Malachi Favors Dies

Malachi Favors, a founding member of and bassist for the highly influential avant-garde jazz band the Chicago Art Ensemble, died Fri., Jan. 30 of pancreatic cancer at Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago. There is uncertainty over how old he was. Most jazz reference books list his birth year as 1937, but yesterday’s Chicago Tribune quotes his daughter, Malba Favors Allen, as saying he was born in 1927.

Another point of argument concerns Favors’ birthplace. It’s listed as Chicago in every book available in our office, yet yesterday’s Tribune states that Favors was “one of 10 children born to a religious family in Lexington, Miss.” Regardless of where and when he was actually born, everyone agrees that Favors was a virtuoso and a bassist who throughout his career maintained a sense of modesty with regard to his talent. He began playing bass at 15 and studied with hard-bop bassists Wilber Ware and Paul Chambers. After establishing himself on the Chicago scene and playing with trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard and pianists Andrew Hill and Muhal Richard Abrams, Favors joined Chicago saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell’s band and played on Mitchell’s landmark free-jazz album Sound from 1966. Not long after that, Mitchell’s band evolved into the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which in addition to Favors and Mitchell included trumpeter Lester Bowie, saxophonist Joseph Jarman and drummer Famadou Don Moye.

The Art Ensemble broke ground in experimental and free jazz throughout the ’70s and ’80s, with Favors only occasionally contributing compositions to the band’s albums, but often adding vocals and the sounds of folk instruments like banjo, zither and harmonica in addition to bass. It was Favors’ idea for members of the band to wear its trademark African garb and face paint during performance.

Outside of the Art Ensemble, Favors recorded with players like Archie Shepp, David Murray, Alan Silva and Wadada Leo Smith—all musicians in the avant-garde school. He made a solo bass recording in 1977 called Natural and the Spiritual and in 1975 the Black Saint label released an album of bass and piano duos he made with Abrams. The Art Ensemble of Chicago, which had been operating as a quartet since Lester Bowie’s death in 199, recently released two albums that listed Favors as “Malachi Favors Maghostut.” Maghostut is an African word meaning “I am the Host” that Favors would often append to his given name.

Favors is survived by his daughter, two brothers James and George, three sisters and two grandchildren.