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Muhal Richard Abrams

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  • Born: Chicago, IL
  • Years Active: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Composer, arranger, and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams is largely a self-taught musician who was deeply influenced by the bop innovations of the late Bud Powell. Abrams has been a beacon in the jazz community as a co-founder (and first president), in 1965, of Chicago's legendary vanguard music institution, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). While Abrams is well-known as a mentor to three generations of younger musicians -- born in 1930 he was a decade older than his closest peer in the AACM -- as a bandleader and professor at the Banff Center, Columbia University, Syracuse University, and the BMI Composers' Workshop, he is not always recognized for his substantial contribution as a player and recording artist. Abrams' first gigs were playing the blues, R&B, and hard bop circuit in Chicago and working as a sideman with everyone from Dexter Gordon and Max Roach to Ruth Brown and Woody Shaw. But Abrams' own recordings reveal his strength as an innovator. His 1967 debut, Levels and Degrees of Light on Chicago's Delmark label, set the course for his own career and that of many of his AACM contemporaries, including Henry Threadgill, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Leo Smith, and Anthony Braxton. Abrams is also a conduit for the tradition. Though his music is noted for its vanguard edginess, he nonetheless bridges everything in his playing from boogie-woogie to bebop to free improv, as evidenced by Sightsong and Rejoicing With the Light, both on the Black Saint label. Abrams has been a composer that moves through the classical tradition as well. Novi, his first symphony for orchestra and jazz quartet, has been performed at various festivals, and the Kronos Quartet performed his String Quartet, No. 2.

eMusic Features


Plug Him In: Comedy, the Electric Saxophone, and Eddie Harris

By Kevin Whitehead, Contributor

There have been plenty of amusing jazz musicians, from Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller on down, but few as riotously funny as tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris. In 1975 he even put out a comedy record of on-stage chatter, The Reason Why I'm Talking S--t. The opening monologue is a masterpiece of audience alienation, in which he describes what's on the minds of the men and women at that evening's Eddie Harris concert. By the time… more »


The AACM in Chicago Now: A Few Bold Souls

By Kevin Whitehead, Contributor

In A Power Stronger Than Itself, George Lewis's book on the AACM we were raving about last month, the original Chicago chapter of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians went through a rough patch after a mid-'70s exodus/brain drain saw many AACM principals moving to New York. They included heavy hitters like Muhal Richard Abrams, Amina Claudine Myers, the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Lester Bowie and Joseph Jarman, Leroy Jenkins, Chico Freeman and… more »


George Lewis & the AACM’s Staying Power

By Kevin Whitehead, Contributor

Finally out, and worth the wait: George Lewis's sprawling book on the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians — the Chicago musicians'cooperative that spawned Lewis, Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Henry Threadgill and many more valued improvisers and composers. Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music is very dense but very readable, filled with fascinating stories, capsule bios and rewarding side trips. Lewis has a gift for explaining abstruse… more »