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Muhal Richard Abrams, “The Renaissance Man” of 20th Century Music

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Jazz lovers all over the world mourned the loss of a music legend, Muhal Richard Abrams. The New York Times reported that Abrams, 87, was found lifeless on his Manhattan house, October 29, 2017. Dubbed the “Renaissance Man” of 20th century music, Abrams’ roles in nurturing grassroots music through AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) has been widely recognized by critiques and musicians alike. He was known to possess deep understanding of music theory and interest in other disciplines such as spiritualism. He devoted much of his time studying Joseph Schillinger system, a music theory that departs from a mathematical geometry. Perhaps that what made him such an exceptional musician.

Together with Phil Cohran, Jodie Christian, and Fred Anderson, Abrams co-founded AACM, a non-profit organization with a mission to cultivate the next generation through music and education.  The organization is still striving to this day because its members have faith in AACM’s culture and core mission. The organization is central to its members. As Anthony Braxton put it, AACM has become the medium for musicians hungry for new approach, to explore and improvise.  Since its establishment in 1965, AACM has changed the face of the neighborhood, alleviating poverty that once overwhelmed the streets by giving people education. To this day, AACM still manages to produce quality individuals.

AACM’s continuous existence shows that this organization has been aiming at defining the meaning of life. It is free-willed and has been struggling against the mainstream culture by providing people with music education.

As the result, it has produced many outstanding musicians and forward thinkers, such as Anthony Braxton, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Henry Threadgill. Braxton is a soulful, unique saxophonist and composer of modern jazz who earned The McArthur’s “Genius Grant”. The Art Ensemble of Chicago is a free-jazz band that immersed itself in counter-culture movement. Lastly is Henry Threadgill, a prominent bass player, composer, and a winner of Pulitzer Prize. These individuals are the proof of AACM’s success in educating society through music.

Left: Art Ensemble of Chicago, Center: Anthony Braxton, Right: Henry Threadgill.

Abrams was a prolific music writer. He had been composing music throughout his life, producing a number of masterpieces. According to Discog, he had released albums from 1968 to 2016, ranging from solo, group/orchestral, and re-mastered albums. He also wrote many commissioned projects for big names such as Kronos Quartet, American Composer Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

One thing that we must learn from him is his tenacity. He may not be a famous musician; his pieces may not be easy-listening ones, but he couldn’t care less about it and continued to be do what he believed. This attitude should serve as a salient reminder for us today, when music industry is mainly geared towards money-making and less concern for the arts. Abram’s spirit of putting his art first should inspire the new generation of musicians.


  1. AACM Panel Discussion.

2. (2014 )NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony & Concert, Part 2 (Anthony Braxton).

3. Muhal Richard Abrams, 87, Individualistic Pianist and Composer, Is Dead.(NYT).


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Author: Web Admin

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