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The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Way Forward

As the avant-garde group turns 50, its two remaining original members have their eyes on the future

Roscoe Mitchell (L) and Famoudou Don Moye, Ann Arbor, Mich., October 2018 (photo: Barbara Barefield)

Sometime in 1969, an ad ran in the Chicago Defender, the city’s long-running African-American weekly: “Musician Sells Out!”

It was typical of Lester Bowie’s sly sense of humor to use this accusation of compromise as a statement of intent; he was turning his back on a successful career as an R&B sideman to delve into the wilds of the avant-garde in the vast unknown of Europe. The trumpeter hawked most of his worldly possessions to pay his way, along with that of his bandmates, in what was then known as the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble—so named for the group’s saxophonist—on an ocean liner headed for Paris.

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Shaun Brady

Shaun Brady is a Philadelphia-based journalist who covers jazz along with an eclectic array of arts, culture, and travel. Brady contributes regularly to the Philadelphia Inquirer and JazzTimes and Jazziz magazines, with subjects ranging from legendary artists to underground experimentalists. His byline has appeared in DownBeat, Metro, NPR Music, and The A.V. Club, among other outlets. He studied filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago and continues to spend too much time in the dark.