Amina Claudine Myers

Amina Claudine Myers was one of the earliest members of the AACM, and if you’re listening to this podcast, I’m pretty sure you know what the AACM is, but just in case you don’t, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians is an organization formed by Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell and a few other musicians in Chicago in the mid-1960s. A tremendous number of the most important avant-garde jazz musicians of the mid to late 20th century and the 21st century have come out of the AACM, including Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Fred Anderson, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Wadada Leo Smith, Matana Roberts, Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, and Amina Claudine Myers. There’s a tremendous book by trombonist and composer George Lewis, called A Power Stronger Than Itself, that’s the best possible introduction to the group. You should absolutely read that if you’re a fan of any of the musicians I just named.

Now, all the founders and early members of the AACM worked together, supporting each other, and moving the music forward in large part by composing and performing original work. What’s interesting — and this is something we talk about in this conversation — is that Amina Claudine Myers’ early albums included some original music, but they also included interpretations of other people’s compositions, specifically Marion Brown and Bessie Smith. But she always paired that music up with pieces of her own that demonstrated a really fascinating compositional voice that was a combination of jazz, gospel, blues, and classical music. She took all her influences and early training and combined them into something that sounded like nobody else out there, and was incredibly powerful.

In addition to making her own records, she’s been a part of albums by Lester Bowie, Henry Threadgill, Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Bill Laswell, and many other people. Her latest release is a collection of duos with Wadada Leo Smith, the first time they’ve recorded together since 1969, and their first collaboration as leaders.

I’m really glad I had the chance to interview her. We talked about a lot of things — the AACM, the role of spirituality in music and the way the term spiritual jazz is used to gatekeep certain things, her work with all the artists I just mentioned, her upbringing in Arkansas and Texas and how it influenced her writing… this is a really wide-ranging conversation that I think will be really interesting for you to hear. I thank you as always for listening.