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Muhal Richard Abrams (1930 – 2017), influential free jazz pianist

Getty Images / Photo by Charles Norfleet

Muhal Richard Abrams (1930 – 2017), influential free jazz pianist

Muhal Richard Abrams, influential free jazz pianist who co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, has died at the age of 87, according to The Chicago Tribune

The Tribune reports he died Sunday evening in his New York home with his wife, Peggy Abrams, and daughter, Richarda Abrams, at his side. 

Abrams was born in Chicago in 1930 and graduated from DuSable High School. The mostly self-taught pianist started out in Chicago playing R & B, Blues, and bebop. 

Joe Segal, owner of Jazz Showcase remembered Abrams in the Tribune. “He was one of many very fine pianists. He was straight-ahead,” added Segal, meaning that Abrams was playing in the bebop manner of the day. 

“In fact, I have some cuts of him playing. If I didn’t tell you who it was, you’d never guess.” 

As his reputation grew, Abrams became an in demand player for many jazz greats including Max Roach, Hank Mobley, and Sonny Stitt. 

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As Jazz started to decline in popularity, Abrams formed the Experimental Band in 1962. The group were pioneers of the Free Jazz movement, pushing the boundaries of Jazz. Jack DeJohnette and Fred Anderson were members of the band. 

In 1965, Abrams co-founded The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) with pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and trumpet player Phil Cohran. 

Wadada Leo Smith, an early member of AACM said, “He was able to create a community of artists who all respected each other, all shared the responsibility of playing with each other and all actually taught each other.” 

Abrams was also a co-founder of the non-profit Jazz Institute of Chicago which runs the Chicago Jazz Festival. 

Abrams moved to New York City in the 1970s where he started a New York chapter of AACM. He continued to record and tour around the globe. 

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