Paul Steinbeck first heard about the avant-garde jazz group the Art Ensemble of Chicago when he was playing in the Jazz X-tet at the University of Chicago. The director of the university band, Mwata Bowden, encouraged Steinbeck to listen to the group to help improve his skills on the double bass.
“I started checking them out when I was in college, and I never stopped listening to them,” said Steinbeck, an assistant professor of music theory at Washington University.
The Art Ensemble of Chicago began in the 1960s with members Malachi Favors, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, and Don Moye. The group was the flagship band of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a pioneering collective of African American composers. The Art Ensemble members played hundreds of instruments, including found objects and toys, and its eclectic live shows thrived on improvisation, often featuring the members wearing face paint and costumes, performing theatrical sketches, and reciting poetry. The group recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with several performances this month.
Steinbeck’s “Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago” (University of Chicago Press) is the first book to examine the history of the band. He will discuss the book in a Library Faculty Book Talk at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 24, in Olin Library, Room 142. A reception will immediately follow the talk. The event is free and open to the public.
What were your early experiences with the Art Ensemble’s music? I had been listening to one album in particular for a few weeks, it was an album called “Full Force” that came out in 1980, and the way they use percussion on that album had me hearing all kinds of things that weren’t music in a musical way. I was in my little college apartment washing dishes, and I heard a piece of silverware clink against a glass in the sink, and I thought it sounded just like a percussion part that the Art Ensemble played on one composition on the album. I discovered that these guys were transforming every aspect of my auditory experience.