Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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AIR (Black Music Trio)

Black music trio formed in Chicago in 1971 to play in a theatrical production: Henry Threadgill, saxophones, flutes, hubkaphone; Fred Hopkins, bass; Steve McCall, percussion. They were all alumni of the AACM; playing free jazz with wit and energy, displaying deep roots in all forms of black music, as well as Eastern influences. They went to NYC '75, toured internationally; contributed 'USO Dance' to the Wildflower project in 1976.

They did not get enough work but managed to make albums including Japanese releases '75-6 later on India Navigation, and their first USA release Airtime '78 on Nessa (on CD in 1996), named the best of all their recordings by George E. Lewis in his A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (2008). Air's live sets included Live Air '76-7 and Air Mail '80, both on Black Saint; Live At Montreux 1978 on Novus/Arista; Air Lore '79 on that label examined ragtime/early jazz roots (the CD came out on Bluebird '87 after Novus changed hands); 80 degrees Below '82 was on Antilles. McCall left c'83; the name changed to New Air with Pheeroan akLaff on Black Saint, and the new trio made Live At Montreal International Jazz Festival '83, and Air Show Vol. 1 '86 had vocalist Cassandra Wilson on half the tracks.

Threadgill went on to form new groups; see his entry. The highly regarded Chicago musician Stephen McCall IV d 24 May 1989 aged 55; he had studied with Specs Wright, lived in Europe '67-71, had also played with Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Roscoe Mitchell etc and with singer Jeanne Lee; he was the first of the original generation of AACM alumni to pass away. Fred Hopkins d 7 January 1999 aged 51, much too early, and like McCall is still greatly missed.