In an interview with a French journalist, Joseph Jarman compared the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the avant-garde jazz quintet to which he belonged, to ‘a cake made from five ingredients: remove one of the ingredients and the cake no longer exists.’ Jarman, who died earlier this month, at 81, after a long illness, was the ingredient that made the band one of the most aesthetically adventurous groups of its era: he put the 'art' in Art Ensemble.
In 1962, Richard Abrams, a 32-year-old pianist on the South Side of Chicago, formed a rehearsal group called the Experimental Band. Its purpose was not so much to perform as to provide a laboratory of artistic research and development for young black musicians and composers working in jazz, or what Abrams preferred to call ‘creative music’. Abrams had been electrified by the free jazz revolution launched a few years earlier by Ornette Coleman. As Abrams saw it, the liberation from chord-based improvisation that Coleman had brought about was only a first step. Creative musicians would have to invent new structures to replace the old ones; they would have to re-examine their relationship not only to music, but to sound. Freedom, Coleman's gift, was also a challenge, even a burden: as exhilarating as free jazz was, the hard work of building on its liberties had only begun.