Roscoe Mitchell

Roscoe Mitchell

Roscoe Mitchell at the Pomigliano Jazz Festival on July 15, 2005 (photo: Pasquale Ottaiano)
Background information
Born (1940-08-03) August 3, 1940
Origin Chicago, Illinois, US
Genres Jazz

Alto Saxophone Tenor Saxophone Bass Saxophone Soprano Saxophone Sopranino Saxophone

Years active 1960s–present
Associated acts Art Ensemble of Chicago
The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians
Roscoe Mitchell, Moers Festival 2009

Roscoe Mitchell (born August 3, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois) is an American composer, jazz instrumentalist and educator, mostly known for being "a technically superb – if idiosyncratic – saxophonist."[1] The Penguin Guide to Jazz described him as "one of the key figures" in avant-garde jazz;[2] All About Jazz states that he has been "at the forefront of modern music" for the past 35 years.[3] Critic John Pareles in The New York Times has mentioned that Mitchell "qualifies as an iconoclast."[4] In addition to his own work as a bandleader, Mitchell is known for cofounding the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.


Early life

Mitchell grew up in the Chicago, Illinois area where he played saxophone and clarinet at around age twelve. His family was always involved in music with many different styles playing in the house when he was a child as well as having a secular music background. His brother, Norman, in particular was the one who introduced Mitchell to jazz.[5] While attending Englewood High School in Chicago, he furthered his study of the clarinet.[6] In the 1950s, he joined the United States Army, during which time he was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany and played in a band with fellow saxophonists Albert Ayler and Rubin Cooper, the latter of which Mitchell commented "took me under his wing and taught me a lot of stuff."[5] He also studied under the first clarinetist of the Heidelberg Symphony while in Germany.[5] Mitchell returned to the United States in the early 1960s, relocated to the Chicago area, and performed in a band with Wilson Junior College undergraduates Malachi Favors (bass), Joseph Jarman, Henry Threadgill, and Anthony Braxton (all saxophonists). Mitchell also studied with Muhal Richard Abrams and played in his band, the Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band, starting in 1961.

AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago

In 1965, Mitchell was one of the first members of the non-profit organization Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) along with Jodie Christian (piano), Steve McCall (drums), and Phil Cohran (composer). The following year Mitchell, Lester Bowie (trumpet), Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre (tenor saxophone), Favors, Lester Lashley (trombone), and Alvin Fielder (drums), recorded their first studio album, Sound. The album was "a departure from the more extroverted work of the New York-based free jazz players" due in part to the band recording with "unorthodox devices" such as toys and bicycle horns.[1]

From 1967 Mitchell, Bowie, Favors and, on occasion, Jarman performed as the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble, then the Art Ensemble, and finally in 1969 were billed as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The group included Phillip Wilson on drums for short span before he joined Paul Butterfield's band. The group lived and performed in Europe from 1969 to 1971, though they arrived without any percussionist after Wilson left. To fill the void, Mitchell commented that they "evolved into doing percussion ourselves."[5] The band did eventually get a percussionist, Don Moye, who Mitchell had played with before and was living in Europe at that time. For performances, the band often wore brilliant African costumes and painted their faces.[7] The Art Ensemble of Chicago have been described as becoming "possibly the most highly acclaimed jazz band" in the 1970s and 1980s.[1]

Creative Arts Collective and beyond

Mitchell and the others returned to the States in 1971. After having been back in Chicago for three years, Mitchell then established the Creative Arts Collective (CAC) in 1974 that had a similar musical aesthetic to the AACM.[8] The group was based in East Lansing, Michigan and frequently used the facilities at Michigan State University. Mitchell also formed the Sound Ensemble in the early 1970s, an "outgrowth of the CAC" in his words, that consisted mainly of Mitchell, Hugh Ragin, Jaribu Shahid, Tani Tabbal, and Spencer Barefield.[8]

In the 1990s, Mitchell started to experiment in classical music with such composers/artists such as Pauline Oliveros, Thomas Buckner, and Borah Bergman, the latter two of which formed a trio with Mitchell called Trio Space. Buckner was also part of another group with Mitchell and Gerald Oshita called Space in the late 1990s. He then conceived the Note Factory in 1992 with various old and new collaborators as another evolution of the Sound Ensemble.

He lived in the area of Madison, Wisconsin[9] and performed with a re-assembled Art Ensemble of Chicago. In 1999, the band was hit hard with the death of Bowie, but Mitchell fought off the urge to recast his position in the group, stating simply "You can't do that" in an interview with editor-in-chief Fred Jung.[5] The band continued on despite the loss.

