Than Itself draws clear connections between the collective history and aesthetics of a community of improvisers and the musical procedures they have employed."
"Aand#160;remarkable book, not just for corralling an enormous amount of informationand#8212;interviews, critical reviews, music charts, news reports (the bibliography runs 35 pages)and#8212;but for making the result a digestible and thoroughly entertaining 500-page read.and#8221;
and#8220;Written with the eye of an ethnographer, the ear of a performer, and the heart of a hometown dweller,and#160;George Lewisand#8217;s account of the development of the AACM is an engaging story, a romance in which several generations of musicians triumph to create a music that travels around the world, yet is completely unique to their experiences.and#160;Reinscribing Chicagoand#160;as a city of enormous artistic vitality and tough aesthetics,and#160;A Power Stronger Than Itselfand#160;brilliantly redraws the map of jazz and widens the horizon for new and experimental music.and#8221;
and#8220;The AACM is one of our great cultural inventions. This extraordinary book embodies its principles, for George Lewis draws on multiple traditions: scholarship, reportage, testament, analysis, theory and criticism come together with virtuosity and scrupulous discipline. A Power Stronger Than Itself
remaps the landscape of American experimental music. Academics, critics and musicians will have to reconfigure such terms as and#8216;jazz,and#8217; and#8216;classical,and#8217; and#8216;soulful,and#8217; and#8216;avant-garde,and#8217; and#8216;blackand#8217; and and#8216;white.and#8217; Now the past yields unexpected wonders; the future unexpected possibilities.and#8221;
"With A Power Stronger Than Itself, Lewis exceeds expectations. For rather than merely recount the ascent of the AACM, he elegantly sets it against the backdrop of cultural, racial and social changes that shook the twentieth century. . . . Lewis unreels this tale with dramatic flourish and scholarly authority, in effect telling the story of not only the AACM but also the city where itand#8217;s centered, Chicago."
"Lewisand#8217;s landmark book. . .and#160;goes deeper into the formation and development of the AACM than any previous history, and as a formal acknowledgement of the groupand#8217;s enormous importance and influence itand#8217;s long overdue."
"This could very well be the most anticipiated book of the year. . . . The long wait is now over and patrience will be rewarded. George Lewis's encyclopedic knowledge, thorough research and in-depth interviews have produced an eye-opening work. . . . Overall, it is a pleasant read, scholarly but not overly academic in tone, covering a wide stylistic range--from essay to storytelling to autobiography."
"[Lewis] sets a new standard for scholarly writing about the people who make Great Black Music, or any other kind.. . . . Reading Lewis's book about the AACM makes one want to have been a part of it."
"Simply put, George E. Lewis' new and long-awaited history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) must be considered among the most important books ever written about creative music. A tour de force of narrative history and analysis driven by a clearly articulated point of view, it draws on a massive body of scholarship and original research that places Great Black Music in its historical, aesthetic, and social contexts. It will certainly shape the scholarly, critical, and public discussion of jazz and creative music for years to come."
"Rich and dense and gratifyingly readable. . . . [Lewis] makes a scholarly portrait of a complex community into a ripping good and inspiring yarn."
"Very dense but very readable, filled with fascinating stories, capsule bios and rewarding side trips. Lewis has a gift for explaining abstruse ideas without dumbing down. As a reader, I'm torn between wanting to savor it slowly and devour it fast. Two hundred pages in, I've got weeks worth of stuff to think about."
"An unequaled volume on both its subject and on Black creative collectivity."
"Lewis' writing is lively, avoiding the trap of sounding too academic and instead creating a story that is compelling in its portrait of musicians dedicated to their art. This is a fine work on an area of jazz that deserves wider recognition and greater understanding."
"This essential book is music history from the inside. . . . Lewis is telling an interesting and important story here and telling it well. Anyone who is interested in modern serious music will learn from and enjoy this outstanding book."
"An illuminating, articulate panorama of a little-examined yet highly influential organization, one whose 'graduates' have permeated every element of modern music."
"The crystalline study is thoroughly engaging. . . . Even the most dedicated improvised music aficionado will find anecdotes, relationships and hitherto unknown performances and biographies laid out in stunning detail. . . . The book is a graceful intertwining of oral history, hard research and insightful scrutiny of a complicated organism."
andldquo;Astounding. . . . Fuses the history of music and the history of art into a single, more complete narrative, and makes it look easy.andrdquo;
Founded in 1965 and still active today, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is an American institution with an international reputation. From its working-class roots on the South Side of Chicago, the AACM went on to forge an extensive legacy of cultural and social experimentation, crossing both musical and racial boundaries. The success of individual members and ensembles such as Muhal Richard Abrams, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Anthony Braxton has been matched by the enormous influence of the collective itself in inspiring a generation of musical experimentalists. George E. Lewis, who joined the collective as a teenager in 1971, establishes the full importance and vitality of the AACM with this communal history, written with a symphonic sweep that draws on a cross-generational chorus of voices and a rich collection of rare images.
