In Chicago, at least, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) has started to seem like a part of the arts establishment. A Power Stronger Than Itself, George Lewis’s landmark history of the Black music collective, came out in 2008. And in 2015, a blowout fiftieth anniversary concert series and a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art further solidified the group’s legacy. With all this institutional ticker tape falling, it’s easy to forget what the AACM actually is: an insurgent arts collective, a case study in the use of communal organization to create visionary work. They’ve stuck to the same collectivist principles for over half a century, building a cohesive international community while writing a wealth of strikingly original music.
The various sounds across the hip-hop landscape are often region-locked. Describing a singular artist as either East or West Coast can simplify them to a certain sound and aesthetic. The recent burst of Chicago’s rap bubble has been a breath of fresh air for modern hip-hop. For possibly the first time, Chicago has a definite scene. The recent exposure is so rejuvenating because a singular idea, sound, or style didn’t follow with its fulfillment. Chicago’s scene is enigmatic because it isn’t locked by a singular approach, possibly due to its youth. No two artists are doing the same thing and every young MC has something distinct to offer to Chicago’s palette—which is why the St. Louis-born, Chicago-made rapper Smino is such a perfect fit.
With the release of the self-titled album by Bottle Tree last week, the International Anthem Recording Company continues to build its reputation as one of the South Side’s most adventurous record labels. Founder Scottie McNiece, along with his partners David Allen and Joe Darling, have built a catalog of outsider music that stands up to the best that has ever come from Chicago. Although the Bridgeport-based label has developed a reputation for releasing great avant-garde jazz, their sound is less predictable, dabbling in funk, electronic, noise, and singer/songwriter music. Renowned artists on the label’s roster include post-rock, free jazz guitarist Jeff Parker (of Tortoise fame), the Nick Mazzarella Trio, and hip-hop-inspired drummer Makaya McCraven. As every example of success, such achievement first started as an idea—an idea that suddenly came to Scottie McNiece.
On Thanksgiving night and again in January, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, a Chicago tradition unfolded at Hyde Park restaurant-venue the Promontory. Revelers packed the floor until the early hours of the morning, dancing to the music of the Chosen Few DJs. The guys behind the turntables blasted a slowly evolving soundtrack of classic disco, pop, R&B, hip-hop, and punk over an omnipresent bass drum thump. Club-goers went home bleary and content.
Like many musicians, JoVia Armstrong’s journey began early: she went from playing on pots and pans as a kid to becoming an accomplished percussionist, as member of the band JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, and an experienced teaching artist. JoVia is now onto her latest project: a music school that she runs out of her own apartment called Sounds About Write, which she started last September. Students can take lessons in a variety of instruments and sound technology, both in groups and one-on-one sessions. With different lessons taught by different teaching artists, the lessons range from guitar to songwriting to conga drums, and nearly anything in between. The school aims to make music education more accessible, and to instill a passion for the arts in every household.
Nobody said out loud that night, on February 23, that it was the last night of A.M. Frison’s residency at the Stony Island Arts Bank.
Everybody wants to hear my story,” said Dave Meyers, the owner of Meyers Ace Hardware on 35th and Calumet. Meyers put up “CLOSING” signs on the front of the store last month, telling DNAInfo he couldn’t afford the space anymore.
Akenya Seymour lounges on a couch in the back of the Dollop in South Loop wearing purple Converse sneakers and a matching purple crystal necklace. At home in her native Chicago, she smiles and takes a sip of water before setting her cup down as I take a seat next to her.
Jazz artist Maggie Brown bursts into song at one point during our conversation in Bridgeport Coffee. She uses her phone for digital accompaniment, pulling up a track that “speaks to the young people”—a jazz rhythmic loop—before launching into the first verse, “I’m fed up with all this bad news/ The crime here got me singing the blues/ I wish the headline could report on something good, instead of shooting in my neighborhood.” The coffee shop table transforms, momentarily, into a one-person stage.
It’s just after noon in Englewood, and light throws itself in bars across the floor of Kusanya Cafe as the door swings open and shut. Seated at the front window of the restaurant among light chatter and the clatter of plates, South Side local Shawnee Dez brushes her hair back from her face and goes into performance mode.