"I am honored to be chosen as an NEA Jazz Master, it is humbling, as well as encouraging, to have my name placed among the illustrious list of previous NEA Jazz Masters."
Muhal Richard Abrams -- pianist, composer, administrator, and educator -- is predominately a self-taught musician. He is highly respected by critics and musical peers as both a pianist and composer in a variety of musical styles, including jazz, extended forms of improvisation, and classical music.
In the 1950s, Abrams wrote arrangements for pianist King Fleming's Jazz Orchestra. From 1957-59, he played hard bop in Walter Perkins' group MJT + 3 (Modern Jazz Two Plus Three) and accompanied leading jazz performers during their visits to Chicago, including Kenny Durham, Art Farmer, Hank Mobley, Ray Nance, Max Roach, and Sonny Stitt. In 1961, Abrams began his foray into extended forms of composition and improvisation in his Experimental Band, which included musicians such as saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman.
Abrams is a co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in 1965, founder of the AACM School of Music, and currently president of the AACM New York Chapter. AACM, which has played a crucial role in the development of original approaches to extended forms of composition and improvisation, has produced such distinguished members as Anthony Braxton, Kalaparush Ahra Difda, Leroy Jenkins, Steve McCall, Amina Claudine Myers, Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Threadgill, and members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Abrams first traveled to Europe in 1973 while still residing in Chicago. After relocating to New York in 1977, he traveled extensively to Europe and Japan, gradually acquiring a greater international reputation. In 1990 he became the first recipient of the prestigious Danish JAZZPAR Award, and almost a decade later Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley issued a proclamation declaring April 11, 1999, to be Muhal Richard Abrams Day. In 2008, he was chosen by United States Artists to be a Prudential Fellow in the field of music. In 2010, he was selected for the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame.
Abrams' compositional prowess is evident even beyond jazz. His Tranversion Op. 6 was performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and his String Quartet No. 2 was performed by renowned chamber ensemble Kronos Quartet.
During the last 30 years, Abrams has taught jazz composition and improvisational classes at Columbia University, Syracuse University, Stanford University, Mills College, University of California in San Diego, the New England Conservatory in Boston, and the BMI Composers Workshop in New York City. He also taught internationally in Finland, Canada, and Italy. Abrams' current activities include composing for various types of instrumental combinations, performing solo piano concerts, and touring throughout the world with various ensembles.
Levels and Degrees of Light, Delmark, 1967
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