Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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ABRAMS, Muhal Richard

(b 19 September 1930, Chicago) Piano, reeds, etc; composer, leader. Four years of music college; professional debut at 18. Gigged with visiting musicians including Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, many others; he formed the Experimental Band '61, including Eddie Harris, and became a founder and director of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He has been an influence on other musicians by virtue of imagination and attitudes as well as hard work and musical skills: in Joseph Jarman's famous remark, when he met Abrams 'I was like all the rest of the ''hip'' ghetto niggers; I was cool, I took dope, I smoked pot ... In having the chance to work in the Experimental Band ... I found something with meaning/reason for doing.' Abrams's influence on the new music was enormous, encouraging creative collaboration between composer and improviser: 'Now I can take eight measures and play a concert' ('67; quoted by John Litweiler). He played clarinet on his title track of his first album, Levels And Degrees Of Light '67, produced by Chuck Nessa, followed by Young At Heart, Wise In Time '69 and Things To Come From Those Now Gone '70, all on Delmark.

He moved to NYC '76 and joined the loft scene there. More recordings included Afrisong '75 on India Navigation; Sightsong '75, a duet with Malachi Favors, first of many LPs on Black Saint; Duet 1976 (with Anthony Braxton); 1--OQA+19 '77 (with Braxton); sextet Lifea Blinec '78; solo Spiral/Live At Montreux 1978 on Arista; Spihumonesty '79; You Can't Name Your Own Tune '77, with Barry Altschul; Mama And Daddy '80; Duet '81 (two pianos, with Amina Claudine Myers); Blues Forever '81. He recorded 'Nutturno' on Amarcord Nino Rota '81 (other tracks by Jaki Byard, Steve Lacy, etc). Rejoicing With The Light '83 had a big band; View From Within '85 was an octet including Thurman Barker; Roots Of Blue '86 on Enja a duo with Cecil McBee; Colors In Thirty-Third '86 on Black Saint a sextet with Dave Holland, Andrew Cyrille, Fred Hopkins, John Purcell on reeds, and violinist John Blake on violin (b 3 July 1947, Philadelphia; d there 15 August 2014).

Abrams also played on Jarman's As If It Were The Seasons '68, Fanfare For The Warriors '74 with theArt Ensemble of Chicago, etc. He won the Danish Jazzpar award '90. In '95-6, One Line, Two Views had ten pieces playing seven examples of Abrams's unique approach to blending composition and improv, and The Open Air Meeting recorded a duo with Marty Erlich on reeds, both on New World; Song For All had his daughter Richarda Abrams on the title track (actress, singer, casting director), while Think All, Focus One was also a septet displaying rich sources and moods, both on Black Saint.

Muhal Richard Abrams received the Jazz Institute of Chicago's 2014 Walter Dyett Lifetime Achievement Award. The lifetime achievement was also celebrated by George Lewis in his history of the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself (U. of Chicago Press, 2008)