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Nicole Mitchell is a very interesting flautist and composer and also the Vice Chairperson of AACM. She is developing her career in Chicago and has released a couple of records in her label, Dreamtime Records. José Francisco Tapiz talked with her about her roots, her present and her projects. (April, 2004)


J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: What was you first contact with jazz and improvised music?

Nicole Mitchell: My parents played the Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles Davis and a few other essentials when I was growing up. But I was first exposed to improvisation by the great jazz trombonist Jimmy Cheatham much later—right after high school. Cheatham immediately connected me with James Newton and had me listen to Eric Dolphy. That was a life transforming experience. The first groups I improvised with were Chimeranga, a group in San Diego and Une Igede, led by Najite Olokun. Une Igede was a Nigerian high life group and these experiences made a foundation for my development.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: Tradition is very important in jazz. What is the most important tradition in Nicole Mitchell’s music?

Nicole Mitchell: Individuality and Originality are philosophies at the root of jazz that I embrace, along with the concept of swing and syncopation. I embrace these essentials of the tradition, and I honor historical periods of the music through my compositions.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: Your music is a melting point of different jazz movements. Who are the most important musicians and musical movements in the roots of your music?

Nicole Mitchell: There is so much to learn from in all the different historical periods of jazz but I am also very interested in music of the world. I have a Master’s degree in classical flute performance, and I enjoy music from Cuba, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, the list goes on.

Influences include, New Orleans (spent time living there), Sun Ra, Mingus, Phil Cohran, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Ellington, and friends/mentors like Hamid Drake, Fred Anderson, Ed Wilkerson, David Boykin, George Lewis, Donald Byrd , on and on!!!

©Jonathon Woods, 2004

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: What importance has the academicism in jazz?

Nicole Mitchell: Regeneration of the art form by involving youth in the experience of jazz. It keeps the traditions growing, evolving.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: You are developing your career in Chicago, a town with a very important creative core for more than 30 years: the AACM. You belong to this association. What is the importance of being a member of this association for your musical career?

Nicole Mitchell: The AACM has had a big impact on the Chicago scene for a number of years. My first experience in Chicago was as a co-founder of Samana, the AACM’s first all-woman ensemble. This ensemble was directly influenced by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and several women in Samana had also studied seriously with Phil Cohran. So, as soon as I entered the Chicago scene, I was in the midst of the AACM. I was not born in Chicago but growing up I spent all my summers and winter vacations there with my grandparents.

For now, my purpose as a member of the AACM is to help to continue its legacy and continue its life through me and my musical contributions to the universe.

Presently I am the Vice Chairperson of the AACM, helping to direct the organization towards a successful worldwide celebration for the AACM’s 40th Anniversary in 2005.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: Flute is not a very common instrument in jazz. In many cases, is not an exclusive instrument for the musicians that play it. Why did you decide to take it as your instrument?

Nicole Mitchell: I chose flute before I chose jazz. The sound drew me in and I identified with it spiritually. It never occurred to me that it was unusual or unpopular as an instrument though I realize that is why I was not exposed to playing jazz earlier (because others around me didn’t consider flute to be a “jazz” instrument). It was music that I loved first, just music and later I grew to find my identity as a creative musician.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: Who are the most influent flautists in your approach to this instrument?

Nicole Mitchell: The first most influential flutist as an improvisor was Eric Dolphy and then James Newton. I think Hubert Laws is an awesome flutist. James Newton played it like I never knew was possible. Growing up I focused more on saxophonists because I wanted to find my own voice. I listened a lot to Coltrane, Ornette, Cannonball Adderley, Dolphy. The first flute I ever listened to as a child over and again was Rampal, and later James Galway. They had a big influence on my sound.

©Jonathon Woods, 2004

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: What is the importance of spirituality in your music?

Nicole Mitchell: I have a spiritual purpose for creating music. It is to create positive visionary art that inspires hope, empathy towards the human experience, and positive transformation for the individual. I also have a deep love for Black people and strive to contribute to the great legacy of African American creativity that continues to impact the world.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: You’re the leader, composer and arranger of the Black Earth Ensemble and Black Earth Strings. Are both groups different faces of a common project? What are their musical goal?

Nicole Mitchell: Black Earth Ensemble and Black Earth Strings are two projects that both play my original compositions. Black Earth Ensemble (BEE), as reflected in my first CD Vision Quest, was primarily a chamber group with a unique sound. As BEE grew to now represent a large band (with a changing size from 7 to 15 people), for example the CD Afrika Rising and my new CD coming soon Hope, Future and Destiny. I still had the desire for that chamber sound, that quiet intimate sound, that acoustic sound. So I created Black Earth Strings, which is bass, two violins, cello and flute. I am also creating a third ensemble to embrace sisterhood called “Tindanga Mama” (Swahili meaning “She pushes through, she makes her way”). Tindanga Mama is a new group of talented women and girl musicians that I am exciting about bringing together for our first concert in June.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: I really like your record Afrika Rising and specially Afrika Rising Trilogy. Can you tell us something about this great piece?

