The Chicago avant-garde jazz patriarch Muhal Richard Abrams died today at 87. Named a National Endowment of The Arts Jazz Master in 2010, the pianist, composer and bandleader was at the center of Chicago’s free jazz movement, which was formalized in 1965 when he co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. The Art Ensemble of Chicago became the best-known group that grew out of the AACM. Freedom and unfettered imagination were the hallmarks of Mr. Abrams’ piano improvisation, but he never abandoned his ability to summon the styles and spirits of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, avatars of bebop.
Over the years, Abrams led several groups, including the one he called The Experimental Band. When he led it at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2015, it included a number of the leading lights of the free jazz movement. Our excerpt from that concert has Abrams and Amina Claudine Myers, piano; Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill, alto saxophone; LaRoy Wallace McMillan, baritone saxophone; Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; George Lewis, trombone; Leonard Jones, bass; Thurman Barker, drums and vibraphone; and Reggie Nicholson, drums and marimba.
The Abrams family has said that they will not have a funeral, but will hold memorial services in Chicago and New York. Details are to be announced later.