Roscoe Mitchell

Roscoe Mitchell Roscoe Mitchell is born in Chigago, Illinois on 3 August 1940.

Internationally renowned musician, composer, and innovator, began his distinguished career in the spirited 1960s of Chicago, Illinois. His role in the resurrection of long neglected woodwind instruments of extreme register, his innovation as a solo woodwind performer, his and his reassertion of the composer into what has traditionally been an improvisational form have placed him at the forefront of contemporary music for over four decades. A leader in the field of avant-garde jazz and contemporary music, Mr. Mitchell is a founding member of the world renowned Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the Trio Space.

Mr. Mitchell has recorded 87 albums and has written over 250 compositions. His compositions range from classical to contemporary, from wild and forceful free jazz to ornate chamber music. His instrumental expertise includes the saxophone family, from the sopranino to the bass saxophone; the recorder family, from sopranino to great bass recorder; flute, piccolo, clarinet, and the transverse flute. Also, for over 35 years, he has designed an elaborate percussion instrument called the Percussion Cage, consisting of instruments from America, China, Tibet, Africa, Australia, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, and Turkey, as well many found instruments.

He is the recipient of many honors and awards including the following: The American Music Center Letter of Distinction 2004 - Art Ensemble of Chicago; The International Jazz Critics Poll, Down Beat Magazine (Composer "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" [1980], Best Jazz Group (Established)-Art Ensemble of Chicago [1999, 1985, 1982, 1981, 1980, 1973, 1971], Record of the Year-Nonaah [1979]); Jazz Personality of the Year, City of Madison, Wisconsin [1997]; Named Madison Music Legend by “Madison” Magazine [2001]; Certificate of Appreciation, The St. Louis Public Schools Role Model Experiences Program [1996]; Honorary Citizen of Atlanta, GA [1980]; Outstanding Service to Jazz Education Award, National Association of Jazz Educators [1988]; Certificate of Appreciation, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Smithsonian Institution [1979]; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Image Award [1982].

Mr. Mitchell has received numerous composition and performance grants/commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts (Individual Composer’s Grant [1985, 1979], NEA Jazz Fellowship Grant [1981], NEA Jazz/Folk/Ethnic Grant [1975], Composer/Performer Grant [1975], NEA and Michigan State University matching grants {Art Ensemble of Chicago} [1973]); the John Cage Award for Music-Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, Inc. [1997, 1996]; Arts Midwest Jazz Masters [1991]; November Music 2000; the Minnesota Composer's Forum [1986]; Meet the Composer, Cultural Series Grant, Center for International Performance and Exhibition, Chicago IL [1996]; Mutable Music [2007, 2005, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995]; the Comnicut Foundation [1990, 1982]; the Wisconsin Arts Board (Individual Project Grant [1987], Individual Composer’s Grant [1986], Individual Composer’s/Vilas Foundation Grant [1981]); the Institut de Recherche at Coordination Acoustique Musique, Paris {with David Wessel} [1986]; Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission Project Grant, Madison Committee for the Arts; and the Madison Festival of the Lakes Grant [1988]; ASCAP Plus Award [2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997]. Mr. Mitchell was artist in residence for The Twenty Fifth Annual Chicago Jazz Festival 2003, where he was commissioned to write three works for Jazz Big Band. “Tech Ritter and the Megabytes,” “Cards for BIg Band” and a revision of “Line Fine Lyon Seven.” In 2005 Mr. Mitchell received a commission from the Mutable Music Foundation to compose “White Tiger Disguise” for Baritone Voice and String Quintet. He also received a commission in 2006 to compose a work for Baritone Voice and Chamber Orchestra.

Mr. Mitchell is the founder of the Creative Arts Collective of East Lansing, Michigan, The Roscoe Mitchell Sextet, The Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, The Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble, The Sound Ensemble, The Roscoe Mitchell New Chamber Ensemble, and Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory.

His teaching credits include the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the California Institute of the Arts, the AACM School of Music, the Creative Music Studio, The New England Conservatory Boston Masschusetts, University of Wisconsin Plattville, Wisconsin, Oberlin College Ohio and numerous workshops and artists-in-residence positions throughout the world. August 2007, Mr. Mitchell assumed the Diarius Milhaud Chair at Mills College, Oakland, California.

February 5, 2007 Mr. Mitchell premiered “Q” a work Jazz Big Band at UW Platteville, Platteville, WI.

He also premiered in March 2007 three new works for his large ensemble “The Note Factory,” “Exflover Five, “ “Quintet 2007A For Eight” and “Trio Four For Eight” during a European tour in Bergamo, Italy, Nickelsdorf, Austria and Berghausen, Germany.

November 9, 2006 Mr. Mitchell premiered two compositions in New York City at Merkin Concert Hall: “WHITE TIGER DISGUISE” for Baritone Voice and String Quintet and “Far Side” for Alto Saxophone and three Double Basses.

In 2004, Mr. Mitchell received a commission from the City of Munich to compose three compositions, “COMPOSITION / ONE, TWO AND THREE” for Large Ensemble, which were premiered at the Symposium on Improvised Music in Munich, Germany on Sept. 11.

In 2003 , at the home of the SEM Ensemble, Willow Place Auditorium in Brooklyn, NY, Mr. Mitchell premiered “Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City”, a composition for Baritone Voice and Orchestra, with text by Joseph Jarman. This premier was performed by Petr Kotik and the SEM Ensemble with Thomas Buckner, Baritone Voice. He also premiered the work at Ostrova Days, in the Czech Republic, where conductor Petr Kotik added musicians from the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra to increase the size of the orchestra from 35 to 90 players. At Ostrova Days Mr. Mitchell also gave master classes and a lecture on the AACM and compositional/improvisational music. He also premiered”21B”, a work for solo soprano saxophone.