Nicole Mitchell: Afrika Rising is a piece I dedicate to the majesty and strength of Black men. Of course it also is an affirmation to African people for a bright and positive future in the self-development of Africa. The first movement, “The Ancient Power Awakens,” represents the awakening of consciousness and self-love. With that awakening, “Metamorphosis” (2nd movement), or positive transformation is inevitable. Only then can the true “Intergalactic Healing” (3rd movement) occur.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: I’m very intrigued about the musical inspiration for “Daddy Gone”. It sounds to me like some folk spanish tune…

Nicole Mitchell: I wrote it for all the children who don’t know their fathers or don’t know where their fathers are. I agree that it has a spanish sound. I have been exposed to and experienced a lot of music, the influences swim inside me and come out in unpredictable, intuitive ways.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: In what other groups are you involved?

Nicole Mitchell: I also play in the David Boykin Expanse, and co-lead the Ed Wilkerson/Nicole Mitchell Quartet, which includes Harrison Bankhead on bass and Arveeayl Ra on drums. I play in a duo with percussionist Mike Reed.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: You are the owner of Dreamtime Records. What makes you to create it?

Nicole Mitchell: David Boykin and I are co-owners of Dreamtime Records, Inc. It was created out of the need for us to put out this music and make it available to share with people.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: In Dreamtime Records you’ve released mainly records of David Boykin and of your Black Earth Ensemble project. Do you have some plans for publishing other musician records?

Nicole Mitchell: I would like to see us helping other musicians to put out their music, either through workshops on self-publishing or by eventually putting out other artists. I personally look forward to supporting other artists but at the moment we’re refining the business.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: David Boykin has just recorded a new solo album. Will you publish in your label? What can you tell us about this record?

Nicole Mitchell: David’s new recording is called “the Eye of the Beholder.” It is incredible and should impact not only the improvising scene but the new “classical” scene as well. It is our 6th recording on the Dreamtime label.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: It is an improvised or composition oriented recording?

Nicole Mitchell:
The Eye of the Beholder is an improvised recording featuring David on clarinet, soprano sax, and tenor.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: You’ll soon release your new album with the Black Earth Ensemble. What can you tell us about it?

Nicole Mitchell:
I am very excited about my new album “Hope, Future, and Destiny” which will be released in August. All the music was created for a multi-genre community play that I wrote involving a cast of 50 people in acting, dancing, video and a twelve piece Black Earth Ensemble. There is something on this album for everyone to enjoy, because the music celebrates many aspects of the creative tradition but in new ways.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: What musicians play in your new record “Hope, Future and Destiny”?

Nicole Mitchell:
“Hope, Future and Destiny” will also be a large ensemble. Included are: David Boykin reeds, Corey Wilkes trumpet, Tony Herrera trombone, Arveeayl Ra drums, gongs Art “Turk” Burton percussion, Savoir Faire violin, Tomeka Reid cello, Nicole Mitchell flute/vocals, Aquilla Sadalla vocals, Spiritual Journey Percussion Ensemble (shekeres and vocals), Josh Abrams bass, Tim Jones guitar, Brian Nichols piano.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: With David Boykin Expanse you recorded “47th Street Ghost”. What’s the importance of this street in Chicago’s jazz development?

Nicole Mitchell: 47th Street was once a Mecca in Chicago. It was the premier area for night life on Chicago’s Southside before the Civil Rights Movement. This is the street where the famous Sutherland Hotel still sits, which hosted Charlie Parker and other greats. The Palm Tavern and the Regal Theatre were also on 47th street, and all the greatest musicians and artists either visited or performed there. Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes, Billy Holiday, the list goes on. If you saw 47th street now you would know why David called his CD “47th Street GHOST” At the moment now the city is trying to bring the street back up but they are attempting to make it a blues district instead of a jazz district.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: Can you give us some clues (musicians, groups) of the actual Chicago’s jazz scene?

Nicole Mitchell: Anyone coming to Chicago I would recommend that you go to Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge, where you can see many emerging talents including : Corey Wilkes (trumpet), Isiah Spencer (drums), Savoir Faire (violin), Kaliq Woods (clarinet), Greg Ward (alto sax)—these are some great up and coming talents. You might even catch seasoned greats Hamid Drake playing there, or Harrison Bankhead (bass), William Perry (tenor sax), Arveeayl Ra (drums), Douglas Ewart (sax), Ed Wilkerson (tenor sax), Ernest Dawkins (sax) or Jim Baker (piano).

I still feel like Von Freeman deserves more credit and attention. He plays on 75th street every Tuesday at the New Apartment Lounge.

A new beautiful group is Mike Reed’s (drummer) “Loose Assembly,” where you can find at the Empty Bottle, or the Hungry Brain or 3030 W. Courtland or Michael Zerang’s Candlestick Maker. There’s lots of hot new talent playing at all these places.

Karl E.H. Seigfreid (bass), Mike Reed (drummer), David Boykin (tenor) and I also host an creative music jam session every Sunday at Café Mestizo.

J.F. Tapiz – TomaJazz: Do you want to add something?

Nicole Mitchell:
The only other thing I would like to say is that as lovers of creative music, and/or jazz music, we need to support its growth and development-to accept change as necessary for its vitality. When we overtraditionalize some historical approaches to the music, we risk losing the relevancy to our times. I wish for us to celebrate music that is truth for this moment that we live. A very unstable, interesting, horrifying and beautiful moment indeed.

José Francisco "Pachi" Tapiz aka diyeipetea

More information and samples of the work of Nicole Mitchell in: http://www.nicolemitchell.com/

©José Francisco Tapiz, Tomajazz, 2004