Faced with shrinking economic opportunities in Chicago and a segregated music industry, the original members of the AACM found inspiration in the civil rights movement's call for change through self-determination and collective action. These musicians pooled their individual strengths in a new organization powerfully committed to a forward-thinking approach to musical creation and performance. Evolving a range of experimental methods, from invented instruments and unusual musical scores to improvisation and the early use of computers, the AACM challenged the borders separating classical music and jazz.
Moving from Chicago to New York to Paris, and from founding member Steve McCall's kitchen table to Carnegie Hall, A Power Stronger Than Itself uncovers a vibrant, multicultural universe and brings to light a major piece of the history of avant-garde music and art.
Founded in 1965 and still active today, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is an American institution with an international reputation. George E. Lewis, who joined the collective as a teenager in 1971, establishes the full importance and vitality of the AACM with this communal history, written with a symphonic sweep that draws on a cross-generational chorus of voices and a rich collection of rare images.
Moving from Chicago to New York to Paris, and from founding member Steve McCalland#8217;s kitchen table to Carnegie Hall, A Power Stronger Than Itself uncovers a vibrant, multicultural universe and brings to light a major piece of the history of avant-garde music and art.
About the Author
George E. Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002, Lewis has made over 120 recordings as composer or performer, and his publications on experimental music appear regularly in scholarly and popular journals.
Table of Contents
Preface: The AACM and American Experimentalism
Introduction: An AACM Book: Origins, Antecedents, Objectives, Methods
Chapter 1: Foundations and Prehistory
Coming North: From Great Migration to Great Depression
Early Musical Experiences
Improvisation and Autodidacticism in 1950s Chicago
The End of an Era
Chapter 2: New Music, New York
Cultures of Spontaneity: Integrationism and the Two Avant-Gardes
Beyond a Bebop Boundary: The Challenge of New Music
Critical Responses: Anger, Noise, Failure
A Far Cry from New York: Segregation and Chicago Music
Chapter 3: The Development of the Experimental Band
Alternative Pedagogies of Experimental Music
Eyes on the Sparrow: The First New Chicagoans
Chapter 4: Founding the Collective
Urban Decline and the Turn to Communitarianism
Born on the Kitchen Table: Conceiving the Association
Naming Ceremony: Black Power and Black Institutions
Chapter 5: First Fruits
The First Year: Concerts, Critics, and Issues
New Arrivals and the University of Chicago
Travel, Recording, and Intermedia
Memories of the Sun: The AACM and Sun Ra
Chapter 6: The AACM Takes Off
The Black Arts Movement in Chicago
New Arrivals and New Ideas
The AACM School
Performing and Self-Determination
Cultural Nationalism in Postmodern Transition
Chapter 7: Americans in Paris
Conceiving the World Audience
Le Nouveau Paris Noir: Collectivity, Competition, and Excitement
The Politics of Culture: Black Power and May 1968
Die Emanzipation: The Rise of European Free Improvisation
Chapter 8: The AACMs Next Wave
More from the Midwest: The Black Artists Group
New Elbows on the Table: The AACMs Second Wave
Ten Years After: The Association Comes of Age
Chapter 9: The AACM in New York
Migration and Invasion
Europe and the Lofts
Beyond a Binary: The AACM and the Crisis in Criticism
Diversity and Its Discontents: New American Music after the Jazz Age
Chapter 10: The New Regime in Chicago
Generational Shifts in the Collective
The Two Cultures and a New Chapter
Form and Funding: Philanthropy and Black Music in the 1970s
Strains, Swirls, and Splits
Chapter 11: Into the Third Decade
The 1980s: Canons and Heterophony
Great Black Music: The Local and the Global
Leading the Third Wave: The New Women of the AACM
Chapter 12: Transition and Reflections
New York in Transition
Chicago in Reflection
Jai deux amours . . .
The Way of the Arranger
Expansion and Sacrifice
Boxing with Tradition
Contemplating the Post-jazz Continuum
Appendix A: List of Interviews Conducted by the Author
Appendix B: Selected AACM Recordings