Also in 2003, he was selected as Artist-In-Residence for the 25th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival where he conducted an open rehearsal/workshop, premiered three works for jazz big band, and premiered two compositions for an nine-piece ensemble.

In 2000, Mr. Mitchell premiered two new compositions in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Nederlands; Gent, Belgium; and Essen, Germany. “The Bells of Fifty Ninth Street”, a work for Alto Saxophone and Gamelan Orchestra, and “59A”, a composition for Solo Soprano Saxophone. These works were commissioned by November Music 2000.

On May 20, 1998, Mr. Mitchell premiered "Fallen Heroes", a work for Orchestra, Baritone Voice, and Solo Alto Saxophone. This work was premiered by the Petr Kotik SEM Ensemble with Thomas Buckner, Baritone Voice, and Roscoe Mitchell, Solo Alto Saxophone, at New York City's Alice Tully Hall. “Fallen Heroes” received it's European premiere at Prague Spring Festival in the Czech Republic on May 22, 1999. In this performance, Mr. Kotik, once again, added musicians from the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra to increase the size of the orchestra from 35 to 90 players.

On June 17, 1995, Mr. Mitchell premiered “Memoirs of a Dying Parachutist”, a work for Baritone Voice and Chamber Orchestra, with text by Daniel Moore at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in New York City. This work was performed by Petr Kotik and the SEM Ensemble with Thomas Buckner, Baritone Voice.



Biography by Chris Kelsey

Roscoe Mitchell is the rare jazz musician who also moves comfortably within the realm of contemporary classical music. It might even be said that Mitchell is a more convincing artist when working in European-influenced forms. When relying on structural and formal jazz conventions, Mitchell can often come off as stilted and unswinging. On the other hand, his forays into free-time, nontonal improvisation (both structured and unstructured) are as spontaneous and as emotionally satisfying as the best jazz.
Mitchell's improvisations exercise extraordinary discipline and intellectual rigor. He's at once a patient and impulsive improviser, prone to alternating episodes of order and chaos, clarity and complexity.
Mitchell is a technically superb -- if idiosyncratic -- saxophonist. His tone on alto and soprano tends to be edgy and brittle.
At his most lyrical, Mitchell's saxophone lines exploit the instrument's strength as an interval-making machine; his improvised melodies often bear similarity to works by the classical composer Morton Feldman, though Mitchell's music is more overtly emotional. At his most energetic, Mitchell takes advantage of the saxophone's timbral flexibility and the horn's natural tendencies, which allow a player to play fast, scalar lines. Whether playing soft or loud, slow or fast, Mitchell's playing is invariably suffused with passion and intensity.

Mitchell played saxophone and clarinet as a teenager. While stationed in Germany as a member of the Army, Mitchell played in a band with tenor saxophone innovator Albert Ayler. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1961, Mitchell played bop with a group of Wilson Junior College students who included bassist Malachi Favors and saxophonists Joseph Jarman, Henry Threadgill, and Anthony Braxton.
Mitchell began listening to the recordings of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. He studied with pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams.
In 1962, he began playing in Abrams' newly organized Experimental Band, a rehearsal group that explored many of the contemporary alternatives to conventional jazz improvisation and composition.

In 1965, he became one of the first members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a nonprofit organization established by Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran. The AACM were devoted to the same principles as the Experimental Band.
In 1966, Mitchell's sextet (with trumpeter Lester Bowie, tenor saxophonist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, bassist Favors, trombonist Lester Lashley, and drummer Alvin Fiedler) became the first AACM group to record. Abstract in concept and execution, the album, Sound (Delmark), was an in-depth examination of the interaction between sound and silence, utilizing such unorthodox devices as spontaneous collective improvisation, toy instruments, and non-musical noise. A departure from the more extroverted work of the New York-based free jazz players, Sound pointed the way to a new manner of playing jazz-based music.
Around this time, Mitchell also performed and recorded as a solo saxophonist.
By 1967, the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble consisted of the leader, Favors, trumpeter Lester Bowie, and drummer Phillip Wilson. That combination did not record; Wilson was replaced by Jarman, and in 1969 the group traveled to Europe. The sojourn was very successful. The band -- renamed the Art Ensemble of Chicago -- recorded extensively, particularly in France. The resulting albums formed the initial basis of their reputation.

Mitchell played briefly in St. Louis upon returning to the United States in 1971. He then resettled in Chicago.
Around 1974 he established the Creative Arts Collective. Based in East Lansing, MI, the group was similar in purpose to the AACM.
The '70s found Mitchell expanding on his solo saxophone concept, working with his AACM cohorts in various combinations and performing with the Art Ensemble. The latter group became possibly the most highly acclaimed jazz band of the next two decades, winning critics' polls with regularity.
In the '80s and '90s, Mitchell also led the Sound Ensemble, who included members of his Creative Arts Collective.
In the '90s, Mitchell branched out even more, collaborating more frequently with such classical composer/performers as Pauline Oliveros and Thomas Buckner. A trio with Buckner and the virtuoso pianist Borah Bergman was an ongoing and effective unit.
Since 2000, Mitchell has remained active, releasing a handful of recordings including Solo 3 in 2004 and Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 and Samsara in 2007.
Beginning in the 1990s and extending into the 21st century, Mitchell has also performed and recorded extensively as the leader of his Note Factory ensemble, a group ranging in size from a sextet to a nonet; Note Factory albums include This Dance Is for Steve McCall (Black Saint, 1993), Nine to Get Ready (1999, ECM), Song for My Sister (Pi, 2002), Bad Guys (2003, Around Jazz), and Far Side (2010, ECM). ~ Chris Kelsey, Rovi

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