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Before & After With Nicole Mitchell

Acclaimed flutist, composer and longstanding member of AACM doodles her way through listening session

Nicole Mitchell (photo by Kristi Sutton Elias)
Nicole Mitchell (photo: Kristi Sutton Elias)

Nicole Mitchell isn’t kicking back at all after a heady 2017, during which she performed several world premieres at the prestigious Ojai Music Festival and made two of the year’s most audacious and acclaimed albums. A singular flutist, composer, bandleader, educator and aural provocateur, she is set to soar even higher than she did on those two dynamic recordings, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds and Liberation Narratives, the latter an inspired collaboration with the poet Haki Madhubuti. At press time, Mitchell’s Artifacts trio with drummer Mike Reed and cellist Tomeka Reid is scheduled to perform in May at the Spoleto Festival USA, in South Carolina. In August, the Syracuse-born, Anaheim-raised Mitchell will do a one-week residency at the Stone in New York City and play the Newport Jazz Festival with her Dusty Wings band. She’s also set to perform at festivals in Chicago, Berlin and Vienna with her Mandorla ensemble. Now at work on a solo flute album, for which she’ll double-track all the parts, Mitchell has yet another new record due out soon from her Maroon Cloud quartet and a fall tour planned with pianist Myra Melford and bassist Joëlle Léandre—the free-improv-fueled Tiger Trio.

A key member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians since 1995—Mitchell, 51, became its first female chair in 2005—she is a professor of music at the University of California’s Irvine campus. “Am I a workaholic? Yeah, I got it from both my parents,” she says, adding, “and I’m a doodler!” Mitchell proved as much throughout an April listening session in the control room of Exowax Recordings in northern San Diego County. Her “doodles” included artful drawings and written notes that confirmed she is as focused and free-spirited when listening to music as she is when making it.

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