For composer/flutist Nicole Mitchell, participating in the Ear Taxi Festival in Chicago this past October was something of a homecoming even though she has lived in a variety of places. She was born in Syracuse, New York, grew up in Orange County, California, and has since returned to Southern California where she currently serves on the faculty for UC Irvine’s Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology program. But Mitchell’s move to Chicago as a young adult was a transformative experience, and the activities she was engaged in during her years in the Windy City were what ultimately determined her path as a creative musician.
“It’s an amazing community that embraces the arts,” Mitchell exclaimed during her ten-minute monologue with music at our NewMusicBox LIVE! showcase which took place at the Harris Theatre, the second of three such presentations that evening. (You can see the first, featuring Andy Costello, here; and we will post the third, with Shulamit Ran, later this month.)
During her time in Chicago, Mitchell was deeply involved with the legendary AACM (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), an organization which she has been a member of since 1995 and for which she later served as its first female president. In recognition of her impact within the Chicago music and arts education communities, she was named “Chicagoan of the Year” in 2006 by The Chicago Tribune. But Chicago musicians had just as much of an impact on her as she did on them. Before she arrived in the city, most of her musical experiences came from her classical training and her years as an orchestral performer, but the many mentors she came into contact with showed her a way to think beyond the binaries of the specificity of notated composition and the flexibility of improvisation, confirming for her the endless possibilities that had already been instilled in her by her mother, a self-taught painter who was actually born in Chicago.
“She would take that blank canvas and create things that were a mixture of things that existed and things that never existed,” Mitchell explained. “She would draw a landscape of three setting suns.”
This sense of new worlds is something she hopes to instill using her own music.
“I can create new environments for us to come together,” she said. “There’s always something else we can reach for.”