Art Ensemble of Chicago

Art Ensemble Of Chicago

Art Ensemble Of Chicago

In general, I hate Jazz, probably because I’m a “musician” and I can’t play it. I found the Art Ensemble Of Chicago in the ’70’s when I was a punk. Something about them clicked with me, maybe it was the sheer disregard for dogma and that “anything goes” seemed to be the rule. Anyway, this is one one my all-time favorite pieces of music.
I call it “All Aboard For Duffy Town” because I don’t know the real title. This comes from a cassette copy of a long gone Delmarc double album. I bought it in the early ’80’s, but it dates from much earlier. I remember the two record set was mostly squalling noise, except for this. It’s evocative of a train ride through small town America, the spoken words are billborads, or the conductor announcing available stops. It morphs into a near parody of Jazz, not unlike cartoon music, but it swings like a mutha. I love it. Enjoy!


Members of what was to become the Art Ensemble performed together under various band names in the mid-sixties, releasing their first album, Sound, as the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet in 1966. The Sextet included saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut, who over the next year went on to play together as the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble. In 1967 they were joined by fellow AACM members Joseph Jarman (saxophone) and Phillip Wilson (drums), and made a number of recordings for Nessa.

As noted above, the musicians were all active multi-instrumentalists: Jarman and Mitchell’s primary instruments were alto and tenor saxes, respectively, but they played many other saxophones (ranging from the tiny sopranino to the large bass), flutes and clarinets. In addition to trumpet, Bowie played flugelhorn, cornet, shofar and conch shells. Favors added touches of banjo and bass guitar. Over the years, most of the musicians dabbled on piano, synthesizer and other keyboards.

In 1969, Wilson left the group to join blues singer/harmonica player Paul Butterfield’s band. That same year, the remaining group travelled to Paris [2], where they became known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The immediate impetus for the name change came from a French promoter who added “of Chicago” to their name for purely descriptive purposes, but the new name stuck because band members felt that it better reflected the cooperative nature of the group. In Paris the ensemble were based at the Théâtre des Vieux Colombier [3] and their distinctive music with percussion roles dispersed throughout the quartet was documented in a range of records on the Freedom and BYG labels. They also recorded “Comme à la radio” with Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkacem as a drummerless quartet before welcoming percussionist Famoudou Don Moye to the group in 1970.

In 1970 the ensemble recorded Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass and Les Stances a Sophie with singer Fontella Bass, then Lester Bowie’s wife. The latter was the soundtrack from the French movie of the same title. Bass’ vocals, backed by the powerful pulsating push of the band has allowed the “Theme De YoYo” to remain an underground cult classic ever since.

The ensemble returned to the United States in 1972, and the quintet of Mitchell, Jarman, Bowie, Favors and Moye remained static until 1993. Upon their return to the States, they came to prominence with two major releases on Atlantic Records: Bap-Tizum and Fanfare for the Warriors. Members of the group made the decision to restrict their appearances together, allowing each player to pursue other musical interests. It seems likely that this has contributed to the longevity of the ensemble. Despite the self-imposed limitations the Art Ensemble managed to release more than 20 studio recordings and several live albums between 1972 and 2004.

On Stage

On Stage

All Aboard for Duffy Town!

4 thoughts on “Art Ensemble of Chicago

  1. Now this is something that I would never call bullshit!~
    I met Lester Bowie when he was a member of a band called the Leaders.
    Fontella Bass? Yeah, he told me he was in love with her. Sadly they’re both gone now. Always in a lab coat and playin’ like there was no tomorrow just like every record I have by these guys…which might happen to all of the records they ever made! If you’re afraid of jazz the record “Full Force” is a sweet introduction to being an adult. These guys are a true stand out band that should not be missed.
    Just think of it like this…Adam and the Ants playing the best shit possible…(they suck) but the only reason I bring that up is because these guys were a milliion miles ahead of face-painting tribal innovation. God Love the Art Ensemble Of Chicago! And I don’t even believe in god or any of that shit! This is, and was pure music at it’s finest. Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarmon. Malachai Favors, Lester Bowie…you really can’t say that you hate jazz after hearing this shit…and please let’s not forget the maestro…Charles Fucking Mingus. or Eric fucking Dolphy and John Fucking Coltarne. Get it together!

  2. You and me went to see Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy at McCabe’s in 1985 or 6.
    My Blog’s reference to bullshit is a reference to “Now That’s What I Call Music!” which is actually bullshit. The Art Ensemble of Chicago taught me more about music than anyone except the Beatles, in that they opened my ears, and taught me how to play. I can’t play “Jazz”, but I could sit in with the AEC. Not only do I have “Full Force”, but a half dozen other’s including the cassette that “Duffytown” is on. Thanks for weighing in. You Rock! (A Pound For Brown Features AEC)

  3. I believe he’s saying “duffy pils”. Duffy Pils is a chain of funeral homes operating in and around Fairbury, Illinois since the 1930’s. Hence the humor of : “last stop all aboard!” Check if this is from “Live at Mandel Hall”, 1972, Delmark DE-432, reissued in the 1990s as “Live”.

    No job is too large or too small. Keep on rocking me, bay-bee

  4. You got it exactly. It’s Duffy Pils. It’s Live from Mandel Hall, 1972. All my cassette says is “Art Ensemble Of Chicago”. The live album I really like is “Urban Bushmen”, which I must have listened to 300 times. “Live at Mandel Hall” was a little harder to enter. Anyway thanks so much for the info. Unfortunately the version posted is only 128 kbps, so i’ll transfer again at a higher rate.
    The music deserves to sound the best it can.

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