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Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians [AACM]free

  • Michael Baumgartner

A nonprofit organization devoted to African American avant-garde music. It was founded in Chicago’s South Side on 8 May 1965 by members of Muhal Richard Abrams’ free-jazz ensemble the Experimental Band. As well as Abrams, who was its first president, the AACM’s original members were Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, Amina Claudine Myers, Malachi Favors, Thurman Barker, Joseph Jarman, and Maurice McIntyre. Its main objectives have been to organize concerts for the public and workshops for its members, and since the foundation of the AACM School of Music in 1969 to conduct free training programs for young musicians. In addition it has aimed “to set an example of high moral standards for musicians.” Its primary intention was to provide an alternative to the established art institutions in order to promote the music of young, independent, experimental African American musicians. With the postulate to move towards a multicultural and multi-ethnic outlook, each member created “original music”—notated, improvised, or both—by striving beyond the set boundaries of jazz to explore a stylistic hybridity. Its musicians broke new ground by making use of extended techniques, interactivity, experimental forms and notation, invented acoustic instruments, installations, and kinetic sculptures.

Between 1966 and 1969 the AACM’s founder members performed at the Abraham Lincoln Center and the University of Chicago. During that period they were joined by Lester Bowie (who became its second president), Leo Smith, John Stubblefield, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Mchaka Uba, and Leroy Jenkins. In order to enlarge the organization’s audience, from 1969 until the early 1970s Jenkins, Smith, Braxton, and the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago were based in Paris, where they were well received by audiences and critics. In the early 1970s another wave of musicians joined the AACM, among them Chico Freeman, Douglas Ewart, Malachi Thompson, George Lewis, and Adegoke Steve Colson. Several members moved to New York where they took part in the city’s downtown scene. The AACM organized a festival in 1977 and established a New York chapter in 1982, out of which emerged the M-BASE collective. In Chicago the main branch gave concerts to celebrate the organization’s 25th, 30th, 35th, and 40th anniversaries.


  • Jh, nos.356–7 (1978–9) [AACM issue]
  • R.M. Radano: “Jazzin’ the Classics: the AACM’s Challenge to Mainstream Aesthetics,” Black Music Research Journal, 12/1 (1992), 79–95
  • N.T. De Jong: Chosen Identities and Musical Symbols: the Curaçaoan Jazz Community and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (diss., U. of Michigan, 1997)
  • A. Cromwell: Jazz Mecca: an Ethnographic Study of Chicago’s South Side Jazz Community (diss., Ohio U., 1998)
  • G. Lewis: “Singing Omar’s Song: a (Re)construction of Great Black Music,” Lenox Avenue: a Journal of Interarts Inquiry, no.4 (1998), 69–92
  • L. Smith: “Creative Music and the AACM,” Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History, ed. R. Walser (New York, 1999), 315–24
  • G. Lewis: “Experimental Music in Black and White: the AACM in New York, 1970–1985,” Current Musicology, no.71–3 (2001), 100–57
  • T.A. Newsome: “It’s after the end of the world! Don’t you know that yet?” Black Creative Musicians in Chicago (1946–1976) (diss., U. of North Carolina, 2001)
  • D.P. Brown: Noise Orders: Jazz, Improvisation, and Architecture (Minneapolis, 2006)
  • N.T. De Jong: “Women of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians: Four Narratives,” Black Women and Music: More than the Blues (Urbana, IL, 2007), 134–52
  • G. Lewis: A Power Stronger than Itself: the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (Chicago, 2008)
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