The Art Ensemble of Chicago

Originally comprised of saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, trumpeter Lester Bowie, bassist Malachi Favors, and later, drummer Famoudou Don Moye, the Art Ensemble of Chicago enjoyed a critical reputation as the finest and most influential avant-garde jazz ensemble of the 1970s and '80s. Whether or not that reputation was wholly deserved is, in retrospect, subject to debate -- the World Saxophone Quartet and the Cecil Taylor Unit may well have been more influential. Nevertheless, the Art Ensemble was unquestionably a groundbreaking band. In the late '60s and early '70s, the Art Ensemble helped pioneer the fusion of jazz with European art music and indigenous African musics. It also fused jazz with itself; that is to say, the band combined elements of jazz history and pre-history -- for instance, music from the sanctified church services, minstrel shows, and bawdy houses of late 19th and early 20th century America -- with a modernist spirit of experimentation. A pronounced theatrical element was also essential to their work. Its members attained a measure of jazz stardom on their own -- particularly Bowie and, to a lesser extent, Mitchell -- but in the Art Ensemble, no single individual was greater than the whole. The band was an assortment of composers and improvisers of great individuality. Collectively, they created a compelling and unique entity.