“A genre-defying band that sounds like nothing else on this planet . . . easily ranks among the more ferociously effective septets in jazz.” —Chicago Tribune
Minneapolis-based composer/inventor/multi-instrumentalist Douglas Ewart offers a rare appearance by his Inventions, which features some of Chicago’s finest musicians, including fellow Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) members Ed Wilkerson, Jr. (Shadow Vignettes, 8 Bold Souls), and Mwata Bowden. The all-star ensemble also includes singer/poet Mankwe Ndosi, vocalist Dee Alexander, poet Duriel Harris, the propulsive bass of Darius Savage, the guitar virtuosity of Jeff Parker, and the swinging rhythms of drummer Dashun Mosley. The concert, on Saturday, March 4, at 8 pm in the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater, opens with the knock-down, freedom-seeking rhythms of bassist William Parker and percussionist Hamid Drake and celebrates the AACM’s 40th anniversary.
Douglas R. Ewart
Ewart is known in some circles as a maker of brightly colored “rain sticks,” man-tall “totem flutes,” percussion instruments, and panpipes. Elsewhere he is known as a maker of leather goods and instrument harnesses, or as past president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and instructor in the AACM School of Music—or yet again, as a performer of original music with Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Anthony Braxton, and others. He is also known for his work as a lecturer and workshop director throughout the United States.
Douglas Ewart was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1946. At an early age, he became acutely aware of the various materials and textures around him and began experimenting with sound and designing instruments, creating rattles out of pieces of wood, hand drums out of tin cans, and flutes out of bamboo. Thus began what has become today a high art practiced by Ewart alone—the construction of sonorous “totem flutes” colorful as bamboo rainbows, adorned with wood-burned designs and haunting images.
Ewart emigrated to the United States in June 1963 and while studying tailoring at Drake and Dunbar Vocational schools, developing his costume-making skills, Ewart plunged back into the musical world studying theory, composition, saxophone, and clarinet at the AACM School of Music. His teachers, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and reed players Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, inspired him with their creative drive and their view that “music was a life-or-death matter.”
For Ewart, music as a life-or-death matter means music as a bridge between cultural traditions and between activities ranging from instrument building to such entrepreneurial ventures as his own recording label, Aarawak Records, which he founded in 1983 and on which he has released Red Hills and Bamboo Forest. In addition to performing and recording with master musicians such as Abrams, Fred Anderson, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Roscoe Mitchell, and Henry Threadgill, Ewart has performed original compositions across America and in venues around the world.
Having become a master himself, Ewart is now in demand as a teacher. The interest his AACM instructors showed in the creative development of their students and the inclusion of their students in their original works inspire Ewart now in his own teaching. In his workshops, Ewart often guides students in building and learning to play flutes, whistles, shakers, and other instruments. His workshops, lectures, and exhibitions have been presented at venues such as the Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans); the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Du Sable Museum of African-American History, and Urban Gateways (Chicago): the Creative Music Studio (Woodstock, NY); the Museum of Contemporary Craft and the Langston Hughes Center (New York City); the University of Illinois (Champaign); Norfolk State University; the Riverside Museum (Baton Rouge), the Washington Performing Arts Center and the National Museum of American History (Washington, DC). He has served on advisory boards and panels for various cultural organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, and the Arts Midwest Meet the Composer program. In 1987 Douglas was awarded the U.S.-Japan Creative Arts Fellowship by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, which enabled him to spend a year in Japan studying the art of making and playing the shakuhachi flute.
Edward Wilkerson, Jr.
Edward Wilkerson, Jr. (tenor, alto saxophone, clarinet, alto clarinet), is an internationally recognized composer, arranger, musician, and educator based in Chicago. As founder and director of the cutting-edge octet, 8 Bold Souls and the 25-member performance ensemble, Shadow Vignettes, Wilkerson has toured festivals and concert halls throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and the Middle East. Defender, a large-scale piece for Shadow Vignettes, was commissioned by the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund and featured in the 10th Anniversary of New Music America, a presentation of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. The 1998 Chicago Jazz Festival featured another commissioned work by Wilkerson entitled Dark Star. Wilkerson’s work may be heard on 14 recordings, including two film soundtracks. Wilkerson has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, and the Community Arts Assistance Program, and has been cited in numerous music polls. A former member of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Wilkerson has also played with such artists and groups as the AACM Big Band, Roscoe Mitchell, Douglas Ewart, The Temptations, Chico Freeman, Gerri Allen, The Lyric Opera of Chicago, Muhal Richard Abrams, Aretha Franklin, George Lewis, and many others.
