Chicago is not just the geographic origins of a group of musicians, Chicago also stands for an open atmosphere in the artistic community, based on mutual support, which has sparked and yielded important developments in music and carried them to other locations.
While New York is a high-temperature aggregate and hub, Chicago was and is a place for the open exchange of ideas, for a broad exploration beyond all limits in laboratories and concert venues. In the mid-to-late 1960s, this atmosphere resulted in the foundation of two milestones that are still significant to this day: the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in 1965 and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) in 1969. Both initiatives were launched exclusively by African-American musicians, and their spirit and main thrust become evident in the fact that genre labels like ‘jazz’ are simply not there.
From the beginning, diversity was a formative feature of this Chicago atmosphere, as illustrated in the careers of musicians like Hamid Drake and Nicole Mitchell. The emergence of the Exploding Star Orchestra under the musical direction of Chicago trumpet player Rob Mazurek, an ensemble that gives common expression to the free interpretation of the Chicago avant-garde, marked a new peak of this productive community atmosphere in 2005.
The same diversity also thrives at the young Chicago label International Anthem, the place for cutting edge music by artists and groups like Irreversible Entanglements, Jaimie Branch and Tomeka Reid. And among them is doubtlessly Makaya McCraven, whose working methods and scope of action, ranging from non-idiomatic free playing to the production of sure-fire hits, is as typical as it is natural for Chicago. Europe is represented in the label’s catalogue by Italian bass player Silvia Bolognesi, who will be among the AEC’s line-up at Jazzfest Berlin. This is another typical trait of Chicago: a long-standing cooperation with European musicians on equal terms. Chicago is simply a very different place than New York.