Mitchell has made a point of working with younger musicians in various ensembles and combinations, many of whom were not yet born when the first Art Ensemble recordings were made. Mainly from Chicago, these players include trumpeter Corey Wilkes, bassist Karl E. H. Seigfried, and drummer Isaiah Spencer.

In 2007, Mitchell was named Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he currently lives.[10] Mitchell was chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in March 2012 in Minehead, England.[11]


The following are referenced from Mitchell's biography at the official AACM website.[12]




Mitchell has taught at various institutions throughout the United States, including the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the California Institute of the Arts.[12] Since 2007, Mitchell has taught at Mills College in Oakland, California.[13]


With Art Ensemble of Chicago

Title Year Label
Sound - Roscoe Mitchell Sextet 1966 Delmark
Old/Quartet - Roscoe Mitchell 1967 Nessa
Numbers 1 & 2 - Lester Bowie 1967 Nessa
Early Combinations - Art Ensemble 1967 Nessa
Congliptious - Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble 1968 Nessa
A Jackson in Your House 1969 Actuel
Tutankhamun 1969 Freedom
The Spiritual 1969 Freedom
People in Sorrow 1969 Pathé-Marconi
Message to Our Folks 1969 Actuel
Reese and the Smooth Ones 1969 Actuel
Eda Wobu 1969 JMY
Certain Blacks 1970 America
Go Home 1970 Galloway
Chi-Congo 1970 Paula
Les Stances a Sophie 1970 Pathé-Marconi
Live in Paris 1970 Freedom
Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass 1970 America
Phase One 1971 America
Live at Mandell Hall 1972 Delmark
Bap-Tizum 1972 Atlantic
Fanfare for the Warriors 1973 Atlantic
Kabalaba 1974 AECO
Nice Guys 1978 ECM
Live in Berlin 1979 West Wind
Full Force 1980 ECM
Urban Bushmen 1980 ECM
Among the People 1980 Praxis
The Complete Live in Japan 1984 DIW
The Third Decade 1984 ECM
Naked 1986 DIW
Ancient to the Future 1987 DIW
The Alternate Express 1989 DIW
Art Ensemble of Soweto 1990 DIW
America - South Africa 1990 DIW
Thelonious Sphere Monk with Cecil Taylor 1990 DIW
Dreaming of the Masters Suite 1990 DIW
Live at the 6th Tokyo Music Joy with Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy 1991 DIW
Fundamental Destiny with Don Pullen 1991 AECO
Salutes the Chicago Blues Tradition 1993 AECO
Coming Home Jamaica 1996 Atlantic
Urban Magic 1997 Musica Jazz
Tribute to Lester 2001 ECM
Reunion 2003 Around Jazz
The Meeting 2003 Pi Recordings
Sirius Calling 2004 Pi Recordings
Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City 2006 Pi Recordings

Solo works and other ensembles

As sideman

With Anthony Braxton

With Jack DeJohnette

With Matthew Shipp

With Evan Parker


  1. 1 2 3 Chris Kelsey. "Roscoe Mitchell at Allmusic". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  2. The Penguin Guide to Jazz by Richard Cook, Brian Morton, et al. p. 916, eighth edition
  3. Jack Gold (January 8, 2004). "Roscoe Mitchell: In Search of the Super Musician". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  4. Jazz: Roscoe Mitchell by Jon Pareles, New York Times, August 25, 1983
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Fred Jung. "A Fireside Chat with Roscoe Mitchell (second)". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  6. Roscoe Mitchell: In Search of the Super Musician by Jack Gold,, October 23, 2003
  7. Celeste Sunderland. "Roscoe Mitchell: Opening Doors". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  8. 1 2 Fred Jung (September 2, 2002). "A Fireside Chat with Roscoe Mitchell (first)". Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  9. Lazaro Vega (August 25, 2005). "A conversation with Roscoe Mitchell". Archived from the original on 2006-08-13. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  10. "Roscoe Mitchell Named Darius Milhaud Chair In Composition At Mills College". Retrieved 2008-03-31.
  11. ATP curated by Jeff Mangum
  12. 1 2 "Roscoe Mitchell..... Composer, Multi-Instrumentalist, Educator". Archived from the original on 2007-07-30. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  14. Duets with Tyshawn Sorey and Special Guest Hugh Ragin
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