Mwata Bowden (baritone, tenor saxophone, clarinet), having picked up “one of those old, metal, silver clarinets” in church when he was 12, soon found himself in the junior high school band and a couple of years later, playing at DuSable High School for one of the most revered figures in Chicago Black Music, Captain Walter Dyett. This was the man who had inspired and trained no less than Nat ‘King’ Cole, Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, Richard Davis, Fred Hopkins, and other South Side music giants too numerous to mention. The rigorous musical training Bowden received at DuSable earned him a spot at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. As he came close to completing his music education degree, reality set in. On his teacher’s advice, Bowden picked up a baritone saxophone and started working the big bands and the R&B outfits that were popular in Chicago in the late 60s. After graduating, he toured the country with the Chi-Lites, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Albert King, and other R&B groups. And it was this time on the road that inevitably led him to the AACM, back home in Chicago. During the past several years, Bowden has gone beyond the stage of discovery into genuine mastery. In addition to the obvious technical virtuosity he commands on baritone saxophone and clarinet, he has been able to put together ensembles that develop his ideas on a somewhat larger scale. In his Sound Spectrum and Tri-Tone ensembles, for instance, he has presented long and complex compositions that nevertheless prove accessible to the uninitiated listener. Above all, though the AACM remains the constant in his musical life. Bowden is a former Chairman of the AACM.
As Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe stated in July 2002, “William Parker has emerged as the most important leader of the current avant-garde scene in jazz.” He is working in many of the more important groups in this genre, some of the most prestigious being his own, i.e. The Curtis Mayfield Project, Little Huey Creative Orchestra, In Order to Survive, William Parker’s Quartet and other groups. Parker is one of the most important composers in our time period, he is also a poet whose words are beginning to be heard in various media: in print, in song, and in his theater piece Music and the Shadow People.
In 1995 the Village Voice characterized Parker as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time.” However from the beginning of his career Parker has commanded a unique degree of respect from fellow musicians. In 1972 at the age of 20, he quickly became the bass player of choice among his peers. Within a short time he was asked to play with older, established musicians such as Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, Bill Dixon, Milford Graves, Billy Higgins, and Sunny Murray, among others. In 1980 he became a member of the Cecil Taylor Unit, in which he played a prominent role for over a decade.
Parker has released over 20 albums under his leadership, and most of his albums have hit #1 on the CMJ charts. In 1995, after years of obscurity as a leader, he released Flowers Grow In My Room on the Centering label. This was the first documentation of the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. This CD hit #1 on the CMJ charts and The Little Huey began to travel. They have performed in the Verona Jazz Festival and Banlieues Bleues, among others. Parker’s new Quartet has hit with rave reviews for both albums Raining on the Moon and O’Neals Porch, which was chosen as among the 10 Best Jazz Albums of the Year by the New York Times, Jazz Times, Downbeat, and AllAboutJazz.com.
These releases and their success highlight Parker as an outstanding composer and bandleader. From the beginning of his musical career, he has been prolific, composing music for almost every group with whom he has performed. His compositional skills span a range including operas, oratorios, ballets, film scores, and soliloquies for solo instruments. He has also successfully explored diverse concepts in instrumentation for large and small ensembles. William Parker is a poet, with three volumes published thus far: Music Is, Document Humanum, and The Shadow People.
By the close of the 1990s, Hamid Drake was widely regarded as one of the best percussionists in improvised music. Incorporating Afro-Cuban, Indian, and African percussion instruments and influence, in addition to using the standard trap set, Drake has collaborated extensively with top free jazz improvisers Peter Brotzmann, Fred Anderson, and Ken Vandermark, among others. Drake was born in Monroe, LA, in 1955, and later moved to Chicago with his family. He took drum lessons with Fred Anderson’s son, eventually taking over the son’s role as percussionist in Anderson’s group. As a result, Fred Anderson also introduced Drake to George Lewis and other AACM members. Drake also has performed world music; by the late 1970s, he was a member of Foday Muso Suso’s Mandingo Griot Society, and has played reggae. Drake has been a member of the Latin jazz band Night on Earth, the Georg Graewe Quartet, the DKV Trio, Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Octet/Tentet, and Liof Munimula, the oldest free improvising ensemble in Chicago. Drake has also worked with trumpeter Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Fred Anderson, Mahmoud Gania, bassist William Parker (in a large number of lineups), and has performed a solstice celebration with fellow Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang semiannually since 1991. Hamid Drake’s recorded material is best represented on Chicago’s Okkadisk label.
Tickets to Douglas Ewart and Inventions with the William Parker/Hamid Drake duo are $20 ($16 Walker members) and are available by contacting the Walker Art Center box office at 612.375.7600 or walkerart.org/tickets.