Paul Steinbeck

Paul Steinbeck

Associate Professor of Music
Head of Theory and Composition
PhD, Columbia University
BA, University of Chicago
research interests:
  • Improvisation
  • Intermedia
  • The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)

contact info:

office hours:

  • By appointment

mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1032
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

Paul Steinbeck’s research focuses on improvisation, intermedia, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He has written extensively on the Art Ensemble of Chicago—the AACM’s flagship group—and on Fred Anderson, an original AACM member. Steinbeck is also a bassist, composer, and improviser.​

Paul Steinbeck is an associate professor of music at Washington University in St. Louis. His research focuses on improvisation, intermedia, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). With Fred Anderson, he is co-author of Exercises for the Creative Musician (2010), a method book for improvisers. Steinbeck’s latest book, Message to Our Folks, examines the history and performances of the Art Ensemble, one of the most influential groups in jazz and experimental music. Message to Our Folks is available in English from the University of Chicago Press (2017) and in Italian from Edizioni Quodlibet (2018). His next book, Sound Experiments: The Music of the AACM, is under contract with the University of Chicago Press.

Steinbeck holds degrees from Columbia University (PhD) and the University of Chicago (BA). He is also a bassist, composer, and improviser. He studied bass with Harrison Bankhead and composition with Ari Brown. His compositions and improvisations are documented on thirteen recordings. He performs with a number of ensembles, including the experimental trio Low End Theory, co-led with former AACM president Mwata Bowden.

Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago

Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago

2017 marks the golden anniversary of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the flagship band of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Formed in 1966 and flourishing until 2010, the Art Ensemble distinguished itself by its unique performance practices—members played hundreds of instruments on stage, recited poetry, performed theatrical sketches, and wore face paint, masks, lab coats, and traditional African and Asian dress. The group, which built a global audience and toured across six continents, presented their work as experimental performance art, in opposition to the jazz industry’s traditionalist aesthetics.

In Message to Our Folks, Paul Steinbeck combines musical analysis and historical inquiry to give us the definitive study of the Art Ensemble. In the book, he proposes a new theory of group improvisation that explains how the band members were able to improvise together in so many different styles while also drawing on an extensive repertoire of notated compositions. Steinbeck examines the multimedia dimensions of the Art Ensemble’s performances and the ways in which their distinctive model of social relations kept the group performing together for four decades. Message to Our Folks is a striking and valuable contribution to our understanding of one of the world’s premier musical groups.