Written by Becca Pulliam from WBGO-FM
Nicole Mitchell grew up in California, but Chicago is where she became the original artist she is today. From her mid-20s into her 40s, she played and taught there, and composed and presented complete works for creative spirits like science-fiction novelist Octavia Butler (Xenogenesis Suite) and musician Alice Coltrane (Where the Paths Meet the Sea). She served as president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago and worked closely with the Jazz Institute of Chicago, taking new Chicago jazz to Poland, Italy and beyond. Among her groups, Mitchell led two Black Earth ensembles — a quartet with strings and a big band. The Chicago Tribune named her a “Chicagoan of the Year” in 2006. DownBeat and the Jazz Journalists Association named her the top flutist several years running. And this is a partial list.
In Mitchell’s words, “The flute and vibes coming together gives us the visual for [her band] Ice Crystal.” In July 2013, Fresh Air contributor Kevin Whitehead identified young Jason Adasiewicz as “one of the great vibraphonists of our time.” On bass and drums, Joshua Abrams and Frank Rosaly are described as “ubiquitous” and “integral” to Chicago’s present-day musical fabric, jazz-centered but genre-crossing. Ice Crystal’s repertoire on this JazzSet appears on the 2013 album Aquarius from Delmark, the long-lived Windy City label.
Recently, though, the unthinkable happened: Mitchell relocated. She is Professor of Music in the area of Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology at University of California-Irvine. She has already created a new ensemble there, the Sundial Ensemble. And in 2012, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation named Nicole Mitchell a Doris Duke Artist. The honor comes with extended career support.
The one selection in this set with words is in honor of the beloved tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson (1929-2010), who gave years of opportunities to players like Mitchell at his Velvet Lounge on Cermak Road. As Chicago journalist Neil Tesser described the Velvet, it was “a workingman’s bar by day, avant-garde jazz haven by night.” The proprietor is not forgotten. Calvin Gantt narrates Ice Crystal’s tribute, “Fred Anderson.”
Dee Dee Bridgewater emcees and Rhonda Hamilton hosts this program from the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival’s 18th annual edition, held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
- Nicole Mitchell, flute
- Jason Adasiewicz, vibraphone
- Joshua Abrams, bass
- Frank Rosaly, drums
- “Aqua Blue”
- “Today, Today”
- “Fred Anderson”
- “Sunday Afternoon”
All music by Nicole Mitchell.
- “Miss D.D.” (Mary Lou Williams) played by Geri Allen, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington at the 2010 MLW Women in Jazz Festival, from the JazzSet CD Walkin’ & Swingin’.
Recording by Greg Hartman, assistant Kristin Cullari. Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos. Thanks to the team at Kennedy Center Jazz: Jason Moran, Kevin Struthers, Jean Thill.