A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music

George E. Lewis

Rock & Roll Summer Reading

A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music

by George E. Lewis
University of Chicago Press, 690 pp., $35

A working-class, grassroots, musical/cultural organization that got its start at percussionist/co-founder Steve McCall's kitchen table on Chicago's south side in 1965, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians has had an international impact on the creation of experimental music. Indeed, Austin's late Tina Marsh modeled her long-running Creative Opportunity Orchestra after the cooperative ideals of AACM, and the decades-long stream of European avant players that have come through town, most often under the aegis of Epistrophy Arts, owes a huge debt to the pioneering endeavors of the collective. Forged from the ethos of self-determination in creating and controlling their original music, AACM is still very much alive today. Trombonist George Lewis was still a teenager when he joined the gathering in 1971, and his insider status gives him unique perspective into the entire history of the group as told through the personalities, issues, and context of the times. The early days of the AACM can't be divorced from the social milieu that embraced the civil rights movement and Black Power struggles so prevalent during the 1960s and 1970s. Rife with information, this colossal tome includes well over 100 pages of footnotes and appendices, although it often reads like an academic endeavor. Nevertheless, those searching for the most complete account of this fascinating organization will find it essential reading.

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